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The Role of Rule of Law
The Role of Rule of Law
Louise Hallman 

Ahead of the inaugural session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, Archbishop Desmond Tutu sent a message of support: “As I wrote in the Lancet last July, ‘In the future, the laws that criminalize so many forms of human love and commitment will look the way apartheid laws do to us now – so obviously wrong.’ We know that LGBT people are a part of every human community. “We therefore need a forum for a truly global conversation about how they contribute to, and are affected by, the law, culture and creativity – and how we can ensure that their voices are heard and understood. I applaud Salzburg Global Seminar for deciding to hold a session on LGBT and Human Rights: New Challenges, Next Steps, at which all regions of the world will be represented, and I hope that it will mark the beginning of that global conversation.”

Five years on and the decriminalization of “human love and commitment” very much remains a challenge – and the global conversation plays an ever-growing role through which change can be encouraged, strengthened, but also endangered.

Many of the countries which still criminalize homosexuality and transgender expression base their discriminatory laws, now hailed as a signature of their sovereignty, on a former global process: colonization. The British Empire, in particular, has left an anti-LGBT colonial legacy in its former occupied countries; today almost 70 percent of states with a British colonial history continue to criminalize homosexual conduct. While Nepal, which was never colonized, has made rapid progress in the decriminalization of homosexuality, the recognition of gender identity and legal protections for its LGBT citizens, neighboring India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, like much of the Commonwealth, still all criminalize aspects of same-sex relations – a legacy of the British Empire’s anti-sodomy laws. In regard to legal support for transgender recognition, all three countries however have made stringent progress.

When the Forum was founded in 2013, 76 countries criminalized same-sex relations. Today, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA)’s annual State-Sponsored Homophobia report, 72 states continue to criminalize same-sex consensual activity. (Former British colonies account for over half of these countries.) In 2013, only 65 countries had legislation offering protection to their LGBT citizens. Today that number is 85. On the issue of families, the number of countries that now have equal marriage and adoption rights stands at 23 and 26 respectively, up from just 14 in 2013. (The UK, a former proponent of anti-sodomy laws through its former empire, has now decriminalized homosexuality, allows gay marriage and adoption, legally recognizes changes in gender identity and offers a variety of protections against discrimination for its LGBT citizens.) Transgender people also have made significant legal progress and built a growing public understanding in some parts of the world; with the 2012 legal gender recognition legislation in Argentina, followed by similar laws in Colombia, Denmark, Ireland and Malta. In April 2017, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that requiring sterilization for legal gender recognition violates human rights.

But this progress is by no means certain. Nor does legal protection ensure societal respect.

Just as some countries have made steps forward, others have taken significant steps back. Most notable in this regard are Uganda with its Anti-Homosexuality Bill that tried to introduce the death penalty for same-sex relations, and Russia with its similarly notorious federal law “for the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values,” more commonly known as the “gay propaganda law.”

The struggle to advance LGBT rights through courts or legislatures has thus not always been as effective as hoped. As Mark Agrast, executive director of the American Society of International Law recalled at the fifth session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum in 2017, early moves to achieve marriage equality in a number of US states resulted in federal legislation to outlaw same-sex marriage nationwide. Only after years of effort and major shifts in public attitudes did the United States Supreme Court affirm that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry in 2016. Guatemalan human rights lawyer Mónica Leonardo offered another example to illustrate Agrast’s point: In 2017, Guatemala’s LGBT community proposed anti-discrimination laws in Congress – a move that triggered the threat of a counter law that would have legalized discrimination of LGBT people in areas such as marriage and sexual education in schools. Unless legal progresses are part of a broader strategy to change hearts and minds, such efforts can fall short, or even provoke a backlash.

Such setbacks exist at the global level too, explained South African human rights lawyer, Sibongile Ndashe, in 2013. After the equality resolution by the UN Human Rights Council from 2011, in which violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity were explicitly forbidden, many countries from the Global North encouraged the passage of a second resolution that would have established mechanisms to protect LGBT people against these violations. Although the initial resolution was spearheaded by South Africa and backed by other countries in the Global South, there was a strong lobby from the Global South in opposition to this approach, explained Ndashe, fearing a backlash from local governments and leaders.

