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Creating Impact
Creating Impact
Salzburg Global LGBT Forum 

“I feel so good and alive, very fresh, and more motivated. Every year I get more amazed at how the Forum has grown and getting more informative, interesting, but also more focused on the issues that many of us neglect or forget about during our everyday work.” - Kasha Nabagesera, Executive Director, Kuchu Times Media Group, Uganda

The Salzburg Global LGBT Forum has been blessed with amazing leaders from around the globe engaging with each other, exploring commonalties and differences, sharing their challenges, and asking questions. Inspired and encouraged by each other and our sense of a global community, Fellows have returned to their home countries and often started new projects: a LGBT film festival; the English translation of a first novel in Arabic; a refocus of their organization; reaching and nurturing new allies in the business or diplomatic community; or finally making that film that had long lingered in their head and heart. Many of our Fellows report that the new projects they start and goals and methods they recalibrate are as a result of the encouragement and energy our sessions provide. We have seen young activists grow into aspiring leaders of their generation, and established leaders at the end of their professional career reconnect and offer larger perspectives and a sense of calm that comes with time.

In a nutshell, we are all overachievers. And the Forum gatherings give us the friendships and voices we need on our journeys through an increasingly connected world. Our Facebook group (unlisted and open only to Forum Fellows due to security concerns) has become our tool to promote, alert and embrace each other’s work. Many of these achievements are compiled into a periodic newsletter sent to a growing list of subscribers, as well as featured in the main Salzburg Global Seminar newsletter, sent to over 6000 recipients.

As a Forum, we have meticulously documented our sessions, chronicling daily panel discussions across several social media platforms to thousands of followers; published recommendations, adopted by governments and institutions; and made our conversations accessible in five session reports, over 100 articles; more than 80 video testimonies (viewed on Salzburg Global Seminar’s YouTube channel and Facebook page almost 30,000 times), and a 20-minute short film.

But what has impacted us most? It is the sense of being part of a global community. This is our fundamental truth: We have become a global community of trust. 

Throughout this report you can find testimonials from our Fellows on what they have gained from being part of our global network.

Cha Roque - Filmaker; Communications Director, Dakila Collective for Modern Heroism, Philippines

“I was invited to the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum in Chiang Rai in 2016. Aside from connecting with a lot of great people and hearing about their stories, there was a particular session in the Forum that rocked my foundation and gave a big impact to my life. I was a panelist in a Forum about raising an LGBT family when I was asked about my most precious memory with my daughter. This question made me realize I should keep making films that tell the stories of LGBT people – not only their struggles but also their triumphs. When I came back to Manila, I continued working on my film called ‘What I Would’ve Told My Daughter if I Knew What to Say Back Then’.…

… It has now been screened at a couple of international film festivals. If not for the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, I might not have had that motivation and push to make another film, and now that I just came from another of their sessions, I am once again inspired to make new films that will give a voice to LGBTs around the world. Thank you, Salzburg Global LGBT Forum!”

Elle Fersan - LGBTQ Activist, Middle East & North Africa, Lebanon / USA

“Capturing the transformational experience I had here at Salzburg in a few words is not an easy task; but if there is one thing I believe I added to this gathering it is helping activists at home understand the importance of engaging with those activists who have sought refuge or found their lives elsewhere for a host of reasons... We in Lebanon are starting this initiative to build Syrian leadership among the LGBT refugees in Lebanon so that they can take their skills and knowledge back home once the war ends...

...Indeed, everyone realizes that we as human rights defenders cannot continue to rely on international aid to push our agendas forward. Reversing the brain drain into a brain capital is thus essential, and we, as activists in the diaspora, can only do that when we are accepted and embraced in our homes of origin. Thank you for being that connecting bridge and for offering the avenue of dialogue and redemption. It is undeniable that the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum fosters a ‘South-to-South’ dialogue that is otherwise impossible given the security constraints and the difficulty in calling for such a Forum in our parts of the world.”

Sukhdeep Singh - Founder & Editor in Chief, Gaylaxy Magazine, India

“The last week has been the most amazing and inspiring week of my life! I have spent the whole week with the president of IDAHOT, gay Syrian refugees, the first married lesbian couple of Japan, Russian activists helping Chechen gay men flee to other countries …

… activists from Uganda, China, Vietnam, Lebanon, South Africa, Bangladesh, Japan, South Korea, and many more such countries doing so many amazing, powerful and courageous things to make this world a better place! This is going to take some time to sink in… Phew! Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Angeline Jackson - Founder & Executive Director, Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, Jamaica

“The Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, gave me the opportunity to interact with and learn from persons within LGBT advocacy whom I consider to be the best within our movement. I appreciated being able to share ideas and advocacy strategies with activists from various parts of the world. Sometimes hearing directly what one person is doing in another part of the world can help to give ideas about what one can do in their own country...

