Advancing Legal and Social Equality in South Asia

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May 13, 2019
by Salzburg Global Seminar
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Advancing Legal and Social Equality in South Asia

Executive summary report from the latest program of the Salzburg Global LGBT* Forum presents key themes and discussions as well as plans for newly proposed Fellow-led projects

“Look for the rainbow in every crowd,” former Chief Justice Dipak Misra declared following India’s Supreme Court ruling to decriminalize homosexuality in September 2018. “Equality and liberty and this freedom can only be fulfilled when each one of us realizes the LGBT community has the same rights as other citizens.”

The Indian court’s decision to strike down Section 377, a colonial-era law criminalizing same-sex relationships, is just one example of the momentous advocacy work being done by LGBT communities in South Asia; a region where many of these human rights issues are at tipping point. While a region of diverse cultural and religious communities and differing levels of economic development, the progress of legal and social rights for LGBT people in South Asia will have a profound impact on the region at large and globally. 

During the sixth gathering of the Salzburg Global LGBT ForumAdvancing Legal and Social Equality in South Asia – more than 40 advocates from 17 countries met in Kathmandu, Nepal, to discuss how to enhance Asia’s underrepresented role in global LGBT dialogues, and engage individuals and institutions to create significant shifts in social attitudes and policy landscapes across the region. Appropriately, Nepal is a nation widely seen as a regional leader in progressive attitudes on sexual orientation and gender identity in South Asia. The significance of this was not lost on Forum participants, whose calls for wider social acceptance and rights were amplified by a united energy of strength and leadership.

As with all Salzburg Global LGBT Forum meetings, the gathering brought together a widely diverse group of human rights leaders spanning government, law, diplomacy, religion, media and culture, and built on the explicit goal of the Forum to further develop a network of trust, where both Fellows’ professional expertise and their life experiences are highly valued. Underlining that fundamental human rights concern us all, the Forum meeting connects queer and straight leaders who represent gender and sexual orientation in different expressions, united by their passion to advance LGBT equality globally. 

Despite – or rather thanks to – the intricate mix of nationalities, cultures and faiths represented at the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, boundaries of separation were broken as participants vowed to learn from this collective strength and resilience. “We have much in common; but we also face different challenges, and live in different contexts,” participants – now known as Fellows – were told. “Everyone has something valuable to share.”

In South Asia, several LGBT human rights issues are at a “tipping point” at which legal and/or social change could soon be possible. Gender recognition and decriminalization are two such legal tipping point issues for several countries. However even in places where legal progress on these fronts has been made (for example in Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka), social discrimination and violence often persist and serve to exclude LGBT individuals and their families from access to employment, health care, education and other services. Because of this, additional action is needed across South Asia to ensure full legal and social inclusion and recognition for gender and sexual minorities, with special attention to transgender and intersex communities.

The 2019 program contributed to national and regional discussions on LGBT inclusion across the South Asian region by providing a platform for open policy dialogue and debate; creating an opportunity to highlight South Asia’s unique legal, religious, and cultural history of LGBT family and community inclusion with policymakers and international organizations active in the region; and by producing multimedia products that can help illustrate the critical importance of inclusive policies.

Download, read and share the Executive Summary Report from the program to find out more.

Download as a PDF

* LGBT: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender. We are using this term as it is widely recognized in many parts of the world, but we would not wish it to be read as in any way exclusive of other cultures, groups or terms, either historical or contemporary.


The 2019 program of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum was held in partnership with the UNDP’s Being LGBTI in Asia and the Pacific program, and was also supported by the German Federal Foreign Ministry and the Archangel Michael Foundation, with additional support from EQUAL GROUND, The Nippon Foundation, the Korea Foundation and the Ann M. Hoefle Memorial Fellowship.