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Joe Wong - Truth and transformation
Joe Wong is a Fellow of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, having participated in the 2015 session – Strengthening Communities: LGBT Rights and Social Cohesion in Salzburg.
Joe Wong - Truth and transformation
Ivan Capriles 

A key function of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum is to deepen our understanding
of the diversity and complexity of LGBT lives. No global conversation is easy, and it relies on the art of listening and the willingness to enter new worlds.

At the 2015 session, Joe Wong, program manager of the Asia-Pacific Transgender Network in Thailand, opened up and shared his life story during one of our annual “Truth and Transformation” panels.

Joe Wong, a trans man from Singapore, now living in Thailand, was born to a conservative family and educated at a Catholic girls’ school. He felt uncomfortable in his body when touched, and eventually used duct tape as an attempt to conceal the female parts of his body that he felt shouldn’t have been there.

One day, while in an elevator with a close relative and a stranger, the relative noticed the duct tape, humiliating Joe on the spot and demanding an explanation. “In school I was taught not to show emotions. So I let my relative yell at me, and tear away the duct tape in the elevator,” he recalls. It was hard for Joe to tell his closest relatives about his body issues.

His father supported him despite the family’s tendency to not share many personal issues. Joe remembers: “He would put a relevant article or book on my desk. There was no discussion about it but he helped. He died when I was 21 and I wondered where his tolerance came from. I later discovered that he was gay.”

When Joe decided to transition, he asked his parents to choose his post-transition name “since they gave me my first name.” His father gave him his own English name – which he took to be a sign of his father’s love and acceptance. “It is interesting to discover myself through coming out. A lot of internalized hatred disappears,” he says through a broad reassuring smile.

Advisory Committee On Gender Identity On Salzburg Global Registration Forms
Advisory Committee On Gender Identity On Salzburg Global Registration Forms
Salzburg Global Seminar 

Concerns had been raised internally at Salzburg Global Seminar and by Fellows before and during the Forum around the declaration of sex and gender during the application process and the use of preferred names. Therefore, at the request of Salzburg Global, a small number of expert Fellows of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum coordinated in the weeks after the session to provide new options and language for applications for all Salzburg Global sessions – not only those concerning LGBT issues.

Declarations of sex (not gender) are required for visa application purposes, however due to technical reasons, Salzburg Global is unable to process two entries for a person’s legal sex (as stated on their passport) and self-identified gender.

Thus a compromise was found, based on the suggestions of the advisory group: Salzburg Global now includes additional title options in the dropdown menu – Mx., Mre., Other – as gender-neutral titles, which will determine how they will be addressed in official correspondence they will receive from Salzburg Global. The binary “Gender” option on the application form has now been renamed to “Sex” with the accompanying text:

“Salzburg Global Seminar is committed to promoting an open and affirming environment inclusive of the diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity. Binary information about a person’s sex is only necessary for legal purposes to ensure your visa and travel statements are aligned with your passport’s entry.”

Salzburg Global has also added a new field to the registration page that enables Fellows to input their chosen name that is to be used on all informal communication. This is also the name that will be printed on all session material Salzburg Global Fellows receive upon arrival at Schloss Leopoldskron, including their name badge, allowing all Fellows to be immediately identified how they wish.

Although this advisory committee was only formed for this specific purpose, with its commitment to not only diversity but also online security, Salzburg Global will continue to draw on the dedicated Fellows of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum to provide guidance when needed, such as with the planned expansion of its Fellows-only login area and the launch of its bespoke online directory in late 2017.

Trans Experiences
Seaklay Pipi Say, Bao Chau Nguyen and Manisha Dhakal
Trans Experiences
Nicole Bogart 

Seaklay Pipi Say,
Rainbow Community Kampuchea, Cambodia

“The first reaction for my family was negative. The mental reaction, the physical reaction was negative. So, I stopped understanding the reason behind why they were not accepting the identity of mine.
“My perception of the transition of the body is like, you have to set back from society which says what male should do and what females should do. What male bodies should look like, what female bodies should look like. I start to know about myself, and I set up and look to myself for what I want to look like. Sometimes I still struggle with the medical information, the medical needs, because you can say in Thailand they have many services and information for you, but not all people have resources for transition. So I see myself, I just want to have big muscle like a man, but I want to keep all my body, just remove my breasts. This is what I want.”