...From this Forum, I walked away not just with valuable connections but also ideas for new ways to possibly challenge Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law, the use of videos to engage people and change hearts and minds, and possible country exchanges with activists from Latin America and Jamaica... The best part for me was hearing women and lesbian and bisexual women clearly stating the challenges within the movement without being told to be quiet or being pushed to the sidelines. I’ve very honored to have been invited to this Forum and plan to package this knowledge along with others I have learned and begin training small groups of activists in Jamaica.”

Ying Xin - Executive Director, Beijing LGBT Center, China

“This is my first time to attended a LGBT forum including activists, artists, scholars from all over the world. It really helped me to know the whole picture of the LGBT movement around world, which has really inspired me to make more connections with other countries. I learned from one of the participants from Africa that it was very hard and dangerous to do LGBT work in some African countries. I felt that it was not so bad in China, and if even this African Fellow can persist in their struggle in such a bad situation, how could we give up in China? …

… During this Forum, I also learnt different perspectives and strategies from other people. After the Forum meeting, I talked a lot with a participant from Argentina who works with IDAHOT and another one from the Asia Pacific Transgender Network: We have already planned to collaborate more on trans issues in Asia. I really like the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum and will recommend it to more Chinese activists and scholars to attend. By the way, the team of this Forum is also lovely and awesome!”

Danilo da Silva - Executive Director, Lambda, Mozambique

“There are very few spaces were queer activists, scholars, artists and politicians meet and discuss current and pressing issues with a global perspective, come out with common goals and an invigorating feeling that we are indeed a global community that need to learn from and share with each other …

… My experience in the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum had a profound impact not only in the way I perceive the global struggle for equality but also in the work I do here in Mozambique. After the meeting I have established relationships with other activists across the globe. We stay connected and have been able to come up with some concrete actions to promote the health and rights of LGBT, and also document and share our advocacy experiences. I am very grateful for this opportunity.”

Amy Lamé - Performer, Writer and Broadcaster, UK

“I was invited to take part in the first ever Salzburg Global Seminar session on an LGBT theme. Meeting people from all over the globe fighting for LGBT human rights was hugely inspirational. While in Salzburg I realized I needed to do more, and I returned to the UK invigorated and determined …

… Realizing a long – and quietly – held ambition, I stood for Parliamentary selection for the Labour Party. Unfortunately, I was not successful, but I am continuing my journey in politics and I intend to stand again. And win. Salzburg Global spurred me on to think bigger, do better, make a real difference. I will always be thankful for the invitation to take part in the session – it changed my life.”

Benjamin Cantu - Filmaker, Germany / Hungary

“My participation in the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum has been highly inspirational as a filmmaker and empowering from a human experience, both in the long-run.Within a few days I learned a lot about the current situation of LGBT individuals and groups from all corners of the world. Especially important to me was the intense dialogue with people from a trans background. I extended my network of friends and partners, with whom I want to collaborate in the future.

The film „Weil ich bin wer ich bin“ / “Je suis qui je suis” that I presented during the Forum in an exclusive preview already gained much from the Forum’s network during our production as Founder and Chair Klaus Mueller connected us with artists and writers in Cambodia, Namibia and Morocco who are part of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum. He also shared the global perspectives the Forum had worked on for
the last years. After the film’s screening, I was instantly invited by many members of the community to future screenings in Uganda, Argentina, Japan and China. The Forum also empowered me as an individual to participate more in human rights causes, beyond filmmaking.”

Bradley Secker - Photojournalist, Turkey / UK

"The experience for me was one of great optimism. Activists, and prominent LGBT+ supporters and individuals from around the world in one place made for plenty of informative discussions, more understanding and a sense of more unity overall. I often feel rather isolated in my work on LGBT topics, so it’s reassuring to know that there are many others out there doing the same…

… Schloss Leopoldskron was the perfect venue, private yet vibrant. I felt truly free and safe for the first time in a while to be honest, which helped open us all up to honest debates. I hope to not only stay connected with many of the Fellows, but also to hopefully work alongside some of them with my photojournalism in the near and distant future."

