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    Rally Held in SF to Commemorate International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia & Biphobia

    By Dennis McMillan

    The San Francisco #IDAHOT rally in Harvey Milk Plaza on May 17 was one of hundreds of events occurring worldwide demanding justice for victims of LGBTQ persecution on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia & Biphobia (IDAHOT).

    The event also celebrated the May 17 release of Chelsea Manning from federal prison. President Obama had commuted all but four months of the remaining prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, the Army intelligence analyst convicted of a 2010 leak that revealed American military and diplomatic activities across the world. As reported by The New York Times, “… the decision by Mr. Obama rescued Ms. Manning, who twice tried to kill herself last year, from an uncertain future as a transgender woman incarcerated at the men’s military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. She has been jailed for nearly seven years, and her 35-year sentence was by far the longest punishment ever imposed in the United States for a leak conviction.”

    People carried placards stating: “Welcome home, Chelsea!” “Chelsea Manning is our queer heroine!” A large, red heart-shaped sign was inscribed, “We love you, Chelsea!” Some wore pink stickers encouraging: “Arise! Love! Resist!” A large rainbow flag was draped across the banister, and, of course, the ever-present huge rainbow flag flew high above everyone. The date of Manning’s liberation coincides with the IDAHOT, which turns this decision into a much broader acknowledgement of the situation faced by transgender prisoners in U.S. jails.

    IDAHOT was created in 2004 to draw the attention of policymakers, opinion leaders, social movements, the public and the media to the violence and discrimination experienced by LGBTI people internationally, and to all of those who do not conform to majority sexual and gender norms. The date of May 17 was specifically chosen to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision in 1990 to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

    IDAHOT is now celebrated on May 17 in more than 130 countries, including 37 where same-sex acts are illegal, with 1,600 events reported from 1,280 organizations in 2014. These mobilizations unite millions of people in support of the recognition of human rights for all, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.

    The San Francisco rally primarily focused on three subjects:

    1- Demanding justice for victims of extreme LGBTQ persecution (e.g., the recent kidnapping, torture and killing of up to 100 gay men in Chechnya; the opening of a concentration camp there, and the continuing epidemic of transgender murders in the United States)

    2- Resistance to the Trump administration’s threat to LGBTQ people and families, including impacts on immigration and asylum

    3- The aforementioned celebration of U.S. whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s release from federal prison on May 17 with a show of solidarity for her continued wellbeing

    In addition, Patrick Carney, founder of the Pink Triangle Project, had installed a custom-made, 10-foot pink triangle hanging from Harvey Milk Plaza, bordered by little flags from every representation of queerdom, and spoke about the significance of remembering the LGBT Holocaust victims.

    Over 100 people attended, first keeping a moment of silence to honor all victims of homophobia, transphobia and biphobia, especially recent victims in Chechnya. Gary Virginia from Gays Without Borders organized and emceed the event.

    “This rally is needed now more than ever—given the crisis in Chechnya with the government creating gay concentration camps involving torture and murders,” he said. “We’re also drawing attention to transgender murders in the U.S. and abroad, threats to the LGBTQ community under the Trump administration, LGBTQ immigration and family challenges, and the celebrated release of U.S. whistleblower Chelsea Manning.”

    The evening featured many eloquent speakers—including Carney, former California State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, Melanie Nathan from African Human Rights Coalition, Lori Nairne from Queer Strike, Jeff Patterson from Courage to Resist and the Chelsea Manning Support Network, Subhi Nahas of Spectra Project (Syria), and activist and entertainer Donna Sachet. Each addressed subjects regarding LGBTQ crises in America, Chechnya, Africa or the Middle East. Mark Leno, candidate for mayor, sent his regrets, and Janetta Johnson, Executive Director, Leadership Team of TGI Justice Project, was also unable to attend.

    Faux queen Deana Dawn got us all to sing along with her doing “I Am What I Am” from La Cage aux Folles. Closing the event, The Chelsea Manning Flashmob dancers performed their rousing routine to Michael Jackson’s “They Don’t Care About Us,” and got everyone enthusiastically clapping hands or waving hands in the air. Finally, we all sang “We Shall Overcome” in unison and in hope for a better world.