Global LGBT Forum

A Global Network of Storytellers
Filmmakers Popo Fan, Su Su Hlaing and Cha Roque at the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum in Chiang Rai, Thailand
A Global Network of Storytellers
Nicole Bogart 

Storytelling is a major tool of expressing of who we want to be – and of changing hearts. Our Forum cooperates with and amplifies the work of writers, filmmakers and photographers, from all over the world, who portray the complexities of our lives. Here, we profile just some of the vibrant international storytellers in our network.


Álvaro Laiz, Spain

With a commitment to shed light on marginalized communities, Spanish photographer Álvaro Laiz travels to remote locations around the world telling visual stories of exclusion. His work, featured in The New York Times, National Geographic and the British Journal of Photography, has won numerous awards. In 2015, the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum mounted an exhibition of two of his projects documenting two very distinct LGBT communities: Transmongolian, which brought him to Mongolia to capture the secret lives of its LGBT communities, and Wonderland that narrated his travels to the Orinoco River delta in Venezuela documenting the lives of the Warao Indian communities, including its transgender individuals called Tida Wena by the Warao (in English, “The Twisted Women”). Their inclusion in Warao society goes back to pre-Columbian traditions. According to investigations, 40 to 80 percent of the Warao tribe are infected with HIV, due to outside influences.

“Photography for me is a tool to promote social change. And this drives my ideas.”

On his project in Mongolia: “My main idea was to take pictures of them in their traditional queen dresses, deep in the desert. We drove around for a week to find the right shots. I learned that since my departure, they decided to dress up as queens in the desert one a year. So they began a sort of pride parade. They definitely inspired me and I hope it was mutual.” 

Lyno Vuth, Cambodia

Cambodian artist, curator and photographer Lyno Vuth had his first European exhibition at the inaugural session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum. One group of photos that Vuth showed and discussed in Salzburg – a collection called Thoamada, which means “normal,” “everyday” and “commonplace” – consisted of portraits of nine Cambodian men who have sex with men, all disguised by having their faces covered in paint. For the project, Vuth invited a group men to discuss issues related to sex, gender and sexual orientation. At the end of the workshop he asked the men to pose for a photograph, but they were reluctant for fear of being identified. Vuth thus proposed that they paint their faces, and they were happy to do so – some with more paint, some with less. Although they were still recognizable once they finished painting, they were then willing to be photographed, signaling a transformation that had occurred, according to Vuth, as a result of the workshop.

“I wanted to share to the audience that there are different possibilities and realities; you can still define your own family, regardless of being gay, transgender, bisexual, or lesbian, and people have different ways to define that.”

A second group of Vuth’s photos also shown in Salzburg, from the exhibit Thoamada II, explores the family contexts, dynamics and memories of LGBT people in Cambodia.

“I interviewed people together with their families, inviting them to share their stories and journey. After the conversation, I asked them to pose for two different photographs. One was a simple family portrait inside their house. They decided on their dress and pose. For the second photograph, I asked them to collectively choose a memory to re-enact, improvised with their belongings and surroundings.”
In addition to the image, a narrative is offered to audiences in the titles and texts accompanying the images. In The Salt Seeker the text reads:

“I met my wife during the Pol Pot regime when we were digging a canal opposite each other… During rice transplanting month, I went to ask for some salt from her, but she refused… During harvest month, we met again and started to talk, and we fell in love… This love is difficult, because they didn’t let us meet… After 1979, we didn’t get married properly but we created wedding rituals. I play the role of head of the family, as husband and with her as a wife, and we have adopted three children—two daughters and a son—and have six grandchildren. My children call me dad, and my grandchildren call me granddad.”

Vuth Lyno on how artists shape our conversations on LGBT human rights

Photographer from Bangladesh

In 2017, as well as Bradley Secker’s work (see interview on page 122), the Forum also showcased the work of a photographer from Bangladesh. His name does not appear in this report for safety concerns, but his work has been guided by a desire to give voice to the alternative families built by Bangladesh’s Hijra communities. Hijra, he explains, “is a traditional group and they have long back history. Basically they are biological male and they do gender change as woman… but traditionally Hijra don’t like to call themselves trans woman. They have their own subculture, language and alternative family system. They love to stay together in a group. They have strong leader and follower systems.”