Kaoru Aoyama - Professor, Contemporary Culture and Society, Graduate School of Intercultural Studies, University of Kobe, Japan

“The week of Salzburg Global LGBT Forum was a week of effective retreat. Away from our ‘real lives’ [we had] an opportunity to immerse ourselves in indeed ‘real’ ideals based on solidarity. It was also an opportunity of re-creating my sense of belonging to a community for me. To know the different meanings of being sexual or gender minorities in various cultural and political situations opened a new door. It was a real education to me to have a chance to listen to and talk directly to friends from Uganda, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina, Bhutan, Albania, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Tajikistan, Lebanon and Syria …

… I felt reassured that my belief as an empirical sociologist was proven: it is always better to meet actual persons who go through that experience to get a sense of what’s going on in a society, however this is a small initial step to know more. This was also seriously the first time for me not to see any antagonisms between gays and lesbians, between trans- and cisgenders or between men and women in an ‘LGBT’ gathering! I will always remember one of the seminar’s concluding remarks: ‘If you want to make allies, you should be an ally to others,’ with the understanding, the trust and the care the friends in the seminar granted me.”

Palitha Vijaya Bandara - Coordinator, Positive Hopes Alliance, Sri Lanka

“I have seen, conducted and experienced many workshops at country level, but I can whole-heartedly say this was one of the most unique and fulfilling experiences in my life. I was enamored by the event from the point of conception itself, however, the use of distinctive methodologies and techniques created a platform where I felt comfortable enough to freely express my opinion and grow in a progressive manner…

…We are now connected through Salzburg Global LGBT Forum Facebook group. It is very good opportunity everyone sharing their own country situation through social media, continue to exchange ideas and learn about progress and difficulties in other countries. I look forward to translate this knowledge and implement our future work to ground level initiatives in Sri Lanka.”

Juan M. Pigot - Chairman, PAREA, Suriname

“It was obvious that everybody felt at home and safe. The five days went by in a blink of an eye. I’m now back home with good memories I will have for the rest of my life, new friendships but above all positive energy. Yes, we can learn from one another. Yes, we can inspire one another. And yes, we can change the world if we want to. That’s what I brought back from Salzburg. I hope that the successful Salzburg Global LGBT Forum will live on and will keep inspiring more people from around the world.”

Martin Vidaurre Vaca - National Chief, Iguales ante la Ley (Equal before the Law), Casilla, Bolivia

“This experience has greatly supported me in the work I do in Bolivia in favor of the human rights of the LGBT population as one consequence of the meeting in Salzburg. I inform you that we have held in Bolivia a meeting with diplomats from embassies of countries that have made progress on human rights of LGBTI people, such as the European Union, the United States, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, among others.”

Kasha Nabagesera - “My motivation is knowing you’re not struggling alone”
Kasha Nabagesera is a five-time Fellow of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, having participated in every session since its founding  in 2013.
Kasha Nabagesera - “My motivation is knowing you’re not struggling alone”
Klaus Mueller and Nicole Bogart 

Kasha Nabagesera is known the world over for her LGBT activism. She has been described as the face of Uganda’s LGBT movement by CNN, appeared on the cover of TIME magazine’s European edition and accepted several humanitarian awards for her fight for LGBT rights in her home country of Uganda – where homosexuality remains illegal

Nabagesera, a five-time Fellow of the Forum, credits much of this success to strong international – and deeply personal – connections she has built over the years of her activism. The Salzburg Global LGBT Forum has a special place and meaning for her.

As an activist, executive director of Kuchu Times Media Group, which runs Bombastic magazine, TV and radio output, and founder of the gay rights organization Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG), Kasha Nabagesera has been a powerful voice in advocating for the rights of the LGBT community in Uganda globally at various international fora. As a plenary speaker at the founding session of the Forum in 2013, she talked about the need for international politicians and campaigners to coordinate with local activists to fight against the hate crimes plaguing her country.

“Uganda is loud,” said Nabagesera, “but criminalization laws are all over Africa.” Several people from the US took advantage of Uganda’s poverty and weak society, she explained, promoting fear of an invasive and dangerous “gay agenda.” US evangelicals had been promoting homophobia in Uganda prior to 2014 and were involved in the creation of the country’s notorious Anti-Homosexuality Act. The global community was helpful in preventing the proposed legislation from becoming law but, at the same time, well-intentioned politicians and campaigners – threatening to withhold aid – did not listen to local activists, generating a backlash from the Ugandan people towards LGBT people in Uganda and violence toward Ugandan representatives around the globe.

Nabagesera has strong ties with European embassies in the region, which have aided in her participation of the Forum, and she encourages other Fellows to create relationships with foreign governments to aid in their advocacy. “During the Berlin session in 2014 it was only Uganda that had a great working relationship with [the German] foreign ministry, but since then I’ve heard that some people have starting opening doors and dialogue back home. So for me I feel it’s important that we keep the dialogues open,” she said.

In 2015, Nabagesera boldly posed on the cover of TIME, as part of a photo essay showcasing 65 LGBT people from 15 different countries who had faced discrimination. Posed with her fist held high, Nabagesera told the magazine she wanted to embody the image of power.

