Lesphobia is not the same as homophobia – and the world needs to recognise that

DIVA Magazine Publisher Linda Riley makes a speech during the Diva Awards 2019

Linda Riley, a leading LGBT+ activist and publisher of DIVA magazine, writes for PinkNews about why it’s time to add the “L” to IDAHOBIT.

Last month saw an incredibly successful second-ever Lesbian Visibility Week with support from partners such as GLAAD, Stonewall, Mermaids, the akt Foundation, Diversity Role Models and many other LGBT+ charities.

There could not be a more appropriate time to call upon the organisers of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia on 17 May to add an “L” to their acronym and transform IDAHOBIT to IDAHOBLIT day.

To put this into context, in 2005, the very first IDAHO – the International Day Against Homophobia – was commemorated.

This followed a vigorous and impressive year-long campaign at a time when social media didn’t exist, making it much more difficult to reach large numbers of people.

The lack of any meaningful mass social media makes it even more laudable that the campaign gathered support from influential worldwide bodies including the International Lesbian and Gay Association, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Right Commission, the World Congress of LGBT Jews and the Coalition of African Lesbians.

The one thing these four groups have in common is that they all reference lesbians in their titles, and for those of us who have fought for the rights of the LGBTQ community all our lives, this is no surprise.

Lesbians, alongside our trans siblings, were at the forefront of the Stonewall protests in America, the anti-Section 28 protests in Britain and the campaigns that sought to ensure that people with AIDS, chiefly our gay male brethren, were treated with dignity and decency when they were shunned by much of society.

Since its foundation in 1989, three of the five CEOs of Stonewall, including current boss Nancy Kelley, have been out and proud lesbians.

Four years after its foundation, in 2009, IDAHO acknowledged trans people as part of their family and so IDAHO became IDAHOT.

Then, six years after that in 2015, bisexual people were accepted and IDAHOBIT was born (the “I” doesn’t stand for anything – it just makes the word easier to say).

Another six years later, and a full 16 years after the foundation of the original IDAHO, we are yet to see the acknowledgement of lesbians as people with a distinct identity who are worthy of inclusion in the acronym.

This, sadly, is all too reminiscent of history’s continued marginalisation of lesbians, the best-known example perhaps being that Queen Victoria couldn’t get her head around the fact that lesbians even existed!

Those who say that lesbophobia is, by definition, a subset of homophobia are effectively claiming that lesbians are a subset of gay men. This may be unintentional but, intentional or not, it is clearly unacceptable.

The experience of lesbians, while it has much in common with that of homosexual men, is also quite distinct.

For example, gay men do not have their sex lives fetishised by the straight male gaze and are certainly not physically assaulted, as lesbians have been, for failing to “perform” in front of a baying crowd of young heterosexual men.

While acknowledging gay men have very real issues dealing with homophobia, we want to stand proudly alongside our gay male brothers, in solidarity but as a distinct community.

Lesbian Visibility Week (the week I founded in 2020) is all about inclusivity and asking to be specifically included in a new IDAHOBLIT acronym as people with a separate identity, rather than as an adjunct to gay men, does not seem too much to ask.

After all, lesbians have to deal with the double whammy of prejudice against their sex and their sexual preferences, something that gay men do not traditionally have to face.

It is quite simple. For those who feel that lesbophobia is included when homophobia is mentioned I say why are we called lesbians then, shouldn’t we be called homosexuals?

Quite frankly, the majority of lesbians would not refer to themselves as homosexuals so that notion does not hold much weight, all many lesbians want to see is the L included we are a valuable part of our LGBTQIA+ family and our acronym needs to be visible at all times.

Enough is enough. The transformations from IDAHO to IDAHOT to IDAHOBIT were accomplished quite easily with little fuss and almost no dissent.

It’s now time for IDAHOBIT to morph into IDAHOBLIT and give women who love women the recognition and respect we deserve.

Finally, I should stress that I am a committed supporter of IDAHOT and all that it stands for; all I ask the that the “L” be included so that lesbians are clearly visible as a part of the LGBTQI community.

I have spoken to Joel Bedos of the May 17 organisation who has told me their IDAHO committee will meet after IDAHOBIT day this year and including the L will be on their agenda, here is hoping that in 2022 changes will be made and IDAHOBIT 2022 will be changed to IDAHOBLIT.