LGBT and Human Rights - New Challenges, Next Steps

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May 30, 2013
by Louise Hallman
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LGBT and Human Rights - New Challenges, Next Steps

Salzburg Global session comes at timely moment for LGBT rights

The US Supreme Court is hearing cases for and against the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8; the UK’s lower chamber of Parliament, the House of Commons, has overwhelmingly passed the third reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill; in Hong Kong, the Court of Final Appeal has ruled in favor of a trans-woman seeking the right to marry her boyfriend, ending her three-year-long legal battle; and French President Francois Hollande has just signed both gay adoption and gay marriage into French law, joining 14 other countries across the world that have or are about to enact legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry.

2013 is shaping up to be a year of many advances in LGBT rights, but despite these advances, a European Union agency report published on May 17 – International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia – found that nearly half of the 93,000+ respondents in the 27 EU member states and Croatia had “felt personally discriminated against or harassed on the grounds of sexual orientation.”

Homophobia, it would seem, is still rife in Europe – but at least homosexuality is no longer illegal.

On the same day as the EU Agency for Fundamental Right’s report, the UN human rights office posed its own ‘riddle’: “What exists in every corner of the world, is embraced and celebrated in some countries, but is illegal in 76, and is punishable in seven countries by the death penalty?”

Answer: being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. With statistics such as that, along with 26 percent of respondents (and 35 percent of transgendered respondents) to the EU’s poll saying they had been attacked or threatened with violence in the past five years, it is clear there is still much work to be done to counter the prejudice and persecution many lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gendered people face every day.

As the EU poll and the ruling last week of a British coroner, placing blame on the Daily Mail’s coverage of Lucy Meadow’s gender reassignment for the primary school teacher’s suicide, show this prejudice and persecution is not confined solely to countries where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and communities are criminalized.

Timely seminar

It is against this backdrop of growing rights, yet persistent persecution that the Salzburg Global session on LGBT and Human Rights: New Challenges, Next Steps takes place, June 2 to 7, 2013.

Speaking ahead of the opening session, seminar Chair Klaus Mueller said: “Human kind is defined by its diversity: the free expression of sexuality and gender is increasingly defining the societies in which we want to live in the 21st century. But progress is by no means certain. In 2011, South Africa spearheaded the first UN Resolution on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, supported by 40 other countries—yet in 78 states, governments continue to legitimize and sponsor violence again their LGBT citizens.”

Mueller, who is a museums consultant, film-maker and historian, and whose academic work includes in-depth study of the persecution of homosexuals under the Nazi regime, hopes that his initiative and this week's seminar will go on to launch a new Global LGBT Forum.

“I strongly believe now is the time to create a Global LGBT Forum. A space to come together and reflect on the new challenges we are facing and consider the next steps needed to secure the safety, free expression and equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people and communities,” said Mueller.

“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,” said human rights campaigner and Salzburg Global Seminar supporter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

“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.”

A truly global conversation will take place over the five days of the Salzburg Global session, bringing together 64 people from over 30 countries on five continents, including many countries where LGBT issues are still highly taboo and often illegal, such as Uganda.

The central African country garnered worldwide headlines thanks to proposed legislation that would see those who are found to have repeatedly engaged in sexual activity with a partner of the same sex receive the death penalty.

A Kampala-based tabloid newspaper’s decision to publish names of alleged homosexuals was widely condemned, not only by foreign governments and activists, but also by international press freedom advocates.

Growing global prominence

The international condemnation of both the legislation and the Rolling Stone’s publication reflects the rising prominence of LGBT issues and human rights on the international agenda.

South Africa spearheaded the first UN Resolution on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (supported by Brazil and 39 other countries), Argentina adopted landmark legislation in recognition of gender identity, and the US, the European Union and UK have identified LGBT rights as a cross-cutting priority in foreign and international development policy.

The groundbreaking 2006 Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity have become an important resource, inspiring National Human Rights Commissions in Australia, Indonesia, Mongolia, the Philippines and New Zealand to review their legislation.

New Zealand will now see its first same-sex weddings take place in August after its House of Representatives voted in favor of marriage equality in April.

While the sphere of the law in an increasingly interconnected world provides an essential frame of reference, underlying cultural value systems need to be taken into consideration.

No longer defined by conventional Western/non-Western divides, the meanings given to LGBT equality – in such diverse debates as those of a society's moral fiber, political belief system, specific history or social health – fluctuate greatly.

Accounting for these diverse cultural values and the many facets of LGBT human rights, the seminar will cover many topics including the rule of law, international institutions and LGBT human rights; culture and resilience; the globalization of LBGT human rights in the face of growing homo- and transphobia; violence and trauma; the impact of the corporate and philanthropic sectors on LGBT issues; queer film-making; global transgender issues; and the relationship between religion and LGBT communities.

Diverse voices

The participants of the seminar come from diverse backgrounds, including Dennis van der Veur, Head of the sector "Equality" at the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, publisher of the EU report, who will join discussants on the panel ‘Multiple Discrimination against and with LGBT Communities: What data do we have or lack?’; broadcaster and comedienne Amy Lamé, who will chair a showcase of performances inspired by LGBT issues; and Fadi Saleh, a literary researcher from Syria, who will lead a workshop on how LGBT people can engage online safely and securely.

Representatives of LGBT activist and human rights organizations in China, Indonesia, Burma, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Russia, Nigeria, Namibia, South Africa, Bahrain and Lebanon, amongst others, will also attend.

Reflecting Salzburg Global’s increasingly inter-disciplinary approach, Fellows from the arts, media, academia, business and commerce will also join the session at Schloss Leopoldskron.

Efforts have been made to ensure all sectors of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community will be represented at the five-day seminar.

A list of session speakers and workshop leaders is available on the session page.

“By bringing together leading voices from around the world and the diverse spheres of law, politics and culture, we hope to start a truly global, multidisciplinary conversation. Our goal is to build new alliances, learn from each other and strengthen fundamental human rights for all regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity,” Mueller added.

In addition to the wide-ranging discussions and international networking opportunities, Mueller also intends for the session to produce a Salzburg Statement on the next steps to be taken in realizing LGBT human rights, which will then be presented to the United Nations and the Council of Europe, as well as other relevant bodies.

The Salzburg Global session on LGBT and Human Rights: New Challenges, Next Steps will take place June 2 to 7, 2013.

The proceedings will be covered on the Salzburg Global Twitter feed (#SGSlgbt), Salzburg Global Facebook page, Salzburg Global YouTube channel page and Salzburg Global website.