“For me, it’s more than just me being on the cover,” she said of the article. “It’s more putting the visibility on the LGBT struggle around the world, because as much as they say its ‘Out in Africa’, it carries stories from very many people around the world. But also it gives me personal security and protection from not only home, but even from the government.”

This visibility does not mean that she is completely invincible, however. Shortly before she was due to arrive in Salzburg to participate in the 2017 session, Nabagesera was arrested in Rwanda. Within hours, Salzburg Global LGBT Forum members were using their diplomatic connections and multiple communication channels, especially Facebook and Twitter, to raise awareness of her arrest and call for her release.“I was surprised to see people in the Philippines, people in China, were writing,” Nabagesera recalls. “I must say I’m lucky.” She was thankfully released in time to travel to the Forum, and felt re-energized.

“I feel so good and alive, very fresh and more motivated. Every year I get more amazed at how the Forum has grown and getting more informative, interesting, but also more focused on the issues that many of us neglect or forget about during our everyday work. The issue of wellbeing and safety plus family is the core of our existence – and the petrol that fuels us to continue to do what we do. I wonder why for so many years the movements around the world have neglected these topics. We work under very dire circumstances, and if we don’t look after ourselves it will be difficult for us to sustain the global movements and struggle. So for me, to have this opportunity every year to come and re-energize, learn from so many diverse people, share experiences with different kinds of cultures is something that I truly need.”

It is that amplification effect that Nabagesera sees as being one of the key values of the network. “I believe in the power of sharing. That is the strongest weapon the Ugandan LGBT movement has,” she says. “For me, having this network of about 150 people, I know that one of them will share whatever happens. So I use that network to share information out of the continent. But I’ve also used the network, the videos and content that comes from the members of the Forum, because I have 2.8 million viewers on my TV show and website. So people are starting to see that it’s not something new that’s happening to us; it’s also happening elsewhere in the world...

“I really wish many donors, corporations and organizations would really understand the importance of this Forum. We cannot always just fight, fight, fight … without loved ones at our sides, without family. If we are not healthy there is no way we can have healthy movements. The Salzburg Global LGBT Forum has given us a platform to learn and also take back home and share with our communities, I will forever be grateful. And I will always be a bit selfish and say for as long as I am invited to the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum I will attend. This Forum brings out a lot of me that sometimes I didn’t know I had. Some kind of burden gets off, being in a place where for us the focus is directly about us and not just our work and politics. It’s a place where I get to interact one-on-one with government officials, diplomats, UN experts and where I don’t have to fight for space to get their attention like in the so many forums I attend where we are over 1000 people, talking about the same thing for decades.”

Kasha Nabagesera on making the world pay attention to LGBT issues


Defining Family
Defining Family
Klaus Mueller 
addresses LGBT families - those we're born into, those we create and those we raise

“We all come from families that were unprepared for us.”

—    Klaus Mueller, Founder and Chair, Salzburg Global LGBT Forum

Being part of family is a fundamental human condition as well as a human right. All of us long to feel at home with the families of our birth, in the families of our choosing and in the families we raise. This sense of belonging, connection and wellbeing is what we call feeling “at home.”

But does this notion of “family” remain utopian for LGBT people? Many LGBT individuals are rejected by their families, cultures or home countries. So-called traditional family values are often claimed to justify the exclusion of daughters and sons from their families, their communities and the legal protection granted to citizens.

Why does this exclusion find such widespread open or silent acceptance? Why do families, schools, religious communities or government authorities tolerate or even support the discrimination and violence against their LGBT children?

Exclusion is not a value, but an attack on the very fabric of our lives and core idea of family. Where exclusion cannot be prevented, it seriously impacts not only those driven from home but also the families and communities they are forced to leave behind. Much more needs to be done to ensure that “home” can indeed be a place of safety.

Through our three-year project
“Family is…” with the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, we collected and disseminated video testimonies of authentic stories about our Fellows and their families. Fellows shared their personal experiences of acceptance, silence or exclusion in their families and of ways to heal and protect families in all their shapes and forms. In 2017, we released our film documentary Family is…? A Global Conversation as a free resource and humane document to strengthen loving and inclusive families.


Family is...?

In Conversation: Klaus Mueller & Ralf Kleindiek

Our Families

Hiroko Masuhara - “A very strong message to Japanese society”

Family is... A Global Conversation

Family is...?
Salzburg Global LGBT Forum Fellow, filmmaker Cha Roque shares photos of her and her daughter, Kelsey. Her latest film – What I Would Have Told My Daughter If I Knew What To Say Back Then – received its European première in Salzburg in 2017.
Family is...?
Louise Hallman 

The Salzburg Global LGBT Forum prides itself on providing a safe space in which LGBT activists, artists and allies can engage in open and candid conversations. It was in this environment of trust and understanding that the “Family is…” project was born — encouraging participants of all ages and
nationalities to share their experiences of living in, building and raising a family.