Sridhar Rangayan, India

Sridhar Rangayan wears many hats: he is a gay rights activist; co-founder of India’s first gay NGO, the Humsafar Trust; co-founder of the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival; and an award-winning filmmaker. Among his accolades, Rangayan was selected through a worldwide nomination process to be part of the British Council’s inaugural “fiveFilms4freedom” Global List in 2016. The list consists of 33 inspiring people from 23 different countries who are changing social perceptions about LGBTQ communities throughout the world. Rangayan’s works include Breaking Free, a documentary aimed at exposing the harsh legal punishments gay people face under India’s Penal Code, and Gulabi Aaina (in English, “The Pink Mirror”) a widely-celebrated Bollywood-like film starring two drag queens and a gay teenager. The film, originally banned in India, was released on Netflix in early 2017.

“As a filmmaker, my main aim has been to use cinema as a tool for greater awareness, combining entertainment with advocacy. I have seen change in my lifetime, and I’m really happy that many things around me have changed for the better for the LGBT community.”

Lola Amaria, Indonesia

As the founder and program director of Kresna Duta Foundation, filmmaker Lola Amaria strives to raise visibility for human rights through audio visuals in all areas of her work. Amaria has conducted research and starred and directed films on LGBT rights, trafficking and women's issues. She contributed a short film to the LGBT “omnibus” film production, Sanubari Jakarta, which received its European première at the inaugural session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum in 2013. The film is a compilation of 10 films by 10 directors – the majority of whom are heterosexual and cisgender – each lasting around 10 minutes long. Each part of the film portrays a different LGBT life and experience, and collectively the directors aim to reduce violence towards LGBT people in Indonesia.

“Love belongs to everyone.”

Popo Fan, China

Chinese filmmaker and writer Popo Fan is determined to show the positive side of LGBT people and their experiences despite facing occasional questions on his portrayal of the happier side of LGBT lives. Fan’s dedication to visibility of LGBT rights has led him to pen Happy Together: Complete Record of a Hundred Queer Films, the first book published in mainland China about queer films. His films primarily focus on same-sex marriage, transgender individuals, and LGBT families, and the documentarian has recently branched out into feature films. Fan made history in a landmark case against state censorship after successfully suing the Chinese government following the removal of his film Mama Rainbow, profiling LGBT families in China, from the internet. Fan is the director of the Beijing Queer Film Festival and has received accolades such as being included in Advocate magazine’s “40 Under 40” list. His films have been shown at festivals around the world, and the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum was proud to show his ground-breaking documentary Pink Dads shortly after its release at its film festival during the 2016 session in Thailand.

“I am sometimes criticized because my films are too happy, but I am determined [to] tell positive stories about LGBT people and their families.”

Su Su Hlaing, Myanmar

Myanmar-based filmmaker Su Su Hlaing has witnessed the power film and art can have once the cameras are turned off. After making the documentary, Love and Other Matters, profiling LGBT people from humble rural backgrounds, she was shocked to see her subjects’ families come from far away to see the film’s premier. The film was shown at the fourth session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum as part of the impromptu Chiang Rai LGBT Film Festival.

“To my surprise, families came from far, far away to show support for their sons and daughters.”

Cha Roque, The Philippines

Cha Roque may have established herself as filmmaker dedicated to social change, but she has another equally important role as a mother. Her film What I Would’ve Told My Daughter if I Knew What to Say Back Then, her most personal work to date, made its European debut at the fifth session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum in May 2017. The film takes viewers on a personal journey of Roque’s relationship with her daughter Kelsey and her difficulty in coming out to her. It was part of the official selection of Hanoi International Queer Film Week, founded by Salzburg Global LGBT Forum Fellow, Bao Chau Nguyen.