Despite potential setbacks and backlashes, legal progress remains the most relevant tool to safeguard equal treatment of all citizens. In its yearly sessions of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, discussions on the rule of law led by human rights lawyers have been key to the Forum’s overall objectives. The role of international law was incorporated into the Statement of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum: Advancing human rights for LGBT people and communities, urging that “Gender identity and sexual orientation […] be incorporated into procedures for documenting and monitoring human rights violations around the world.”

The key recommendation raised by Fellows year after year is: together with pushing forward an LGBT-inclusive legislative agenda, make sure that an educational campaign, media training and political networking go hand-in-hand. If equality legislation is strongly supported at the global level, make sure to understand the local situation and be guided by local human rights groups. Legal reforms should come hand-in-hand with public education schemes to ensure that once these laws have been enacted, both LGBT communities and the public know what the laws are, and the justice system upholds these laws, ensuring that the state and society-at-large respect them.

As one Fellow remarked: “Sometimes there will be opportunities where government passes something that sounds good but the lived realities of the intended beneficiaries mean that they aren’t able to benefit because the change [in society] has not happened yet.”


Aung Myo Min on his survey of how LGBT Burmese are affected by the colonial British sodomy law

Milan Antonijevic on combating LGBT hate crime in Serbia

Danish Sheikh on using the law to advocate for LGBT rights in India


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Mark Agrast - Legal Advances for LGBT Rights
“A healthy respect for the rule of law is necessary for human rights to flourish,” said American lawyer Mark Agrast on a panel “Building Home on the Rule of Law” in 2017.
Mark Agrast - Legal Advances for LGBT Rights
Nicole Bogart 

Executive director of the American Society of International Law, Mark Agrast explains how pursuing legal change can help – and hinder – the advance of LGBT rights around the world.

Mark Agrast has devoted his career to advancing social justice and human rights, specifically pertaining to the freedom and security of LGBT individuals, through the rule of law. Agrast, who served as deputy assistant attorney general in the Obama administration, is a longtime leader of a number of legal institutions, including the American Bar Association and the National LGBT Bar.

Where are we when it comes to advancing LGBT human rights?
It depends on where you’re from and the conditions in your country. Certainly in the United States there has been tremendous progress in advancing the rule of law for LGBT Americans. But there are always a few steps forward and a few steps back. It’s a constant struggle, and I think that’s the history of the rule of law; it’s never something that’s finally established for all time.

Every generation has to fight the same battles over and over again, so I think it’s important that we equip our community and our allies to that fight. You start with what you have, conditions as they exist, and you insist on applying universal principals of the rule of law, as derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the many international covenants and agreements that most nations have signed on to. Countries may or may not follow them in every respect – and they have to be reminded that these are binding obligations that apply to every society.

How do you change laws that are discriminatory?
There is obviously a legal discussion at the foundation of all of this, and that involves legislatures and courts in most countries. But I think the more important effort to advance the rule of law is to try to inculcate the sense of rule of law… It’s not intuitive for most people – it’s something that has to be learned, has to be acquired. I think as a movement for human liberation, the gay rights movement is in a particularly good position to advance its goal to the rule of law and, in doing so, to advance the rights of all communities everywhere.

What does the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum mean to you?
I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for real interchange at a human level – and at an intellectual level. A chance to be in these beautiful surroundings and engage with people who are in different stages of the development of the LGBT movement. Some are at a point now where they can almost take it for granted; they have the right to marry and the right to walk down the street and not be assaulted. And there are other people who are here who bring a much different and darker experience, a different reality; and, in many cases, they have a lot to teach those of us who are perhaps in places that have advanced further in LGBT rights. And perhaps they have something to learn from how we went about the process of advancing rights in our countries – both the successes and the failures that we experienced.

Mark Agrast on advancing the rule of law for LGBT human rights


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Staying Safe Online and IRL
With her extensive experience in using social media and meeting with representatives from major platforms, veteran LGBT activist Kasha Nabagesera was able to offer valuable insights to Fellows in Thailand.
Staying Safe Online and IRL
Louise Hallman 

The internet offers a wealth of information on LGBT experiences, access to support networks, and a seemingly safe haven in which LGBT people can communicate and express themselves – often in ways that would be unsafe “IRL,” in real life. However, the online space houses its own dangers.

A topic addressed by the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum since its first session has been how LGBT activists and individuals in general can remain safe online. In more oppressive regimes, most LGBT activists depend heavily on social media in order to discuss LGBT rights and issues in their respective countries, mainly because the internet offers a safe space, where activists are not faced by the same threats of doing activism on the ground. However, during the last few years, arrests based on people’s online activism have been on the rise, especially in the Arab world.

