By Gena Mimozo
When Dave first approached me about creating a shirt together I couldn’t have been more excited. The positivity and empowerment he brings to what he does is really inspiring and I didn’t have to think twice about jumping at the opportunity to create shirt with him that would hopefully inspire and empower others.
I count my blessings every day that I live in a place where for the most part I can live a generally hate free existence. I also realize how lucky I am to have a supportive, loving family and circle of friends.
In our own country the Supreme Court recently ruled DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) unconstitutional, that means LGBTQ couples are now afforded around 1300 federal rights they were once denied. They also ruled that Prop 8, a proposition that circumvented LGBTQ marriage in California, was unconstitutional. Those rulings were a pretty big deal.
While things in America have been moving forward when it comes to this issue a lot of countries seem to be moving backwards.
In Russia, they passed an anti-gay law, which bans the "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors." Which means no gay pride parades and hefty fines for gay rights groups trying to educate people. You can be detained and even jailed for speaking about homosexuality in public. It basically equates same-sex relations with pedophilia. All the while, violent attacks on gays or “suspect gays” are becoming more and more common.
These are photos from a 2013 gay pride parade in St. Petersburg, Russia. They are not pretty.
Because of the law like the one in Russia, the United Nations has unveiled their gay rights campaign. They have also created this neat video called The Riddle - which asks "What exists in every corner of the world - embraced and celebrated in some countries - but is illegal in 76? What is hidden for fear of public shame, imprisonment, torture or even the death penalty in seven countries?" The answer is simply being LGBTQ.
When the Russian law first passed I came across an article talking about a group called Children 404, which is an online support system for Russian LGBT teens, made up of queer youth and adult allies. It's like the Russian version of It Gets Better. In the article the woman who created this group states, “The [mainstream media] doesn’t write about these children, almost no one talks about them, and it’s almost like they don’t exist, like a page that says error code 404. But in reality, they exist."
That quote really resonated with me. It reminded me of a quote by Harvey Milk - "All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.”
I tracked down the Children 404 Facebook page
(https://www.facebook.com/children.404) and started pouring over all the posts. It's all in Russian but luckily there is a "translate" link connected to all the posts. I read about a young girl whose mother made them pick up and move when she found out about her relationship with a girl. The young girl closed her post with "Yes, we are the children, but we're not 404. We are not errors." What she said really got to me.
It reminded me a young boy I read about 2 years ago, when LGBT teen suicide was really in the spotlight here in America. His name was Asher Brown. He was 13 years old and he shot himself in the head because he was bullied to death for being gay. His face is forever burned into my memory and it haunts me to this day. Asher's death inspired me to help our local LGBT Center make an It Gets Better video.
Soon after the Russian law passed I found an article about a prominent LGBT rights activist in Cameroon who was murdered. Then I found one about how the President of Zimbabwe is calling for the beheading of gays.
In LGBT culture, because gays are often persecuted and discriminated against and a lot are disowned from their legitimate families, it's common for LGBT folks to refer to each other as family to give each other support where it's lacking. To read about all these terrible things happening to LGBT people across the globe and here at home really makes it feel like someone is attacking your family. It doesn't matter if I know anyone personally in Russia or Africa. If you attack someone for being gay, for simply being who they are, then that is an indirect attack on me. It's very frustrating, feeling like there isn’t anything you can do about what is going on in the world around you.
But then the opportunity to create this shirt came along. It's a message I absolutely stand behind and support whole-heartedly. It got me thinking, t-shirts are highly visible, people wear them all over the world and sometimes there is a brand on it or an image of some sort. LGBT people need visibility. If people don't see us, we don't exist. Much like Children 404.
My hope is that people will wear this shirt to raise awareness, to help make this very dangerous problem visible. Everyone should be proud of who they are. Unfortunately visibility can also mean a death sentence to some folks but hiding will yield the same results in the end. People need hope. And if this shirt ignites that for someone in some way, then I know we’ve done the right thing.
In closing, I'm sharing with you a poem I wrote about the Stonewall Inn and our own LGBT history here in America.
I hope this inspires you in some way to show the same love to each other as you would want shown to yourself.
We are the future. Do good.