LGBT Forum - Day One - No Compassion Without Passion




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May 18, 2014
by Sudeshan Reddy and Klaus Mueller
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LGBT Forum - Day One - No Compassion Without Passion

Second Global LGBT Forum starts in Berlin Members of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum network at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin (Photo: Caro Kadatz)

As the returning Salzburg Global Fellows and the three new members of the Global LGBT* Forum network arrived in Berlin, participants began the three-day program updating each other on developments since the inaugural Global LGBT Forum held at Salzburg Global Seminar in June 2013

In Uganda and Russia especially, the security of human rights defenders has deteriorated considerably while reports from Latin America, China, South Africa and Europe gave some reason for hope. In fact it seems that despite the negative as well the positive developments, LGBT human rights are finally recognized as an important issue for societies across the world to deal with.

In a series of discussions, the group grappled with the question: “What can we do to advance LGBT human rights?” The consensus was that the struggles LGBT activists are finally getting global attention for what they actually are – fundamental human rights.

The chair of the session, Klaus Mueller asked if this current period is indeed a golden age for LGBT rights, and, if so, how do can those working in the field secure long-term change before the global spotlight moves away.

Olga Lenkova, spokesperson for Coming Out, a St. Petersburg, Russia-based LGBT support group, emphasized the need for donor countries in particular not to be paternalistic and prescriptive. If we want to change things globally, we all need to understand that there is no perfect place, she argued.

Venezuelan human rights advocate and law professor, Tamara Adrian highlighted the need to have a global strategy that can work with local tactics. It is important to look at the big picture, she posited, but it is also critical to work within the local context and understand local partners and their distinct situations and challenges. For a global strategy, LGBT rights activists need to have a clear vision of sexual rights as well as the right to sexual identity and expression, and for these to be mentioned at every possible level at the UN. Many countries are not willing to change their position on LGBT rights unless they face a global challenge.

Geeta Misra, executive director of CREA, a feminist human rights organization in India, reinforced the need to move beyond the narrow confines of LGBT rights only.  It is important that one takes a stand across related human rights issues, she argued. We need to stand for something bigger than the identity-based work as this loses people who don’t identify as LGBT. Related to this point, Dennis Wamala, program manager for Icebreakers Uganda, cited the example of the establishment in Uganda of an umbrella civil society group comprising 60 organizations with a human rights mandate. Thus if anyone is speaking about rights, they are speaking for all human rights which are after all linked. Concurring with this, Pooja Bandarith, also from CREA, stressed that all prejudice has similar roots including patriarchy and paternalism, and there is a need to see when one should talk from a narrow approach versus a broader approach.

For Dan Zhou, a lawyer from China, communication is a skill that is much-needed in the LGBT sector and capacity building here is key.  He cautioned that anger is not always a useful weapon and that LGBT activists instead should rather use passion.  If there is no passion, it is difficult for us to generate compassion, he added.

After the discussion, the group visited the Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and the Memorial to the Homosexuals persecuted under the Nazi regime. In addition, the Salzburg Global Fellows also discussed the impact of the 1933 book-burning where many publications and books from the first LGBT institution ‘The Institute for Sexual Science’ were destroyed, before visiting the memorial to the book burning in Berlin.                                                                       

The Salzburg Global Fellows in Berlin, with the support and partnership of the German Federal Foreign Office, are taking part in the high-level program Creating Long-Term Global Networks to Sustain LGBT Human Rights Organizations and will be conducting meetings with the German Foreign Office, representatives of foreign embassies, human rights groups, and other select partners. For daily updates and Tweets, please see the session page: and the Twitter hashtag #SGSlgbt

* 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, terms or groups.