At its inaugural session, security expert Fadi Saleh led a knowledge café discussion on how to remain safe online and spoke to Salzburg Global on camera: “There is an increase of using online activism more than anything else across the region because of course, on the ground it’s very dangerous all the time for a lot of people,” explained Saleh. “So people get a sense of security when they go on the internet. But this is of course a false sense of security. And that’s the issue we [Tactical Tech] try to tackle… especially because across the [Middle East and North Africa] region in the last few years many of the attacks, the arrests, the blackmailings, all of it happens because of online activism and what people post online.”

Cases exist across the Middle East and North Africa: from two men in Algeria being arrested for merely changing their relationship status on Facebook; a LGBT magazine in Tunisia being hacked leading to the arrest of their journalists; to gay men being entrapped by police in Egypt via online chatrooms, leading to them being arrested and tortured. Similar cases have been reported in other countries, including Russia where homophobic vigilantes have used location-based gay dating apps like Grindr to lure gay men and blackmail or beat them.

“So all of this is important – how to change your behavior online? What sort of information are you supposed to share, in which context?” asks Saleh. He realized that there was a great level of ignorance about how unsafe the online space could potentially be. As a consultant for the Berlin-based collective Tactical Tech, Saleh has contributed to “toolkits,” detailed guides on how to stay safe online. Saleh and Andrea Rocca from Frontline Defenders, with whom these resources were developed, presented them at the 2014 Berlin Forum meeting at the German Foreign Office to make them more widely known. All are available online: www.tacticaltech.org/projects

Even when LGBT people are not lured into danger “IRL” (in real life), engaging online can still be discouraging and disheartening as LGBT people – activists and private individuals alike – face harassment, bulling and “trolling” for anti-LGBT extremists. Many of these “trolls” might not be audacious enough to attack someone in the street but they have few qualms about sending messages of hate online from behind the safety of their own screen.

In these cases, many social media platforms now all have features to report abusive comments and accounts. “Use them!” was a key point of advice from Kasha Nabagesera, who as one of Uganda’s most prominent LGBT activists – both online and offline – has long endured such online harassment. As activists, there can be the expectation or belief that you must engage with those who disagree with you, but the relentless nature of social media engagement can be disheartening. “Stay healthy!” a Russian Fellow advised, by blocking or reporting those who abuse you and mobilize your followers to also report abusive comments and users. However, these report/block functions can also be used against LGBT activists to silence them. Nabagesera has extensive experience in personal and professional social media engagement and, having spoken to representatives from numerous social media corporations, offers the following advice:

Twitter

Apply for verification (the blue tick). Activists do not need thousands of followers to do this and if awarded it can stop instant blocking if reported by anti-LGBT users.

Facebook

Ask other “legitimate” and well-recognized human rights groups to message Facebook on your behalf to vouch for you. This will also prompt Facebook to stop enforcing an immediate block and get you out of  “Facebook jail” if falsely reported by homophobic users.

Google

Apply to Project Shield to protect your website from negative reviews and reports in Google Search.

Several Fellows of the Forum have taken steps to protect their online identities. Some use pseudonyms, others do not share images of themselves online to protect their offline identities. Another simple piece of advice to stop hackers is to use the two-step verification features that are now offered by many platforms. Many of the major social media platforms also have LGBT staff and interest groups within their corporations; activists should try to cultivate a relationship with these groups.

Saleh sees staying safe online as being not only a local or regional issue but also a global one: “Current human rights and LGBT discourse is getting more and more international… If you want to [join that discourse] you need to do it as securely as possible – not only for your sake but the sake of everybody else as well.”


Fadi Saleh on how LGBT activists can be safe online in the Arab world


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Addressing Trans Issues
Addressing Trans Issues
Klaus Mueller 
in diverse cultures

“Legal recognition of gender change in most countries requires that transgender people undergo surgeries that leave them sterile – a major violation of their basic reproductive rights.”

—    Fernanda Milán, a trans asylum seeker from Guatemala, now in Denmark


At our inaugural session in 2013 we learned through two presentations how severely trans individuals and communities are affected by a global culture of violence. The Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM) project, a systematic collection and documentation of reported killings of gender-variant/trans people worldwide, confronted us with realities that largely went unnoticed in public discourse.