The “Family is…” project was developed with support from the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. The Ministry’s support of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum began with its participation in the 2014 session in Berlin, Creating Long-Term Global Networks to Sustain LGBT Human Rights Organizations. Since its launch at the 2015 session, Strengthening Communities: LGBT Rights and Social Cohesion, “Family is…” has seen dozens of Fellows share their family experiences – be that on panels at sessions, in working groups or on film.

Speaking at the 2015 session, State Secretary Ralf Kleindiek explained why his ministry is supporting the project: “Collaboration with the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum is important because family is for most people a crucial part of their lives, of their identities.”

Being part of a family is a fundamental human condition, but the way one defines family can vary widely depending on to whom you speak. How we define “family” or advocate so-called “traditional family values” can be a form of exclusion and discrimination.

“It is important that we have a very wide interpretation of what family is,” explains Kleindiek. “Family is whenever people of different generations look after each other. Married or unmarried, with children or not, old and young, same-sex or heterosexual couples. It is a very serious matter of discrimination if we define family as a closed unit.”

For some, family may be defined by blood relations or marital ties. But as Klaus Mueller remarked at the opening of the 2015 session: “None of us come from families that were prepared for us.”

Through “Family is…” Fellows have shared, candidly and movingly, how families of birth can be hugely supportive or painfully abusive. Stories shared range from those who have received tentative or outright acceptance from their parents, siblings and extended family, to those who had suffered stinging rejections and even physical abuse as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

At the 2016 session, The Many Faces of LGBT Inclusion, held in Chiang Rai, Thailand, Fellows learned  how definitions and practices of family across Asia give or withhold space for LGBT family members and how these practices have changed over time. In many countries across the region, it is typical for multiple generations of families to live together in the same house, leaving few opportunities for independence or privacy. Nepalese and Bhutanese Fellows told the international audience of their compatriots’ ancient beliefs that one cannot die in peace until one has seen the face of their grandchild.

A family’s “honor” is important in countries such India, with certain behaviors or actions considered “dishonorable” and worthy of a variety of often severe punishments, including death. Such attitudes can have serious negative implications for LGBT people, with a number of the participants over the course of the three-year project sharing personal stories or anecdotes of how they or their friends have been cast out of their families for being LGBT. Syrian author Danny Ramadan recalled how his father took the news of his coming out at aged 17: “He has a very heavy hand. After a week I had to leave my family’s home – never to come back. And I have never been back ever since.” Ramadan, now 33, lives in Canada.

As a result of this exclusion, many LGBT people seek to establish “alternative families” or “families of choice” that offer them the love and security they did not find or cannot rely on with their families of birth.

“Alternative family is extremely important,” says Abha Bhaiya, executive director of the Jagori Rural Charitable Trust in India. “I personally find it’s not enough to have a biological family – that is one part of our lives, it’s important, but not sufficient. For me it has always been about creating a collective of like-minded people, where you can have dialogue together and support each other. To be able to give your shoulder to others and put your head on other’s shoulders.”

“I have found an alternative family where we have love and care,” shared one Fellow in Thailand. He had been cut off from his family and had at one point turned to sex work to help fund his university studies. His new family now includes both parental figures and siblings. “To me, family is where there is acceptance and respect. I have found that now,” he says.

Other Fellows have been luckier in their family’s responses, sharing stories of initial rejection but eventual reconciliation, with their families’ understanding growing over time and after many conversations. As Mariano Ruiz, communications officer for IDAHOT (International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia) explains, despite having grown up in a very traditional Argentinian family, his mother has been very supportive: “Without her support, I could never be able to be who I am…. I demonstrated to her that things change, that I will sometime in the future be able to raise kids and have a family as she expected, but not in a traditional way of a man and a woman.”

This desire to raise a family, as well as feel part of one, is one shared by many heterosexual/cisgender people and LGBT people alike – and a desire that is increasingly becoming a legal reality and right for many LGBT people across the world. As of August 2017, 25 countries have fully legalized same-sex marriage or are in the process of adopting it; three more countries recognize marriages performed oversees; and civil unions are recognized in a further 16 countries. Many of these countries also have legalized adoption by same-sex couples.

However, outside of those countries, for LGBT people who choose to raise their own families, legal protections can be sparse, leaving children vulnerable should anything happen to their biological parent – there is little guarantee that their non-biological parent will be able to continue to care for them.