“As a filmmaker and as a lesbian I believe I have the responsibility to tell the stories of fellow LGBT people in our community and to make other people understand what we are going through, and help LGBT people become accepted by society. It might not always be my own story, or my daughters story, but as a filmmaker I think I can use my voice in helping other people tell their stories, especially those who are not yet open about it.”

Cha Roque on being a lesbian filmmaker

Klaus Mueller, Germany

Klaus Mueller has worked for decades on the plight of gay and lesbian survivors of the Holocaust and engaged in film as a tool to widely share his conversations with them. He was the initiator, research director and associate producer of the award-winning American documentary film Paragraph 175 (2000) that profiled gay survivors of Nazi persecution and won many international prizes, including from the Berlin and Sundance film festivals. He was assistant director of But I was a Girl (1999) that is based on his eight hour interview with lesbian Dutch resistance fighter Frieda Belinfante and director of Just happy the way I am (1998) on LGBT youth. In 2017, his documentary with Salzburg Global Seminar on Family is…? A Global Conversation premièred at the fifth session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum in Salzburg and Berlin. He has taught film history at the University of Amsterdam and shared his enthusiasm for blockbuster movies in many film reviews.

“Going through and weaving together the many interviews conducted over three years with our LGBT fellows on their understanding of family for me was a long journey coming to fruition. The film portrays deep and global connections between our various different stories. It felt like coming home. And I felt protected to talk about my own family.”

Klaus Mueller on cultivating global voices for global conversations

Nilu Doma Sherpa (1985-2017)

The LGBT Forum family suffered a great loss in 2017, with the passing of Nepalese filmmaker and Forum fellow Nilu Doma Sherpa. Nilu was a participant at the fourth session of the Forum in Chiang Rai, Thailand, in 2016. A leading member of the mainstream Nepalese film industry, her work included main choreographer for Jholay (2014), producer for the films Anaagat (2017), actor for Punte Parade (2014) and director for the highly praised films How Funny (2016) and Kagaj (2016). She was also part of the LGBT digital short documentary series Stories of Being Me by the social entrepreneurship platform B-Change, for which she directed the heartfelt autobiographical film The Story of Nilu, which she shared with Fellows at the session in Thailand. As described by B-Change, Nilu’s film “explores the universality of love with the help of some of Nepal’s leading women.”

The Story of Nilu - Stories of Being Me - Episode 7 (Kathmandu)


Fadi Zaghmout, Jordan

Widely celebrated for his commentary on Arab society in his novel The Bride of Amman, Jordanian writer Fadi Zaghmout has secured a reputation for being outspoken on issues including women’s rights, religious coexistence and sexuality. His book, which centers around four women and one gay man in Jordan’s historic capital, particularly attracted a lot of attention for addressing homosexuality in Arab societies. Zaghmout is the founder of the blog the Arab Observer, covering social issues unaddressed by traditional Arab media outlets, and with over 350,000 Twitter followers, remains one of the most prolific online voices in Jordan.

“It has been a wonderful experience for me to be here, in 2017, at Salzburg Global LGBT Forum for the second time. In 2013, when I joined for the first time, I had just published my book in Jordan and was encouraged by the Forum to do a reading of one chapter in English that a friend helped to translate. It was great then to get so many responses and I felt encouraged. Now I returned as a writer, with my book ‘The Bride in Amman’ having been translated in English, having published two more books and working on the fourth. I had the chance to meet activists, writers, journalists, artists, politicians and filmmakers from all over the world and listen to their stories and how each one of them is making change. I was able to share my story as a writer and present my book ‘The Bride of Amman’ to this big audience. The connections I have made in this week are priceless, not just in terms of strengthening my knowledge and empowering me as an activist but also as human connections and life-long friendships.”

Shereen El Feki, UK / Egypt

Like many who straddle East and West, writer and former journalist Shereen El Feki, a Muslim woman raised in Canada, wanted to learn more about her Arab roots. Her work in HIV research led her to choose sex as her lens, spending five years traveling across the Arab region speaking to people about their views on sex and sexuality. Her non-fiction book Sex and the Citadel explores populations outside what she refers to as the “citadel,” in the context of marriage – typically the only socially accepted context for sexual activity in the Arab region – including LGBT communities. El Feki served as vice-chair of the UN’s Global Commission on HIV and the Law, representing the Arab region.