In its 2017 update, TMM documented 2343 reported killings of trans and gender-diverse people in 69 countries worldwide between January 2008 and December 2016. The 2013 EU Fundamental Rights Agency survey on the rights situation of LGBT people in Europe confirmed safety as an immediate threat for trans people – 43 percent of whom reported having been attacked more than three times in one year. 

In response, our 2013 call to action – the Statement of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum: Advancing human rights for LGBT people and communities – identified transgender safety as a distinct, urgent issue: “Transgender people across the world face threats to their lives and safety. Governments, legal institutions, faith leaders and the media must fulfill their responsibilities to safeguard human lives and challenge transphobia.”

Through sharing their life experiences in diverse cultures, trans women and men fostered an increased understanding in Forum members of their legal, health and cultural challenges, including for trans refugees. This also led to change in Salzburg Global Seminar’s overall session registration process, which until then had only offered binary gender options. In continuation of exploring trans issues through discussions and exhibitions in 2013 and 2015, the 2016 session of the Forum focused on the high visibility of transgender communities in Asia, forms of their cultural acceptance and the legal challenges communities face.

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Specifics and Urgencies

Profile: Manisha Dhakal

Profile: Tamara Adrián

Profile: Joe Wong

Advisory Committee On Gender Identity On Salzburg Global Registration Forms

Trans Experiences

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The Specifics and Urgencies of Trans Issues
Although there is no state recognition for trans individuals and little awareness of LGBT issues in general in Bhutan, in Ugyen Tshering’s experience, as she shared in 2015, LGBT people are not subjected to police harassment. In the capital Thimphu, people are finally starting to become aware and informed of this community but very few people are openly LGBT.
The Specifics and Urgencies of Trans Issues
Louise Hallman 

The challenges faced by trans men and women range from their access to and decision if and how to transition, forced sterilization, and widespread discrimination, to violence and even murder. Still, many of these issues are often not well understood and are marginalized within global LGBT discourses.

Learning from trans leaders since its very beginnings, and highlighted in its global statement, the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum has sought to emphasize the distinct challenges faced by transgender people.

Lack of understanding, marginalization, discrimination, persecution and violence frequently beset the LGBT community. This is especially true for transgender people — even within the LGBT community. Speaking at the inaugural session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, Fernanda Milán, Guatemalan refugee and co-founder of the Trans-project in Denmark, opened a panel on trans issues by explaining why transgender people are the most vulnerable and exposed segment of LGBT populations.

Milán was the first transgender person to be granted asylum in Denmark after the Guatemalan police attacked and threatened her because of her activism and gender identity.


Urgent concerns

As Milán shared with Fellows, trans people face many urgent issues. Legal recognition of gender change in many countries still is impossible, but even where legislation is in place, it often requires that transgender people undergo surgeries that leave them sterile, which is a major violation of their basic reproductive rights. Access to gender reassignment procedures is greatly unequal around the world, and even in countries with facilitated access, the internationally recognized protocol for regulating access considers transgender persons to be mentally ill.

Due to discrimination in families and the education system, transgender people often are economically disadvantaged and lack support networks in their struggle. This leads many into sex work, putting them at heightened risks of HIV. Trans women are especially vulnerable to sex trafficking.

At the fifth session in 2017, human rights lawyer, Mónica Leonardo echoed Milán’s concerns: “We see throughout the Latin American region, and Guatemala is no exclusion, there is a prevalence of HIV in one percent of the population. For transgender women it’s 35 percent.” The prevalence among gay men is 18 percent. Furthermore, she added: “There are reports of extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture and extortion, often committed by armed forces, namely the police or the army.”  

Statistics unfortunately prove Milán and Leonardo right. “There has been a constant increase in reported murders of transgender people around the world,” stated Carla LaGata, lead researcher from Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide (TvT), which conducts the Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM) project. At the session in 2013, LaGata presented documentation gathered between 2008 and 2012: at least 958 trans people were murdered in Central and South America, 109 in Asia, 77 in North America, 77 in Europe, eight in Africa, and two in Oceania. Transgender migrants and sex workers, especially people of color, were disproportionately victims of this violence.

It is chilling realities like these that prompted the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum to explore and address trans safety as a separate, distinct and urgent issue within the Forum. The collectively written Statement of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum: Advancing human rights for LGBT people and communities thus declares: “Transgender people across the world face threats to their lives and safety. Governments, legal institutions, faith leaders and the media must fulfill their responsibilities to safeguard human lives and challenge transphobia.”

