1. We Don’t Share the Same Dreams. On European Commission’s New LGBTI Campaign

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    Many in the activist world have heard about “We All Share the Same Dreams” even before its release. It was talked about at conferences, especially by representatives of the European Commission themselves and during meetings (both local and regional), but except for those included in its dissemination, few of us knew what to expect.

    And thus, we received a product. A weak and unspecific call to “share our dream” (#ShareYourDream), which sounds like a slogan from a soda commercial, rather than a campaign aimed at “reaching the moveable middle” (as mentioned by its creators).

    Does it reach its target audience though? I can’t tell. I’m not a member of it. But I am a member of two of the groups that this campaign is about and I also happen to be an activist working for one of them and this is the perspective I want to use to say why it’s about time to change the way we talk about LGBTQIA issues and why, contrary to the campaign’s message, we do not necessarily share the same dreams.

    My first thoughts about #ShareYourDream factsheet (which I found only because I saw it on a facebook fanpage of Poland’s biggest LGBTI organization – Campaign Against Homophobia) consisted mostly of confusion over the LGBTI rainbow (which ignores the existence of queer and asexual folk, a feature that sadly doesn’t surprise me after years in international activism) with “straight” added to it. And so the campaign welcomes us with an identity breakdown – lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex and straight. This breakdown is supposed to remind our dyadic (non-intersex) cis straight allies that we have more in common than not. (sigh).

    For today’s Europe, this message is not only problematic, but extremely shallow. The region is seeing a dramatic rebirth of extremism, its political class denies shelter to people fleeing from war and the population is struggling with economic inequality. In this light, we don’t seem to share the same dreams, but are rather told that our dreams should be the same as those of only a small portion of our communities. What the campaign presents as dreams to share are: owning a home (which seems to be more about owning property rather than creating a safe environment), winning in sports, having a good job, sharing knowledge, being more relaxed, saving lives and crossing the finish line. These dreams look great in a short video, but most of them will not be available to LGBTI people, mainly because:

    • they won’t graduate from any school because of violence and discrimination,
    • they won’t even dream about earning the kind of money that would buy them a home, because no one would want to hire them because of the fact that they’re LGBTI,
    • they will spend half of their lives trying to earn enough money to be able to medically transition, if they come from countries where it is not funded by the state or their insurance, and they will most likely choose to earn it under the table,
    • they will never be able to relax, working through the trauma of forced medical interventions in childhood, because their bodies were not in line with what society considers female or male,
    • they won’t save lives, when they end theirs,
    • they won’t cross the metaphorical finish line, because their main goal will always be to first and foremost survive. Especially when they have been renounced by their families.

    Our youth considers suicide more frequently than their dyadic cis straight peers. They try to take their lives more often. Young LGBTI people, adults and our elderly are threatened by violence. The type of violence whose scale and consequences are unimaginable to those who haven’t experienced it. If your first thought when leaving home is that you may not come back at all, how are you supposed to share dreams similar to societal majority? Some may actually make it. But it is often due to their financial possibilities that help them feel safe. There’s a reason why the concept of “pink money” exists in capitalism. You want us only when we consume, not when we demand to be treated like people.

    Will you stop discriminating against us, belittling our existence, blocking access to much needed medical procedures and making us undergo surgeries without our consent, when it turns out that we actually don’t share any dreams? Do we have to share anything with you to be considered people?

    The campaign’s message is not the only thing I find problematic in the Commission’s work. On its website one can find a social media toolkit, which clearly shows that trans and intersex people have been included in a project whose main message is to show cis and dyadic people that #LoveWins. (sigh).

    Let’s start with the obvious. Although the campaign mentions intersex people, you will not find sex characteristics anywhere in its materials. Sex characteristics are important, as they are the main reason why the medical community “justifies” medical interventions on infants and babies. What you will find in the campaign materials are sexual orientation and gender identity, which do not cover everything about being intersex. It seems as if by the end of working on the project, someone from its team remembered about the I in LGBTI. And so we have it. Forcefully added and treated without the focus it deserves. I hope that a number of trans activist reminds themselves about the times where our issues were treated similarly. And this is why we need to point it out openly. Every single time.

    (If you want to know how to be an ally of intersex people, take a moment to read the newest toolkit by OII Europe and ILGA-Europe – Standing Up for the Human Rights of Intersex People – How Can You Help?)

    The social media toolkit reads: The European Commission wants to show Europe that all EU citizens are equal and that no matter whom we love or who we are, everybody shares the same dreams. This campaign provides an opportunity to reinforce antidiscrimination messages and ensure that LGBTI rights are respected.

    To be perfectly honest, I don’t see any opportunity to reinforce anti-discrimination messages. What I see in the campaign is a message of assimilation. Why are we told that we share the same dreams? What if we don’t? Do we deserve less respect then? Assimilation campaigns are particularly dangerous in times of extremism rebirth, when being outside of the norm becomes as excuse for aggression, and when assimilation itself may mean ignoring injustice suffered by other groups. #ShareYourDream is additionally problematic because of its lack of intersectional approach. It’s middle class, able-bodied and doesn’t reflect Europe’s ethnic and religious diversity. Not to mention economic disparities.

    Let’s take a look at its goals, as mentioned in official materials:

    • Increase the social acceptance of LGBTI people and help to combat and prevent discrimination;
    • Promote positive messages about LGBTI equality and increase the number of ‘straight allies’ and multipliers in the promotion of LGBTI equality among the EU population;
    • Increase visibility of how the European Commission is promoting the rights of LGBTI people.

    I find every single point mentioned above problematic, but let’s focus on the middle one and ‘straight allies’. Since the campaign clearly ignores the concept of cisgender and dyadic, it shows that although its intention is to increase positive societal attitudes towards rainbow communities, it ignores the most important aspects of similar projects – a possibility to educate the majority. Europe is still ignorant about being cis, not to mention not being intersex. I hope that it acknowledges (at least partially) its straightness, but from what I observe, it also mistakenly thinks that this feature is enough to position oneself as an absolutely normative person.

    And this is where we reach the main problem. Using heterosexuality as a keyword. Although it has been years of political dialogue and awareness raising on differences between sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics, the European Commission decided to share a campaign that doesn’t take into consideration the fact that trans and intersex people may also identify as straight and that there are different types of alliances within our community itself. A cis gay man can be an ally to a straight trans woman and vice versa. Everything is situational and contextual. It can get complicated and we need to accept that, instead of creating easy to digest narratives that ignore reality.

    I also find the campaign’s distribution quite amusing. Although I heard about it before, I wasn’t really paying attention to it, remembering that other international institutions (or those contracted by them) have usually contacted non-governmental organizations working on certain issues to ensure that their messages are wide-spread. If it wasn’t for Facebook, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have known #ShareYourDream was already issued. A few messages to other trans organizations in the region showed that the EC ignored smaller NGOs and contacted only big LGBT organizations.

    I can’t say what are the reasons for such actions, but if that’s how a European-wide campaign is disseminated, maybe it’s time to think whether it makes sense to pump money into another message that won’t reach many and will be just ticked off as “done”, instead of supporting LGBTQIA people by direct financing of suicide prevention programs, homeless shelters for adults (like those in Albania, Poland and Ukraine) and youth, actions against unemployment or investing in social enterprises. In other words, projects that will help individuals find their place and survive. Because for now many LGBTI people dream to share the same dreams. And there’s still a long road ahead.

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