“[In the Philippines] there is no legal tool that supports my family of two mothers and one daughter,” explains filmmaker and mom, Cha Roque. “In an emergency situation, my mom will be there to speak at the hospital because my partner does not have that prerogative.”

But even in countries where full legal recognition and protections are lacking, legally binding workarounds have been found. For example, in Cambodia, same-sex couple recognition does not exist so they increasingly rely on Family Book Records. These documents are used to register extended family members but its flexibility allows same-sex families to register adopted or biological children, giving them legal recognition as a family.

“Family to me is a community of love that we create by choice, as opposed to just one we are born into,” says Danish Sheikh, a lawyer and LGBT rights advocate in India. “It is an institution that can be incredibly disempowering – but also unleash power.”

Sharing his hopes for the “Family is…” project back in 2015, Secretary Kleindiek said: “We learn from the LGBT Forum how discussions in Germany influence them, and how their discussions in other countries influence us in Germany… Indeed, we are trailing behind.” For LGBT equality in Germany, a victory was finally won in 2017 when the German Bundestag voted to legalize gay marriage, which in turn also gave same-sex couples full adoption rights.

As former Australian high court judge, Michael Kirby reflected during his “Family is…” video testimonial in 2015: “We all have that family, most of who are heterosexual, and that is our outreach into the rest of society. It’s hard to hate the people you love.”

By sharing these personal stories, the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum seeks to challenge misrepresentations of families and their LGBT members; document the lived reality of families around the globe today; and hopes to contribute to building stronger, more inclusive societies, communities – and families.

Hyun Kyung Kim on becoming part of the minority

Yinhe Li on how Chinese cultural values force gay men and women into heterosexual marriage

In Conversation - Klaus Mueller & Ralf Kleindiek
Ralf Kleindiek is the State Secretary, German Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. He is a Fellow of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum having participated in three sessions in 2014, 2016 and 2017.
In Conversation - Klaus Mueller & Ralf Kleindiek
Ivan Capriles 

The implication of family definitions for exclusion and discrimination has been an issue that has brought together the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum and the German Ministry for Family Affairs since the Forum’s 2014 session in Berlin.

In 2015, Mueller and State Secretary Ralf Kleindiek introduced a three-year collaboration on “Family is…” at the session Strengthening Communities: LGBT Rights and Social Cohesion. The Forum has conducted a series of conversations and more than 40 video interviews over three years to develop a global portrait of families today. Its documentary film Family is…? A Global Conversation was based on these testimonies and premièred in May 2017 at the German Ministry of Family Affairs in Berlin. 

When our Forum met in 2014 at the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ralf said: “Come to us too to talk about family issues.” Out of this, we developed this new cooperation on “Family is...” as we both believe in the need to embrace families of all kinds and shapes.

Kleindiek: Collaboration with the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum is important because family is for most people a crucial part of their lives, of their identities. It is important that we have a very wide interpretation of what family is. Family is whenever people of different generations look after each other. Married or unmarried, with children or not, old and young, same-sex or heterosexual couples. It is a very serious matter of discrimination if we define family as a closed unit.

Mueller: What is the state of affairs in Germany? Why can’t Germany keep up when compared to Spain or Ireland?

Kleindiek: Indeed, we are trailing behind.* There is a lot of discussion now, especially after the decision in Ireland [Ireland had just voted in favor of same-sex marriage a month before the 2015 session – the first popular vote of its kind]. But our conservative coalition partner blocks equality, and Chancellor Angela Merkel defines marriage as “exclusively between a man and a woman.” Within the Ministry of Family Affairs led by my party, we are making clear changes, but we lack a majority.

Mueller: How are LGBT issues dealt with now in the ministry? I think you told me once that the acronym wasn’t even there until recently?

Kleindiek: When I arrived at the ministry, we had a unit for families on “special situations.” I wondered if it was a special unit for vulnerable families or in poverty, but it was about same-sex couples. Imagine, that was a surprise! Now there is a unit for sexual orientation and gender identities and we coordinate our government politics for that issue across all ministries.

Mueller: Symbolic politics are important. What does the ministry do in contexts such as LGBT Pride?

Kleindiek: We will raise the rainbow flag at our ministry. There was a lot of resistance. We had a discussion because of the regulations for flags on federal buildings. I brought this discussion to state secretaries’ meetings. We found a compromise. Initially, those ministries that wanted to raise the rainbow flag could do so for two days. But now we can do it for a week. For us, this is an important symbol in order to raise awareness and further the discussion.

* In June 2017, the German Bundestag voted to legalize gay marriage, which in turn also gave same-sex couples full adoption rights. Chancellor Angela Merkel voted against the bill. The bill passed by 393 to 226 with four abstentions.