“Sexuality, which also brings in values and beliefs, is an incredibly powerful lens in which to understand any society because it tells you about politics, about economics, about religion and tradition, about gender and generations.

“It’s important to realize that LGBTQ populations within the Arab region are part of a spectrum of exclusion. What I discuss in my book is how we are going to find ways to bring people ‘inside the citadel.’”

Shereen El Feki on sexuality in the Arab world and the shifting borderlines between ḥalāl and ḥarām

Danny Ramadan, Syria / Canada

Named one of Canada’s “top immigrants” of 2017, Syrian refugee Danny Ramadan has used his personal experience to evolve his voice as a storyteller and writer. His novel The Clothesline Swing, which tells the story of two lovers fleeing the aftermath of the Arab Spring, features the stories of fictional refugees, some of which are inspired by stories Ramadan heard as a Fellow of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, and many of which are based on his own personal experiences of fleeing war-torn Syria. With his advocacy based around refugee rights specific to the Syrian culture, Ramadan plans to continue sharing insights into the lives of LGBT refugees through his storytelling.

“Understanding how unique every person I met here is [has] helped me form bits and pieces of every character I included [in ‘The Clothesline Swing’]. What I noticed about my writing is that it’s evolved and instead of having one or two outcomes – whether you stay home or you leave – I started to imagine other outcomes that could happen. Other chosen families that could be created, other connections that could come between characters. That, in itself, has enhanced my storytelling abilities.”

Travis Kong, Hong Kong

Associate dean and sociology professor at the University of Hong Kong, Travis Kong presented a short video on older Chinese gay men during the inaugural session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum 2013, with a very lively and supportive discussion, and has continued working on this topic, among many others. One year later, he published Oral History of Older Gay Men in Hong Kong that documents twelve life stories of such men. The book captures how the complexity of their lives is interwoven with the Hong Kong history, as well as the difficulties and hardships they have encountered especially due to their sexual orientation, through colonial to contemporary times.

“I became an academic because it offered a way for me to theorize experiences through writing.
This ‘gay and grey’ project is my dream project as I found older gay men have been absent in LGBT studies, aging studies and social history studies in Hong Kong. They are the missing puzzle of local gay history and also the ‘minority of the minority’ in LGBT social services and aging services.”

Travis S K Kong on the lives of older LGBT men in Hong Kong

Elizabeth Khaxas, Namibia

Poet Elizabeth Khaxas is the director of the Women’s Leadership Centre, an organization that promotes feminist leadership among young women from marginalized sectors of Namibia’s society and a founding member of Women’s Solidarity and Sister Namibia. Through her love of poetry, Khaxas emits a voice for LGBT rights, using words to fight against gender barriers and sodomy laws, and express pride in the fight for LGBT visibility. At the inaugural session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, Khaxas shared a number of her poems with participants.


Our daughter has come home
The one who has been cast away is home
let us dance and rejoice today
Shame on those who do not acknowledge
my daughter’s homecoming
The African!
Shame on those who treated my daughter
as the stepchild of this continent
Lesbian, gay, transgender, transsexual, bisexual, heterosexual...
The image of the goddess, all of them...
Sons and daughter of Africa
Gods and goddesses!
Much beloved, know that nothing will separate you
from the love which is you
No homophobic dictators
No rejecting parents and siblings
No religion
No sodomy law
What took you so long to find your way home, daughter?
We have prepared a feast for you
Let all the world behold
Our daughter has arrived
The lesbian
The African lesbian

Bao Chau Nguyen - “I Have Become the Leader of Something”
Bao Chau Nguyen is a two-time Fellow of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, having participated in 2016 and 2017 in Chiang Rai and Salzburg.
Bao Chau Nguyen - “I Have Become the Leader of Something”
Nicole Bogart 

At 19, Bao Chau Nguyen is the youngest Fellow of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, but he’s already a key change-maker when it comes to LGBT visibility in his country. Inspired by conversations with Fellows at his first session, Nguyen founded Hanoi International Queer Film Week, the first legal queer film festival in his home country of Vietnam.