Each year, the Forum has had held dedicated panels, breakout groups and exhibitions addressing the lived realities of trans people across the world. Asian trans experiences were especially explored in Chiang Rai, Thailand at the 2016 session of the Forum. Some Asian countries are renowned for their sex-reassignment surgeries and social tolerance of trans communities, but, as one trans Asian Fellow remarked: “There is high degree of ignorance in thinking that Asia is a paradise for trans people.”


The Power of Data

Countering that ignorance means researching and sharing the truth of the experiences of trans people. “When we talk about LGBT issues,” LaGata explained, “we are often missing the ‘T’ from our data.”

LaGata stressed that the existing research about transgender persons has been dominated by medicine and by the Global North. These biases produce data that are pathologizing and often misconstruing local contexts. A narrow focus on laws that criminalize homosexuality or gender non-conformity, for example, misses the importance of other (e.g. anti-prostitution) laws that are specifically used against transgender persons on a global level, or too quickly targets contexts where these laws may exist, but where transgender people are relatively well respected by the broader society.

To address this lack of data and counter these biases, the TMM project was developed with 19 partner organizations and within an advisory board of 27 members from every region of the world. The project has a strong empowerment focus – including research trainings for local activists – and produces ongoing reports monitoring the reported cases of murdered trans people and a map of the legal situation of trans people worldwide, all available online.

There has been progress in addressing some of the legal issues faced by trans people. As of 2017, 51 of the 126 countries mapped by TvT allow the legal change of gender on official documents without challenge, although only four countries (three of which are in South Asia) offer a third gender option.

But despite areas of progress, the number of trans people murdered continues to rise, with Latin America markedly the most dangerous region – despite the fact that trans people in many Latin American countries have been granted legal recognition and protections. In particular, Argentina’s gender recognition law is seen by many as the best existing policy from which many countries, including from the Global North, could benefit.

Passed in 2012, this law allows people to alter their gender on official documents without first having to receive a psychiatric diagnosis or surgery, and also requires public and private medical practitioners to provide free hormone therapy or gender reassignment surgery for those who want it, including those under the age of 18.

The high number of recorded murders in Latin America may be because of the number of organizations already monitoring in the region, raising the question about the situation of trans communities in other regions of the world. It also demonstrates that even where laws exist, legislation does not always offer ultimate protection from discrimination, persecution and violence.


The Power of Stories

Data is important. Data is often what helps drive policy. But even with the attention of policymakers, it is hard to gain the attention or change the hearts and minds of the public with data alone. Stories, especially personal ones, can be far more powerful in this regard. The Salzburg Global LGBT Forum strongly believes in the power of sharing personal experiences and ethical listening.

Trans Fellows have opened up and candidly told their stories of their realization of feeling that they were in the wrong body as a child. Stories of their struggles to communicate with parents, siblings, partners and children when choosing to transition. Stories of suffering harassment and attacks from neighbors, strangers and the police. Stories of fleeing their homes and countries in search of safety. And stories of triumph as they establish alternative families, eventually reconcile with family members who had once rejected them, or help the passing of new protective and inclusive legislation.

Sharing these stories far and wide is vitally important to challenge the prejudices that fuel transphobia and hinder legal and societal progress. The media has a large role to play here as Josephine Shaw, who helped to found campaigning group Trans Media Watch (TMW), explained in 2013. TMW has worked to promote the presentation of informed and empowering images of transgender people in the media by engaging in dialogue with television stations and other media and by organizing training workshops.

Historically, trans issues had been marginalized also within the LGBT movement, stated Joe Wong, Program Manager, Asia Pacific Transgender Network, Singapore. However, a new base of trans leadership has given more space for direct advocacy of trans issues.

Direct trans engagement with the World Health Organization and the United Nations, for example, especially in regional contexts has allowed for the recognition of data and policy indicators that are sensitive of trans communities. It is better, Wong insists, that instead of people speaking on behalf of the trans community, the community should speak for itself.

The Salzburg Global LGBT Forum continues to learn from trans men and women and strives, through their leadership, to amplify their voices and vision not only to the public but also within the global LGBT community.



 

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Manisha Dhakal - Making significant progress for trans rights in Nepal
Manisha Dhakal is a two-time Fellow of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, having participated in sessions in 2015 and 2016 in Salzburg and Chiang Rai.
Manisha Dhakal - Making significant progress for trans rights in Nepal
Louise Hallman & Nicole Bogart 

Over the last decade, transgender activist Manisha Dhakal has witnessed significant change in her country. Unlike other South Asian countries that still adhere to long-ago imposed colonial laws on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, Nepal – which was never colonized – has been at the forefront of LGBT rights progress, enjoying relatively greater freedoms than its regional neighbors.

