What IDAHOBIT means for me

Bupa's Pride Network Events Lead, Ray Pastoors, blogs about his experience growing up gay and discusses the movement at Bupa to make sure everyone knows they are welcome and embraced just the way they are.

Written by Ray Pastoors

Friday 17 May is when we celebrate IDAHOBIT. It may sound like a trilogy or a long acronym, but it stands for something so great that’s it’s worth sharing.

Ever since I was a young boy I have enjoyed activities that were culturally and socially considered ‘not masculine enough’. For my parents’ generation, it wasn’t considered ‘right’ that I wanted a Barbie car for my birthday or to listen to the latest album of Delta Goodrem. My mother and father didn't treat me any differently though. They loved me. But sadly, other parts of society vilified and shunned me.

When I was at high school there were days when I cried. There were days when I was kicked, shoved, called names and continually told I was someone I shouldn’t be. I recall a day such words were even marked all over my school bag in textas and I was pushed to the point where I had had enough. It was the same day those people threw my books in a giant puddle. The day they tried to peg bocce balls at me. All because I was different.

At the time I was too scared to speak up or be proud of who I am. I let them win. There was no one else in sight.

That may sound like a surreal experience but for most of early high school life, that was the case.

After I changed schools and moved states I began to find new ways to hide the true me. I pretended to be the person society pushed me to be based on historical stereotypes. I forced myself to do things considered ‘the norm’. To not listen to that pop CD, to not mention I was disinterested in cars or manly things as others proclaimed was the only way. It wasn’t something that I enjoyed. I was hiding my true identity.

The difference was that I was gay. It was a word I was labelled with and teased with and because of that, I hid away from it.

But after a while, I realised I was not alone. I discovered the stories of other people who went through greater challenges. Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person elected to public office in the USA. A person who was harassed, beaten up and in the end killed for standing up for their and others identity and equal rights. And Audre Lorde, the warrior poet who used their words to inspire people to challenge society norms, to ensure the rights of women, the LGBTI+ community and people of colour. Without these people, these fighters - we’d not be here today.

It was only on 17 May 1990 that the World Health Organisation stopped classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder. This label would have been hurtful to many people including Harvey and Audre. But that did not stop them. They knew that equal rights were important, and that justice was key. That love over hate would triumph.

That’s exactly what IDAHOBIT is all about.

I’ve trekked 100km over muddy terrain, but the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was to not be true to myself. To hide my identity. To not be who I am.

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As courageous as writing this might be, I know for many young people and older Australians out there, that being open about their sexual orientation or identity is something they fear.

I was once in their shoes and I can still be, depending on the situation I’m in.

However, I cannot stand idle and let what happened to me happen to others who are different. I cannot say to myself, honestly, that if I keep quiet the world will change. If we are to make any difference to someone’s life, we must speak up and we must be heard.

There are some that may argue that LGBTI+ awareness isn’t important, or pride is an agenda. But what I say to these people is, all anyone wants in this world, is to belong, to feel loved and to be supported.

When you look up and see that rainbow flag peering through a restaurant window or a badge showcasing support, you know you will belong, get fair treatment and that you do have an ally out there who will stand up against bullying or discrimination.

It’s startling enough to know that nearly half of all LGBTI+ people in Australia hide their sexual identity in the workplace and that 6 in 10 will experience verbal abuse. We also know from research that those who are open about their sexuality at work, see productivity soar. After all, who wants to live a dual life?

This week at Bupa we held IDAHOBIT events across our organisation as part of our Pride Network. We do this to celebrate diversity, but we also do this so that our people know that we do value them and want them to bring their true selves to work. To find out more about what the Pride Network has been up to, click here.

IDAHOBIT stands for International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia and Transphobia. It’s a day to reflect on where we are today, celebrate all things diversity and a chance to demonstrate how we can make a difference to others who feel different, no matter their gender, race, sexual orientation or religion.

Next time you hear or see something that’s not right, let it be known where you stand. Showcase your love and support where you can. It’s the little things that can make a difference to someone’s life. Because that’s what being an ally is all about.

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