Under the theme “Pride Journey,” Nguyen and his team complied 23 films and documentaries from eight countries around the world, including films from LGBT Forum Fellows Cha Roque, Popo Fan, and Su Su Hlaing. The première event took audiences through a series of sub-themes, each designed to tell a different side of the queer experience; from questions of identity and discrimination, to love and acceptance.

Crediting the Forum for allowing participants to focus on their own role within the LGBT community, Nguyen said, “At other conferences I’ve attended, they always ask ‘What is your name?’ and ‘What is your organization?’ But here people ask me in the morning: ‘How are you?’

“Everything started here. I got the idea here in this Forum. I have done it with my friends. The film festival started here, it started not from ‘What organization are you [with]?’ but from ‘Good morning,’” he said.

Nguyen, an independent filmmaker currently attending the Hanoi Academy of Theatre and Cinema, has been involved in LGBT activism for three years, focusing on development within his community, gender identities and reducing gender-based and sex-oriented discrimination and violence. As a trans man, Nguyen openly discusses his journey as a branch of his activism, sharing personal stories of his gender identity on social media.

For the young activist, participation in the Forum and the subsequent successful launch of the film festival have had an immeasurable impact on his self-development and self-confidence.
“Every experience I have here is personal, and, I think, the film festival itself is a big development for me. I was always the one who follows, I was never the one who leads. But after this, I have become the leader of something,” Nguyen revealed. “That’s very encouraging.”

Nguyen will continue to work as a member of NextGEN, an organization working for the LGBT community in Vietnam, with an aim to expand their network into the border Asian region. He also plans to continue to serve as program director of Hanoi International Queer Film Week for the foreseeable future.

“I would really like to have a fifth anniversary, like this Forum,” he laughed. “Cinema is something that’s so powerful and it can have a lot of impact on the audiences. I don’t want to change anyone with movies – it’s not something impossible but not something I really want to do – I want to give them a new point of view. Queer film festivals aren’t about LGBT – they are about diversity."

Bao Chau Nguyen on how Salzburg Global LGBT Forum inspired him

Impromptu LGBT Film Festivals
Klaus Mueller introduces the filmmakers at the (Impromptu) Chiang Rai LGBT Film Festival in 2016
Impromptu LGBT Film Festivals
Salzburg Global Seminar 

Over its five years, the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum has had the pleasure of hosting several impromptu LGBT film festivals, complete with screenings and Q&A sessions with the filmmakers. Several of the films featured have had their world or European première at the Forum.

LGBT and Human Rights: New Challenges, Next Steps

* Gay and Grey –
a short documentary film
Produced by Travis S.K. Kong

I Am You: I Am A Picture Of You
Presented by Thilaga Sulathireh

The Riddle
Featuring and presented
by Tamara Adrián

Pink Mirror
Directed by Sridhar Rangayan

** Sanubari Jakarta
Co-Directed by Lola Amaria

Being Scene
Directed by Zanele Muholi

Strengthening Communities: LGBT Rights and Social Cohesion

The Story of Iron –
part of the documentary Stories of Being Me
Directed by Popo Fan

CCTV Breaking News from a Homosexual China
Directed by Popo Fan

** Tamara
Presented by and based on the life story of Tamara Adrián

Directed by Benjamin Cantu

Stories of Being Me
Presented by Laurindo Garcia

Mama Rainbow
Directed by Popo Fan

New Beijing, New Marriage
Directed by Popo Fan

* Because of Who I Am
Benjamin Cantu and Nils Boekamp

The Many Faces of LGBT Inclusion

Family is… Highlights
Presented by Klaus Mueller

Stories of Being Me
Presented by Laurindo Garcia

Presented by Jong-Geol Lee

Lam: Inside Out
Directed by Bao Chau Nguyen

The video 11,
part of the art project “Save The Date”
Presented by Wanja Kilber

Olympic Dreams
Presented by and featuring
Kasha Nabagesera

Pink Dads
Directed by Popo Fan

Love & Other Matters
Directed by Su Su Hlaing

The Story of Cha –
a part of the film series Stories of Being Me
Directed by Cha Roque