As the executive director of Blue Diamond Society, Nepal’s first and largest LGBT rights organization, Dhakal was involved in the court pleadings on behalf of the LGBT community on a case that concluded with the Supreme Court of Nepal issuing a verdict to enact a law enabling equal rights for all LGBT citizens. She has since worked tirelessly to lobby parliamentarians to include further protections for Nepal’s LGBT communities – an effort met with great victory when the country ratified its latest constitution.

In 2015, shortly after Dhakal’s participation in the third session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, her country took historic steps to pass a new constitution that provided explicit protections for LGBT people from discrimination and violence. These new constitutional protections, along with the legal recognition of a third gender category passed in 2007, were celebrated by human rights organizations as a pathway to a more inclusive Nepal.

The Blue Diamond Society was founded in 2001; it was the only organization working for Nepal’s LGBT community at the time. Starting with HIV/Aids awareness and condom distribution, the organization has come a long way in advancing its advocacy.

“HIV is the entry point of our movement. Within [the past 15 years] we changed a lot. We entered in the HIV/Aids awareness program and slowly strategized into activities in rights issues,” Dhakal explains. “We worked with the government, we worked with the Human Rights Commission, police, judicial people, political parties and parliamentarians,” which has helped the organization’s influence reach those at levels possible to implement wide-scale change.

Dhakal and other Nepalese trans individuals have also seen greater inclusion from the government in the past decade. In 2011, Nepal became the world’s first country to include a third gender on its federal census, and, in 2015, the same year as the new constitution, the government began issuing passports recognizing three genders. However, despite these advances, challenges persist.

As Dhakal shared on a panel discussing trans issues in Asia at the 2016 session of the LGBT Forum in Thailand, health care providers are being trained in sexuality, gender and HIV care, but in some hospitals, health personnel would bring curious colleagues into the room to "observe our check-ups,”  violating the patients’ dignity.

Often, trans women in Nepal take hormones without prescription and estimate dosage following their peers’ rather than doctors’ advice, prompting organizations to translate and improve information on hormone and transition process safety. (This situation is better than in neighboring Bhutan, where trans women have difficulties accessing hormones at all.) These persistent problems were particularly stark in the aftermath of the two devastating and deadly earthquakes in 2015.

Speaking to Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) one year after the tragedy, Dhakal said although the LGBT community has been recognized by the government, much of that recognition remains “in theory,” noting that many government relief efforts following the earthquake separated those in need by gender, leaving transgender people with nowhere to go.

“Some transgender people were not able to claim relief material and many were laughed at or made fun of when they tried. This deterred many from seeking help. We as civil society need to monitor the implementation of the relief efforts by the government,” she explained to UNAIDS.

While the Blue Diamond Society continues in its human rights advocacy and HIV education and care, the earthquakes have given the organization another focus: disaster preparedness. In the immediate aftermath, the Blue Diamond Society provided funds to LGBT applicants in need and provided temporary shelter in their HIV centers. But as Dhakal admits, more needs to be done, and they need to ensure that the LGBT community is better supported during unforeseen events where governmental support may falter.

“At the Blue Diamond Society we prided ourselves on our focus on HIV programs and our Human Rights advocacy. One thing we failed to do was prepare for a natural disaster,” admits Dhakal. “Because of that, our community suffered a lot. We realized that apart from HIV prevention and Human Rights advocacy, there is a need for us to focus on better prevention of any unforeseeable natural disasters whether it’s an earthquake or a flood.”

The Blue Diamond Society started in 2001 with just six volunteers in the Kathmandu Valley. Today they have dozens of staff and programs conducted across the country; through their outreach efforts, the Blue Diamond Society has directly helped over 350,000 LGBT Nepalese. Increasingly its expertise is called upon from neighboring countries. Just as the Blue Diamond Society’s journey has progressed positively in the face of struggles, so too has Dhakal’s.

As part of the LGBT Forum’s “Family is…?” project, Dhakal shared her experience of gaining her family’s support during her transition: “When I started to work with the Blue Diamond Society, at that time I was a cis-guy, and did not have the long hair and didn’t wear the female dress. I hid myself within my family; I didn’t tell them I worked for the Blue Diamond Society. I said to them I am working in the HIV prevention project.