Bao Chau Nguyen,
Founder, Hanoi Queer Film Week, Vietnam

“After my coming out [to my mom], she told me that I can be anyone I want, she just wants me to be happy. I was like, oh, she accepted me. But after that she and father tried to change me a lot; she bought me a lot of girly clothes; like some pink sweater that I never wear. But the last time she talked in public, at my graduation, she knows that she is the mom of a transgender and she is so proud of me because I am being a good person, being helpful for this life. She saw me doing charity work, [saw] me making my film and that it got nominated, and she felt so proud of me.

“Until now, I still don’t want to undergo any surgery or transition. It’s not because I like this body, I like every girl part of mine, but it’s like I appreciate what my parents give me. I have some sacredness too, so I don’t want to undergo any surgery, at least not yet. I still want to be a boy, but I’d like if someday I woke up and had a penis and my boobs gone (laughs). I still want to be a boy, have a man’s body, but until now I don’t want to have surgery yet. That’s why I want people to accept my behavior, with my voice like this, everything of mine, because I identify myself as transgender and I wish people to respect my name, my identity.”

Carla LaGata,
Lead researcher, Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide, Germany

“When we talk about LGBT issues, we are often missing the ‘T’ from our data… There has been a constant increase of reported murders of transgender people around the world.”

Fernanda Milán,
Trans-project, Denmark / Guatemala

“Transgender people are the most vulnerable and exposed segment of LGBT populations... 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.”

Chinzorig Gochoo,
Manager, “Through Democracy” Project, Winds of Change, Mongolia

“I did my coming out on Mongolian TV and although my family was in shock, they gradually understood me and were very supportive.”

Bao Chau Nguyen and Seakley Pipi Say on being happy and transgender

Bao Chau Nguyen and Seakley Pipi Say on being themselves

Telling Our Own Stories
Telling Our Own Stories
Klaus Mueller 

“During the 2016 session in Chiang Rai, Thailand, this Forum had given me the idea to organize the first legal Queer Film Festival in Hanoi, Vietnam. We showed 23 films! I think this year, again, the Forum
has given me the energy and resources for the second festival.  That was a pretty nice start for a film festival in my opinion.”

—    Bao Chau Nguyen, Member and Media Manager, Next Generation, Hanoi, Vietnam

Storytelling is a major tool of expressing of who we want to be – and of changing hearts. Increasingly, LGBT lives are portrayed in popular, mainstream culture, often through the lens of heroism or victimhood to reach larger audiences. Still, in many countries, enforced silence and government-sponsored discrimination reject LGBT people as part of the human family.

Our Forum cooperates with and amplifies the work of writers, filmmakers and photographers who portray the complexities of our lives. As declared in our 2013 Salzburg Statement: “Culture and arts are essential to dialogue on political and social change.” Throughout our sessions, we offer our Fellows the opportunity to showcase their work – be that poetry, literature, film, photography or performance – in “Open Forums,” film festivals and photography exhibitions.

As part of our focus on storytelling, we collect, produce and disseminate life stories that portray the diverse and rich realities of LGBT lives today, both in written and multimedia formats, and share them widely on a variety of social media platforms. It is the sharing of stories rather than mere facts and figures that helps to galvanize our supporters and challenge our opponents. Sharing our personal stories energized our belief in the value of an open conversation about our aspirations, challenges and failures. These stories have since been featured in print, radio and online media worldwide.

In this chapter, we profile just some of the different storytellers in our network and share insights into their work.


Benjamin Cantu

Zanele Muholi

Bradley Secker

Laurindo Garcia

Marc Pachter

Laia Ribera

A Global Network of Storytellers

Bao Chau Nguyen

Impromptu LGBT Film Festivals

Benjamin Cantu - “Artists are important because they have a specific way of sensing social injustice”
Banjamin Cantu speaking at the third session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum
Benjamin Cantu - “Artists are important because they have a specific way of sensing social injustice”
Rachitaa Gupta & Nicole Bogart 

Berlin-based filmmaker, Benjamin Cantu presented an exclusive preview of his documentary film Weil ich bin, wer ich bin / Je suis qui je suis (in English, Because of who I am) in 2015 during the session, Strengthening Communities: LGBT Rights and Social Cohesion.