Our Families
Family photos of LGBT Forum Fellows
Our Families
Nicole Bogart 

In collaboration with the German Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum has collected video testimonies of authentic stories from our Fellows about their experiences with their families. These stories include their families of birth, the alternative families they have chosen for themselves and the families they are now raising.

Families We’re Born Into

The families we’re born into represent our “biological families”  and ancestral heritage. While LGBT people are an integral part of their biological families, they often struggle with their families’ acceptance due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. For some, identifying as LGBT threatens the innate feeling of safety within their families of birth and the communities in which they were raised, while others may gradually find support and understanding from loved ones.

Michael Kirby,  Australia

“I told my siblings first… My mother, I never voiced it until a week before she died. I didn’t feel comfortable about not telling her in her lifetime. So I said: ‘Mum, there is something I feel I ought to tell you,’ and when I did so, she looked at me and she said: ‘Michael, you’ve been bringing Johan (my partner) here for the last 30 years, every Sunday. Do you think I came down in the last shower?’ [An Australian expression for ‘Do you think I’m naïve?’] …That is the great strength of LGBTIQ people: We all have that family, most of who are heterosexual, and that is our outreach into the rest of society. It’s hard to hate people you love.”

Manisha Dhakal, Nepal

“I hid myself within my family… They knew that I was a feminine guy from childhood; my voice is soft, and I used to find it easier to grow up with my sisters and my mother. They know. In childhood that is OK. But when I grew up because of the prejudice issue [they became] very scared for me. They didn’t allow me to go to the office for three days and for those three days I took that opportunity. I told them all the things that I faced as who I am, and that changed me a lot. [It made me realize] how important it is to convince the family, and how to get the support from the family. If we get support from the family then we can progress a lot in our personality, in our activism. If there is no support from the family, it’s very difficult to work in activism.”

Saskia Wieringa,The Netherlands

“My family of birth instilled in me two values; the sense of justice, because they were fighters against the Nazi occupation of Holland, and that is a positive feeling within me. Secondly, a feeling that is very negative in me: the narrow-minded religious fanaticism, with its heteronormative morality, which led to my being silent for weeks on end when I was an adolescent. What I wanted to say I couldn’t say, it wasn’t appreciated. And what they wanted me to say I could not say, I refused to say.”

Bao Chau Nguyen, Vietnam

“After my coming out [my mother] told me I can be anyone that I want, she just wanted me to be happy. I was like, ‘Oh, my mom accepted me.’ But after that she and my father tried to change me a lot. She bought me a lot of girly clothes; this pink sweater that I never wore. But now, the last time she talked in public at my graduation, she said she knows that she is the mom of a transgender [man] and she is proud of me.”

Families We Choose

Family, by its very definition, aims to provide a sense of belonging, unconditional love and support. But when our families of birth fail to provide us with those securities, to whom do we turn? Overwhelmingly, our Fellows agree their families of choice play a vital role in their lives, their self-acceptance and their feeling of safety and security.

Danish Sheikh, India

“I think family for me means something that’s not connected to the biological sphere. So I strongly believe that the families that are really important are the families that we make as we go along, and the families that exist outside the prescribed bounds of kinship, reproduction, biology and the State sponsorship. I believe, as a gay man, I have the possibility of building little communities of love; it doesn’t have to be the one that I was born into.”

Passang Dorji, Bhutan

“To me family is a structure or institute formed with the bedrocks of love. Where there is care and support together, at all times, and when there is care and support of each other, then this can be a family, whether it be biological or family of choice. I am more comfortable with families of choice.”

Nader Turkmani, Syria / Norway

“I have a new family. Kind of. I lost some members of my biological family, or the family I used to have [during the war in Syria]. But right now I have my chosen family, my
husband, my partner. I have my friends, my network. My LGBT community there [in Turkey where he was a refugee for two years]. We are starting a new network in Bergen, in Norway. So I believe this is my family.” 

Saskia Wieringa, The Netherlands

“I started building the family that I really wanted to have; my own family, composed of my friends, my family’s friends, my lesbian friends, my lovers, my ex-lovers, my daughter. That’s my life now as it is: I’m an activist, I’m a mother, I’m a grandmother, I’m a partner and I’m proud of the families I have established.”

Angeline Jackson, Jamaica

“Family is about love and safety. So for me it’s about my birth family, who are able to love me in the best way that they can possibly do as I identify as a lesbian. But also for me it is the family of choice: the friends that I make, the secondary mothers and secondary fathers and my partner. That for me is what a family is right now.”

