The current refugee situation is a moment in Europe’s history when we need to realize that whatever we did to remember the injustices of the World Wars, the Holocaust and the later Balkan conflicts (and even Russia’s recent invasions on Georgia and Ukraine) was not enough. We have failed as nations, as societies and as individuals.
We were taught “never forget” not just to keep the memory alive. We were given a task to not let genocide happen ever again. We failed. It is happening as we speak. Instead of teaching our children to never forget, because it could be them who would be committing evil deeds, we taught them to not question their actions. We keep denying humanity to refugees and our media portray them as intruders not worth our time. We are told that our countries do not have a place for those who run away from war. Europe also loves when those who visit and want to stay here uphold that status quo. This has never been more prominent than now when Syrian refugees need our help.
These power relations have been also emerging within our closest communities, an experience I have observed recently among some members of the Polish trans community. It is important to underline that there is huge diversity within trans people and very often it’s even hard to call us “a community”, seeing how a number of us transition and disappear into society to pursue a normative lifestyle. Nevertheless, as an organization working for and with trans people, we have come across a number of people sharing islamophobic and anti-Semitic content.
To my surprise, confronting them with the question of why their views are not opinions but hate speech did not help at all. And it is not to say that these people are bad or that there is something wrong with them on an individual level. What is happening here is that we are experiencing how power shifts change perspectives. When one has been seen as the enemy or a threat to society and culture, makes some of them seem to enjoy this power to the extent of mimicking their perpetrators.
This betrayal of ourselves and forgetting our history is where we need to draw the line. LGBTIQA issues are on the rise. Every day more Europeans learn to accept the fact that we are as equal as them. Our movement thrives because of allies in our families, workplaces and governments. Without allies we would not have been where we are today. And now it is our turn to become allies to others. We cannot waste this time and refuse to help those in need. Our leaders do not want to welcome Syrians in our countries, but we have the possibility and the power to help refugees on our own and change our governments’ minds.
It is especially the time of our organizations to take a clear stand on human rights and every person’s right to a safe environment. As leading groups we can educate the communities with whom we work. It is our obligation to teach about hate and islamophobia, as well as the dangers of generalizations and how today’s media discourse resembles the one of late 1920s and 1930s. It is also time to help our communities understand that hate is not an opinion. We need to emphasize that we will not accept anti-refugee attitudes, especially when these are fueled by supposed fear for our communities’ integrity.
And finally, it is about time for our movement to break the silence on the refugee topic. Let’s organize events, form coalitions, help fundraise and organize shelters as well as counseling for those refugees who also belong to our patchwork rainbow family. Let’s question our governments on low quotas and lack of proper response to this outrageous situation. Let’s lend a hand to those already working directly with refugees.
But most importantly – let us show initiative and be those who care. How can we expect the world to care about our issues, if we can’t take the time to care about others? We need to re-teach empathy. Without it we can no longer be human. And neither can we call ourselves a human rights movement.