During the conception of the film he worked closely with Forum Chair Klaus Mueller, who connected him with artists in Cambodia, Namibia and Morocco and shared global perspectives that artists at the Forum had raised. The film, profiling artists from regions with little visibility for LGBT individuals, found early support from members of the Forum, some of whom have since shown the film in their local communities. Here, Cantu recounts his journey following eight LGBT artists from all corners of the globe, shedding light on the important role the arts play in human rights activism.

What inspired you to profile other LGBT filmmakers, writers and artists?
I was asked to do a film connected with an exhibition that... would talk about the history of homosexual emancipation subculture and art. My film is not the historical, but the contemporary idea of what LGBT art looks like. I made the documentary film Because of who I am as a commission for a French/German broadcaster, but it soon became a very personal idea of making a film not only about a very broad subject as LGBT artists, but also about my personal relationship to my ex-boyfriend and our endeavor as filmmakers to travel to these artists.

How does art intersect with advancing LGBT human rights?
I think artists, and filmmakers, journalists, writers, are very important in the LGBT movement because they have a very specific way of sensing social, or gender injustice and injustice against LGBT [people]... There is one artist in our film who is a theatre playwright, actor, activist and director, and she really advocates for the oppressed LGBT communities, but [also] for oppressed Palestinians, oppressed women, for historically oppressed characters that she brings back to life and not have us forget them. I really think it’s important to have artists involved in activism and human rights defending because they carve out the world that we live in in a very special way so that we can understand people. And people who are not affected can understand what the world is really about, what we have to focus on.

Who are the artists portrayed in the film?
Ideally we wanted to be very broadly global about which artists we were going to film, but it soon was clear to me that the stories that need to be told are all over the world, but the artists we found happened to be from countries that also face difficult situations – not providing LGBT artists, or LGBT people any space to express themselves. So the friction between these artists from Russia, Morocco, Lebanon, South Africa and Nigeria, was more fruitful for a documentary approach, so we could not only speak about the happy life as an artist, but also how their environment creates this need, urge, political necessity to deal with the reality within their art.

What do you hope for the full release of the film?
I hope either this, or the longer version, will have a long life and we will hopefully show it at LGBT film festivals or LGBT community screenings. I really hope to get in touch with local communities. This is great to have Salzburg as a network of people who now know about this film and to hopefully become partners to show the film in small screenings abroad. I hope they fall in love with the artists we portray, as I did. I really admire these people and I really learned a lot. I hope the spark these artists have given us is transmitted in the film. I hope the names of these artists live on in the minds of the people who see it, and are eager to research and find out more about the work.

Zanele Muholi - “We don’t document for fun”
Zanele Muholi is a Fellow of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, having participated in the 2013 session – LGBT and Human Rights: New Challenges, Next Steps.
Zanele Muholi - “We don’t document for fun”
Louise Hallman 

South Africa is the only African country where not only is homosexuality legal, but same-sex couples can also marry and adopt children, and are legally protected under anti-discrimination legislation. However, this masks the horrors faced by many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender South Africans. Through the medium of photography, one South African “visual activist” aims to show the truth of what it is like to live as a black lesbian in the country.

“I’m a visual activist before I’m a photographer, before I’m an artist,” says award-winning photographer Zanele Muholi.

Despite all the supposed legal protections the LGBT community receives in the increasingly prosperous southern African country, lesbians, especially black lesbians, are frequently subjected to “corrective rape” attacks, where often gangs of men pin down and sexually assault lesbians in attempts to “cure” them of their homosexuality. Some of these attacks have even resulted to the death of their victims. As South Africa struggles to combat its high level of crime, these attacks often go unprosecuted.

