Building Structures to Support Equal Rights for LGBT People

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Jul 25, 2016
by Salzburg Global Seminar
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Building Structures to Support Equal Rights for LGBT People

The Canadian and Dutch Embassies in Berlin work with the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum on strengthening LGBT equal rights From left: David Ehinger, Dr. Klaus Mueller, Axel Hochrein, Boris Dittrich and Julia Ehrt

On July 21, 2016, in cooperation with the Dutch Embassy, the Canadian Embassy in Berlin hosted a network seminar, titled, Building Structures to Support Equal Rights for LGBT People.

The Canadian Embassy invited Dr. Klaus Mueller, Founder and Chair of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, to lead the discussion that brought together several civil rights organizations, including, Transgender Europe, the Hirschfeld-Eddy-Stiftung, Human Rights Watch and Prout at Work. The event attracted approximately 100 participants from a number of countries, including, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, Slovenia, Surinam, Venezuela, Hungary, Brazil, Russia and the United States. The participants came from a variety of disciplines, from diplomacy and politics to business and civil society.

For the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, it was an important opportunity to further strengthen its work on better relationships between embassies and LGBT human rights organizations. It also allowed for the presentation of recommendations from the 2014 Forum session, Creating Long-Term Global Networks to Sustain LGBT Human Rights Organizations, which took place in Berlin in cooperation with the German, Dutch and EU Foreign offices. The topic has become a key theme of the Forum, extending in 2015 to the session Global LGBT Forum – Strengthening Communities: LGBT Rights and Social Cohesion, with partners from the US State Department and the Austrian Foreign Office. The conversation will continue in October 2016 at the Forum's session, The Many Faces of LGBT Inclusion, to be held in Thailand.

In her welcome remarks, Jennifer May, Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy of Canada, reminded the audience that Canada takes principled positions on important issues to promote freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. She also underlined that the new government administration is committed to adding gender identity to the list of “identifiable groups” protected by the hate speech provisions in the Canadian criminal code.

Dr. Henk Voskamp, Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy of the Netherlands emphasized that LGBT rights are rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In his remarks, he underscored the relevance of coherent internal and external policies when it comes to strengthening full equality. He noted that the foreign ministry supports grassroots organisations and often talks to foreign governments behind closed doors to advance LGBT issues.

Dr. Klaus Mueller opened the discussion with news of positive change, as just hours before the event, Slovenia had expanded the rights of same-sex couples. He congratulating the attending Slovenian Ambassador, Mrs. Kos Marko and leading LGBT activist Miha Lobnik.

Framing the panel discussion with a focus on the relations between embassies and LGBT human rights groups, Mueller emphasized that cooperation, while developing, is relatively new for both sides. LGBT human rights groups would benefit from better understanding embassy procedures and protocols. Foreign Offices struggle to build continuous engagement with LGBT human rights groups that within many countries operate under extreme pressure, are fragile, or even illegal. 

The panelists touched on various aspects of building structures to support LGBT rights. Boris Dittrich, Advocacy Director of the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch, reminded participants that same sex relations are criminalized in 76 countries around the globe. Therefore, organizations and embassies that are present in these countries have to be careful as to how to phrase their advocacy messages to fit a local context as well as careful with whom they identify - a theme that other panelists agreed upon. 

Axel Hochrein, Co-Founder and Executive Member of the Board of the Hirschfeld-Eddy-Stiftung, explained that LGBT people are often treated with decreased respect, and how embassies can help as both a mediator and door opener. Connections are important in adverse contexts, and embassies can be safe places for round table discussions in difficult circumstances. Like other panelists, he emphasized the need for training of embassy and local staff on LGBT human rights situations.

Julia Ehrt, Executive Director of Transgender Europe differentiated between criminalization of homosexuality and of gender identity. Since 2007, over 2,000 cases involving the killing of transgendered people have been documented by her organization. She also emphasized that the line for international LGBT rights is not as clear-cut as western versus developing countries. In many western countries, transgender rights are not fully recognized. In some contexts, embassies and national governments may focus on sexual orientation or same sex marriage, but allocate little attention or research on gender identity. Ehrt also mentioned that in a legal context, laws in Argentina are the most progressive on transgendered issues. 

Mueller addressed that while the struggle for LGBT rights has become more global, hate, transgender discrimination and homophobia are also increasingly produced globally. It emphasizes the need for further relationships between embassies and LGBT human rights groups, and Mueller thanked the Canadian and Dutch embassies for their support in that continued development. Their joint initiative recognizes the need to build strong, inclusive global networks that help to secure equality for LGBT people and their communities.  

In a reception held after the discussion, the Embassy provided time for networking between Forum participants. 


View full set on Flickr


Report and photos with the help of Jessica Franzetti, Thilo Lenz, Ivan Capriles. Klaus Mueller and Benjamin Cantu.