LGBT Forum - Seeking Home




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May 16, 2017
by Oscar Tollast
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LGBT Forum - Seeking Home

Third day of Salzburg Global LGBT Forum reviews migration, emigration, and the role of storytelling Sudeshan Reddy speaking on Day 3 of the fifth Salzburg Global LGBT Forum

Participants of the fifth Salzburg Global LGBT Forum have been given an insight into the lives of several LGBT refugees.

Those attending Session 578 - Home: Safety, Wellness, and Belonging, took part in two panel discussions on Tuesday morning, which examined the topic of LGBT* migration and emigration.

The first of these panel discussions asked participants to consider: Is being forced to leave home a fundamental part of being LGBT*? Moderator, Sudeshan Reddy, a communications specialist at UNICEF in South Africa, said, “For a lot of people here, home is tenuous at best and complex.”

The first speaker, working within the MENA region, asked what work could be done at a national level to push forward LGBT* rights without putting activists at risk. He suggested not enough emphasis was placed on preventing emergencies where activists were in danger. The second speaker, also from the MENA region, described how she “lost her soul” after moving to North America at the peak of her activism. She said leaving home is a sacrifice, not a privilege.

Participants heard while countries like Argentina have progressive legislation, the country itself is unprepared to take in refugees or asylum seekers. This point was made by the third speaker, who suggested no resettlement program existed and more help was needed from authorities. In Eastern Europe, meanwhile, conflicts have resulted in the displacement of citizens and among those are LGBT* people.

The final speaker acknowledged many people he knew had to leave Uganda. He asked how activists who remain could support activists who leave and help them continue their work. He remarked, “As activists, we create hope to people who have lost hope.”

After the discussion, Reddy said, “What stuck out for me was the issue of the role of the LGBT* diaspora in being a proactive force for good. What [also] resonated was the importance of not shaming those who have left, to appreciate their struggle continues outside the country as well, and they can make a meaningful difference.”

LGBT refugees share their stories

The second panel discussion saw several LGBT* refugees share their stories. One phone call uprooted a participant’s life. He learned two of his friends had been brutally murdered as part of a planned attack and it wasn’t safe for him to return home. The police were unable to guarantee his safety and he entered a safe house. He had to leave his country in Asia and move to the United States temporarily.

Two panelists from Africa received threats and calls to stop what they were doing after setting up an LGBTI organization. After creating a project, the reaction was overwhelming, but this led to a series of complicated events. Their house was ransacked twice, and both were running out of money after having to pay police officers bribes. Both would eventually move to Europe.

Participants also heard how one participant was forced to leave his country in the Middle East after learning about the death of his cousin. He moved to Egypt to start a new life. His father supported him for several months, but he soon ran out of money. The participant left for Jordan and then Turkey. A chance encounter in Turkey enabled him to seek asylum in Norway.

Klaus Mueller, chair and founder of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, said each panelist’s story revealed the complexity of moving to another country and how frightening the experience can be.

After the discussion, he said: “We heard stories of torture [and] long-term depression after people came to safety because they had seen people being killed. People died. They lost their friends. They lost their lives - and they had good lives before.

“I think it is important for us as a group to understand these individual stories better. All of the refugees said, ‘Before I became a refugee I actually was a human being, I had a job, I had a family, I had friends, [and] I had relationships. I’m not just a refugee, but that’s what I struggle with most at the moment.’”

Social media outreach

After lunch, participants explored new ways to reach diverse communities using social media. This investigation began with a panel discussion on storytelling. This conversation looked at the power of social media, and the impact people can have by sharing multimedia and written stories.

The moderator of the discussion said social media provided him an online persona which allowed him to integrate into groups in a new environment. One speaker joked, “Home is where the WiFi connects automatically.” Participants learned social media could be used to shape the discussion and help people identify others in similar situations.

Participants also discussed the presence of online “trolls” and the steps tech giants are making to reduce homophobic and inappropriate content. To get the best out of Twitter, participants were encouraged to look for an interesting topic, get involved, and share their opinions.

This panel discussion led to practical work on the role of social media advocacy from idea to implementation. Participants took advantage of Schloss Leopoldskron’s historic rooms to brainstorm concepts on how to fuel conversations about family on social media to promote LGBT* advocacy. Participants divided themselves into global working groups and prepared to present their ideas to the rest of the forum on Wednesday.

The session continues.

*LGBT: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender. We are using this term as it is currently widely used in human rights conversations on sexual orientation and gender identity in many parts of the world, but we would not wish it to be read as exclusive of other cultural concepts, contemporary or historical, to express sexuality and gender, intersex and gender-nonconforming identities.

The fifth session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum - Home: Safety, Wellness, and Belonging is taking place at Schloss Leopoldskron, Salzburg. It is being held in partnership with the German Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women & Youth. It is being supported by the Government of Canada. The Forum is a network of expertise through which conversations are facilitated to advance equal rights for LGBT people across the world. You can follow the event on Twitter, Instagram, and Twitter using the hashtag #SGSlgbt. For more information, please visit