We have had a great day exploring (read: getting lost in) St. Petersburg and it is an incredible place, the buildings are stunning! We walked for two hours to the Mariinsky Opera House but unsurprisingly we got lost. We asked a lovely couple for directions and they walked us for half an our of their way to take us there, they were very sweet! Then once we found the Mariinsky Opera House and found it was closed, (great) another couple (a Ruski and a Frenchy) drove us all the way back to our hostel! They then invited us to go to the Kronstadt Island tomorrow, should be very interesting!
Whilst we walked around St. Petersburg and marvelled at its beauty, it seemed to be rather sad that human beings are capable of producing the most incredible art as well as committing horrendous crimes against each other. We thought about all the different crimes that are being committed today. The intention of this trip has obviously been to use the Holocaust as a tool to teach about the dangers of prejudice and to learn from the past to create a better future. To do this we must know what prejudices exist today, obviously we can't discuss them all but we wanted to discuss one which we think deserves some attention.
To us (and to all sane, rational people) the battle against homophobia is THE civil rights issue of the day, we would argue that this issue is as important as the African-American civil rights issue in the 1960's. In only 10 countries (out of 193) can gay men and women get legally married. The fact that gay men and women are denied this basic civil right is disgusting. According to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network 89% of gay teens have experienced bullying because of their sexuality and it is reported that 30-40% of gay teens have attempted suicide. This however, is sadly the tip of the homophobic ice-berg. Out of 193 countries, homosexuality is illegal in 78 of them, so, in 40% of the world's countries it is illegal to love someone of the same sex as you. Do you think that is ok? It is fairly common for Republican politicians in the US to actively speak out against homosexuality, Michelle Bachman just doesn't seem to understand the true power of her words, and as a result has the blood of thousands of American teens on her hands. Despite it being so ridiculous, it can be fairly amusing for liberals like us. Imagine hearing extreme homophobic views from your countries leaders, your church leaders, your friends, your teachers and your parents? How would that make a gay child in a small town feel? How can you take a stance against this type of prejudice? We have to not sit idle where people are being oppressed in this way around the world. We have to take action (real action, not just Facebook action) to help our fellow man around the world who is being beaten and down trodden because of who they love.
The crisis (and we believe that it is absolutely a crisis) is a terrible example of the different forms that prejudice takes today. Homophobia of all levels is rife in all levels of society. Gay children face persecution at schools and the perpetrators are both the students and the teachers. Imagine having to go to school every day and face a barrage of abuse for something that you just can't change about yourself. Homophobia isn't always so obvious (to you) though, let us ask you a question did you hear homophobia today? The chances are that you probably did and you didn't even realise it. Did you hear anyone describe something rubbish as 'so gay'. You may not have realised it but what you may have overheard is homophobic. What that person did was to equate homosexuality with something rubbish, and yes, of course it is (sadly) a part of societal language but you can make a choice to exclude yourself from it. You can make a choice to not participate in the oppression (let's face it, that's what it is) of millions of people. To you it may seem that you are just saying meaningless words but imagine the impact that those words may have on a young gay person struggling with their sexuality, who's terrified to tell their friends and parents who they really are. Are you helping that person? Or are you making their life that much worse? Language is a choice, and the sooner we realise it the better the lives of young gay and lesbians will be. As we have continuously said, we have to change ourselves and then the world will follow. You don't need to beat someone to death to kill them. To you it may be a question of language to a young gay person it could be a question of life or death. Don't wait until you lose someone that you love before you make a change.