Families We Raise

Much progress has been made to embed LGBT equality as a fundamental part of the global human rights agenda, including the right to create one’s family, be it through same-sex partnership laws or adoption rights for LGBT couples. Though many still struggle for these legal rights and visibility, many LGBT individuals continue to redefine their meaning of family by raising families of their own.

Wanja Kilber, Germany

“[My son] is the lucky one. He has two loving moms – the best moms in the world; he has me, trying to be a good father; he has my partner. The politicians just have to deal with it. It’s not that seldom – a lot of people have two mothers and two fathers, if their parents get divorced and married again. It’s not a new situation, politicians just have to accept it and make it the new reality. [He is now] seven weeks and four days young, and getting happier every day. I was dreaming about it, since I can remember, and I always knew, sooner or later, I was going to be a father.”

Kelsey, Cha Roque’s daughter

“A few months ago, I came out to my friends. But wait, it wasn’t me who really came out. I told them my mommy is a lesbian and thought, ‘So that is how it feels to come out.’ Even if you’re not the person herself, you’re going to get anxious thinking they’ll despise you. If you have a family a loved one who is an LGBT [person], show the world that you’re proud of them. Then maybe, little by little, the world will start to accept and love them… I got judged and laughed at for having a lesbian mom… I was bullied for not having a dad. But I told them ‘It’s okay, I have two mommies!’”

Cha Roque, The Philippines

“We are very open in communicating with each other, but we don’t really talk about it like, ‘Mom I accept you for being a lesbian.’ It’s not an everyday thing. When you hear this being delivered by your daughter, in front of other people, it’s really heartwarming… She is very outspoken on her social media accounts. If there is an issue about LGBT or human rights issues in particular, she will always say something about it.”

Tamara Adrián, Venezuela

“I had my initial family as a heterosexual man. It was a perfect nuclear family. But things changed when I opened up about being a trans person. I could not see my children for years because their other mother didn’t let me. My children and I restarted our relationship eight years ago. They are independent individuals with no rush to get married. Now I am a bit afraid that I will not be a grandmother soon!”

Hiroko Masuhara - “A very strong message to Japanese society”
Hiroko Masuhara is a Fellow of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, having participated in the 2017 session — Home: Safety, Wellness and Belonging.
Hiroko Masuhara - “A very strong message to Japanese society”
Nicole Bogart 

When Hiroko Masuhara and her wife married in 2013* their partnership not only marked a significant milestone in their own lives but also for all same-sex couples and even society-at-large in Japan: They were the first couple to be issued Japan’s first-ever certificate recognizing a same-sex union.

“In the last three years, Japanese society has changed very rapidly,” she says. “[My wife and I] obtained the first issued same-sex partnership certificate by Shibuya city [a city district in Tokyo]. This changed a lot about the notion of family and marriage in Japan. In Japan, to be ‘normal’ is a very strong message – but [the fact that] same-sex couples can be happy and build their own families is a very strong message to society.”

Same-sex marriage is not legal in Japan and these certificates are currently only issued in two districts of the capital, Tokyo. The same-sex partnership certificates are mostly symbolic, allowing couples to sign a notarized document promising to love and protect each other. While the certificates ensure partners can become each other’s life insurance recipients, hospitals, landlords and businesses are not legally bound to recognize them.

These certificates did, however, ignite further conversation about LGBT rights in Japan, especially in the corporate world. “Japanese companies, not only global companies like Google and Apple, but domestic Japanese companies started to face LGBT employees and consumers. [More] companies started LGBT training and [offered] welfare for LGBT employees,” she says.

Masuhara now specializes in promoting LGBT inclusiveness in the workplace by delivering diversity training for private companies. “When I was young, I couldn’t dream of making my family, and possibly having children, but now I can,” she says. “Young generations in Japan have the possibility and the choice to make a family.”

She continues: “When I was young there wasn’t social media, so I didn’t know that there were many LGBT people in the world, or in Japan, or in my own town. But now kids can Google. There are many chances to be yourself, for younger generations.”

But for all the positive progression for LGBT individuals in Japanese society, there is still work that needs to be done. “We have many problems still,” says Masuhara, “like bullying at schools and high suicide rates among younger LGBT people. So even if, as a society, [we’ve taken] good steps forward, the problems remain. We have to fight against homophobia and transphobia. We have to promote diversity and raise awareness of LGBT people.”

Hiroko Masuhara on change in Japan on LGBT human rights

*This interview was conducted in May 2017. In December 2017, Masuhara and Koyuki Higashi announced they had ended their six-and-a-half-year relationship and returned their partnership certificate to Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward. In a joint statement posted on their websites, they said, “We will continue to work together on issues surrounding LGBT, SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) and women and children’s rights.” The statement said they would also remain good friends.

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