AMNESTY International has launched a “pocket protest” campaign ahead of one of the biggest LGBTI parades in the world, asking people to join the fight for equality by sending one simple text message.

The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras may have evolved from the protest movement it once was to become a vibrant celebration of diverse sexualities and genders, but homophobia and transphobia – often in violent forms – continues to be rampant in many parts of the world.

For this reason, Amnesty International Australia (AIA) is using the iconic Sydney event to highlight the discrimination still endured by LGBTI people.

“It may come as a surprise but in 78 countries overseas, a consensual same-sex relationship could have you thrown in jail,” said Senthorun Raj, Amnesty International Australia’s LGBTQI Spokesperson.

“In 10 countries you could be sentenced to death, just for being gay or lesbian.”

Raj also highlighted that homophobia and transphobia moved across a range of cultures and communities, both here and abroad.

“Whether it is here or abroad, we need to be vigilant and take a stand against all its insidious manifestations,” he said.

“From decriminalisation to anti-discrimination laws, Australia has made significant steps towards protecting the human rights of LGBTI people. However, it would be erroneous to think LGBTI people live completely free lives here too.

“The continuing ‘normalisation’ surgeries on intersex infants, the absence of marriage equality, and the policy to send asylum seekers to places that criminalise homosexuality are just a few examples of pressing LGBTI human rights concerns in Australia.

“In other parts of the world, the continuing criminalisation of same-sex relationships and gender non-conforming behaviours pose an enormous threat to security of LGBTI people.”

As part of the pocket protest campaign, bus displays and posters will feature the message: “Showing your PRIDE this Mardi Gras? Spare a text for those who can’t.”

People are also encouraged to text “PRIDE” to 0427 750 610, which will see them join the mobile network with a bounce-back text confirming this (there is an option to opt out). In addition, by sending a text no money will donated and no money will be deducted or added to phone bills.

“During the course of Mardi Gras we will be sending our mobile activists updates from the parade and also urgent actions for individuals at risk, like Elena Klimova, a Russian journalist who was arrested for raising awareness about the mental health of young LGBTI people,” Raj said, explaining the campaign.

“We may also try to call to tell them at some stage about the wider work we do at Amnesty and ask them to become a human rights defender.

“Amnesty International is urging people to show their solidarity to activists who are fighting for the right to have their sexual orientation, gender identity, or intersex status recognised and respected.

“No person should live in fear or shame for just being who they are.”

Raj also said that AIA’s NSW LGBTI network will partner with trans* advocacy group Carmen Rupe Memorial Trust to lead a float in the Mardi Gras Parade that calls for the right express yourself and have control over your own body.

“Sending a simple text message will provide another way for people to show their support,” he said.

Raj added there were other ways to show support or to advocate for the rights of LGBTI people both here and abroad.

“Effective action requires learning more about the disparate LGBTI human rights issues and coming together to enact social change,” he said.

“At a local level, this can be as simple as writing to your local MP expressing concern that Australia is sending LGBTI asylum seekers to places where their life or liberty would be threatened.”

Amnesty International is a worldwide human rights network of more than seven million members and supporters.

The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival is currently in full swing, with the parade taking place on March 7.

To take part in AIA’s pocket protest, text PRIDE to 0427 750 610.

(Main photo: Fair Day participants get into the spirit of Amnesty International’s pocket protest campaign by holding up their phones in solidarity with LGBTI people around the world. PHOTO: Ann-Marie Calilhanna; Star Observer)

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