Muholi explains why she believes photographing this marginalized group is important: “If I even talk about the work that I’m doing on black lesbians, I’m not doing it for myself. I’m doing it for the younger generation. I’m doing it for the older generation, who were never even given the opportunity to open their mouths.”

As a black lesbian, Muholi sees her work as part of a wider effort to document black history in the post-Apartheid country. “My focus has ever been on black lesbians, on black gays, on black trans-men. And why black specifically is because as black people, they don’t have a tangible history that is captured by us on us,” Muholi explains. “We have people who write our history on our behalf as if we did not exist… I think one has to find ways to re-write the history, for our own great-grandchildren. For them to know that we were once here and for them to understand fully the resistance and other struggles that we still encounter…“It’s sort of like capturing the visual presence, which then becomes a visual history… To say, yes we are here.”

Muholi’s photographs often capture intimate moments between lovers. But she has also been working with her photography collective to document the abuses South Africa’s lesbians suffer – and the funerals held for the victims. When speaking with Muholi, her anger at the atrocities committed against South African lesbians is glaringly apparent. As a member of the community, these are issues that she feels personally – not as a neutral observer. “We don’t document for fun, or just because we have powers and cameras. With my team, I have a collective calling; we document all of these atrocities because we want the world to know that we have a situation at hand.”

Just as the oppressive regime of apartheid was ended in South Africa in 1994, Muholi hopes to see the end of the persecution of the LGBT community in her country, and believes photography can be a tactic in doing so, bringing the plight of her community to the attention of the wider national and international consciousness.

“We call upon those with powers to agitate with us, just like the people who worked with activists in South Africa to end apartheid and I think the same strategies could be used,” she says – angry yet optimistic.

Bradley Secker - “It’s about collecting the stories. It’s about not letting them be lost”
Bradley Secker - “It’s about collecting the stories. It’s about not letting them be lost”
Nicole Bogart 

British photojournalist Bradley Secker has been based in Istanbul, Turkey, for the last five and a half years documenting the consequences of social, political and military actions from an individual’s perspective. One of his long-term projects – titled Kütmaan, an Arabic word for the act of hiding or concealing something – documents the plight of LGBT asylum seekers in the Middle East.  

Why did you begin photographing LGBT people?
Nobody assigned me to do this work; it was purely done for personal motivation back in 2010. I had been to Syria in 2008 and decided to go back in 2010 with a professional focus on for documenting the situation for gay Iraqi men who had to flee from Iraq and ended up in Damascus and other parts of Syria. There was no editorial interest at that time, unfortunately. It was very difficult to get that story into the media’s realm.

I moved to Turkey in late 2011, which is when I started documenting the plight of Iranian LGBT [people] in Turkey, and, more recently, the Syrians and Iraqis who were displaced for a second time from Iraq to Syria and then to Turkey.

As a gay man, how do these stories affect you personally?
The stories I hear and the things I see do affect me. Inevitably. I try to keep it as professional as possible and try not to get emotional because it can also trigger someone [else]. It’s probably not good for them, to re-traumatize them, and it can also be difficult for me to hear, but it’s way more important to be more cautious about the person I’m interviewing.

Collecting the stories is time consuming… often putting myself in a place where I don’t feel that safe and I feel quite vulnerable. But I put that aside and concentrate on documenting the people that face much greater risks, and continue to.

[But] it makes me optimistic that LGBT people are strong and united and will always come together wherever they are in the world. They will form a community; they will find each other. It’s quite incredible and I really find that inspiring. At the same time, it’s incredibly negative, in terms of what they are fleeing from and the conditions in a lot of countries. Now, in the recent past, and what looks like the considerable future, it’s not really getting much better. It’s a mixture of optimism, happiness and complete anger and madness at the whole thing.

What sort of impact do you hope your work will have?
I’m not a big believer that photojournalism can change the world. I don’t think it’s that profound. Purely and simply I think the work I’m doing will just illustrate and educate people.

But together, as a more cohesive body of work, I hope it would stand as a documentation of the situation in general in the MENA region and Turkey for this period that I’m covering it. I really don’t think it’s going to change anything politically [or] socially. It’s about collecting the stories. It’s about not letting them be lost.

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