The International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) is celebrated every May 17th because on that day in 1990 the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its list of “diseases.” Of course it seems odd that such a step took so long, and in and of itself the delisting has done little or nothing to improve the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in many places around the world. But progress of any sort is worth noting and leveraging.

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Today my colleague Ambassador Susan E. Rice, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, issued a statement on the occasion of IDAHO 2012, which I would like to share:

“On International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia, we celebrate human diversity and rededicate ourselves to a basic but essential truth — that human rights are universal and must be protected. To our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender friends and relatives around the world: the United States stands with you in your struggle against discrimination. We will continue to do everything we can, in every arena possible, to promote communities and societies in which all people can live safely and love without fear.

“Since 2009, the Obama Administration has taken unprecedented steps at the United Nations to fight discrimination and eliminate barriers to equality for LGBT individuals. Months ago, President Obama outlined a formal policy of international engagement to ensure that our dedication to LGBT human rights does not stop at our national borders, reflecting his belief that ‘no country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere.’

“We are proud to lead by example, but the quest for human equality and dignity is not simply an American challenge. Today, we call on all nations and all peoples to join us in ensuring that human rights are universally protected.”

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To Ambassador Rice’s words I would only add a special note about young people. Wherever conducted, studies have shown that LGBT youth disproportionately feel unsafe in their schools, are the targets of bullying, and miss classes or social events because they fear ridicule or physical attack. The resulting stress and isolation increase the risk of suicide, mental health problems, and substance abuse. The problem exists everywhere.

To commemorate IDAHO 2012 – and on each calendar day thereafter – let’s consider how silence and inaction, as well as words and actions, impact children and youth around us who are still wrestling with their place in the world. The right message is a simple one. As Oscar Wilde urged, “Be yourself;  everyone else is already taken.”

If you would like more information, check out Rainbow Youth, Wellington Gay Welfare, or one of the other great LGBT support groups here in New Zealand. If you are having a bad day and could use some instant uplift and affirmation, browse through the most recent It Gets Better videos.