“One time, they knew that I belonged to the Blue Diamond Society, [and] for three days they didn’t allow me to go to the office — and [those] three days changed me a lot. It gave the opportunity to me to convince my family. Over those days I told them, and convinced them of who I am, what is my sexuality… I told them all the things that I faced as who I am, and that changed me a lot. [It changed me to be] more to be involved in LGBTI movement, [and realize] how family is important and how important it is to convince the family, and how to get the support from the family. If we get the 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 and to involve in activism.”

With support from her family, and growing legal protections, she hopes to see further progress not only for herself, but for her country and the region at large.



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Tamara Adrián - Breaking boundaries and tackling trans rights on a global scale
Tamara Adrián campaigns for LGBT rights on many fronts: she is a human rights lawyer, a member of the Venezuelan National Assembly and president of the organizing committee of IDAHOT.
Tamara Adrián - Breaking boundaries and tackling trans rights on a global scale
Nicole Bogart 

Few activists rival the number of barriers Tamara Adrián has personally broken. She is the first transgender woman to serve in the Venezuelan legislature, making her the second transgender person elected to a national legislature in Latin America, after Michelle Suárez Bértora of Uruguay.

Adrián married her partner of more than 20 years under her former name, making her and her wife the first legally recognized lesbian couple in the country. As a trans activist and politician, these feats are extraordinary; that they’ve happened in Venezuela, a country marred by political turmoil and a poor record for LGBT rights, is monumental.

A former law professor as well as international advocate and national legislator, Adrián is one of a select few of Salzburg Global LGBT Forum Fellows who has attended all sessions of the Forum, starting in 2013, bringing her legal and international insights to multiple Forum and public panels. 

Adrián has never shied away from monumental challenges in her advocacy. Serving as President of the Committee of International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) and co-president of the International Lesbian Gay Transgender Law Association (ILGALaw), she has played a key role in the creation and approval of resolutions to human rights documents within the UN.

During her first visit to the UN in 2005 for the Commission on Human Rights, Adrián joked that she only had “two minutes” to speak before the commission, but instead used her time to meet with different delegations to argue a case for the inclusion of LGBT issues within human rights documents. As it took 20 years to instigate discussion about women’s rights in the UN, colleagues warned her she would need to wait just as long before LGBT issues were given the same consideration.

Her colleagues were wrong. The first declaration was signed just a few years later stating that it is against international human rights to provoke or support violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity around the world. “With these improvements,” Adrián warned, “have come increased efforts by fundamentalist groups promoting ‘traditional values,’” – allegedly in opposition to LGBT identities.

Continuing her international advocacy, Adrián credits the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum for its unique ability to connect allies around the world. The challenges confronting LGBT persons are not only national or regional, but also global, and thus developing an understanding of how the region’s successes and challenges relate to and influence issues at a global level is essential.

“Countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador in Latin America have made remarkable strides on improving the legal recognition of transgender people and their access to official identity documents,” noted Adrián following her participation in a panel alongside other legislators and ambassadors at the 2016 session of the LGBT Forum in Thailand.

“Opportunities to exchange best practices between governments and civil society across regions are tremendously beneficial for those working on the protection of transgender health and citizenship rights, but also broader LGBT advocacy efforts.”

As she explained at the 2015 LGBT Forum session: “You have to think globally, and strategize globally. You think of a globally strategic plan, but at the same time you have to give everyone in the field the ability to change this strategic plan according to the specific needs of each country. You cannot impede equality. It is inevitable in humans to have equality. That is where global perspective is influencing local perspective. You have to strategize at both levels: global and local.”

Now somewhat of a veteran in the field of LGBT rights, Adrián hopes to encourage the next generation of activists to not be complacent and to carry on the fight. In the Forum’s film on “Family is…,” she shared her own life story to encourage a new generation:  

“Yes, the journey has been very long and it has come from being a heterosexual married man to a lesbian married woman. Wow! I was never a gay man but at the same time I knew that I was a woman and back when I was 20-something years old, I got married to a woman and we had two children: one boy and one girl. She divorced from me as soon as I disclosed to her my feelings and well — it was the end of the marriage and for many years I was separated [from] my children because she didn’t allow me to see them... Now, they are part of the family – finally. Once they passed the time of teenagers and started to be in their adulthood age, they started to understand and became closer and closer.
“I am a very happy woman, and I feel complete.”


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