The Story of Nilu –
a part of the film series Stories of Being Me
Directed by Nilu Doma Sherpa

Toms: The Complex World of Female Love in Thailand
Directed by Watsamon Tri-yasakda

Home: Safety, Wellness and Belonging

I love you as you are
Presented by Jaewon Shin

* Visibility
Presented by Ta and directed by Helena Eckert

** What I Would Have Told My Daughter If I Knew What To Say Back Then
Directed by Cha Roque

The Fox Exploits The Tiger’s Might
Presented and co-produced by Tunggal Pawestri

* Family is? – A Global Conversation
Presented by Klaus Mueller

* Denotes a World Première 
** Denotes a European Première

Building International Connections and Alliances
Building International Connections and Alliances
Klaus Mueller 

 “I came here alone, but I am back to Korea with global networks of LGBT organizations/individuals. I was very inspired by the participants’ stories, energy, idea and intellectual discourse. I will work to keep these connections alive and use them, so that Korean LGBT rights organizations can communicate with the world, embrace global movements that are suitable for our society, let global networks know the situation of Korea, and share our progress with them.”

—    Hyun Kyung Kim, Researcher, Korean Society of Law and Policy on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Korea

At our fifth session in Salzburg in 2017, we celebrated the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT), together with the president of IDAHOT, trans activist Tamara Adrián from Venezuela. Through video, the World Bank and the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum joined forces to call for inclusion and equality for families and their LGBT children – uniting both behind IDAHOT’s message of family inclusion.

The Salzburg Global LGBT Forum deeply believes in making these connections, in extending our network and creating new lines of communication and cooperation. Within the ongoing global, yet strongly Western-dominated discourse on LGBT equality, Asian voices and perspectives are underrepresented. Convening the 2016 session of the Forum in Chiang Rai, Thailand, we came to listen and learn, using the gathering as a platform to amplify the voices of Asian leaders. With its booming demographics and economies, and resultant growing international importance, much global progress on equality for LGBT people will depend on advancements in Asia. As of 2017, the largest proportion of our Fellows come from Asia.

The discourse on LGBT rights might be becoming increasingly global, but progress and subsequent backlash are felt locally. By bringing together so many global voices to learn about each other’s local contexts, we hope to mitigate these negative responses.

To multiply its impact, the Forum regularly attracts the participation of leading human rights defenders including many transnational human rights organizations such as the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality, the Asia-Pacific Transgender Network, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Front Line Defenders, HIVOS International, the Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights Watch, Open Society Foundations, Transgender Europe and the World Association for Sexual Health.


Two Sides of the Same Coin: Global Advances, Local Backlashes

Profile: M.V Lee Badgett

Fellows' International Connections

IDAHOT - A Landmark Day to Raise Global Awareness

Two Sides of the Same Coin - Global Advances, Local Backlashes
Public support from international organizations for LGBT rights in countries with a colonial past can be counterproductive as they are seen a further Western imposition, warned Paola Amadei, head of the delegation for the European Union to Jamaica.
Two Sides of the Same Coin - Global Advances, Local Backlashes
Louise Hallman 

The discourse on LGBT rights might be increasingly global, but progress and the subsequent backlash are frequently felt locally. By bringing together diverse global voices to learn about each other’s local contexts, the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum hopes to mitigate these negative responses and advance LGBT rights worldwide.

That we are currently seeing huge advances in the recognition of LGBT rights in countries across the world is indisputable. But progress is by no means certain nor is it without its negative responses. In 2011, the first UN Resolution on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity was supported by over 40 countries – yet in 76 states, governments continue to legitimize and sponsor violence again their LGBT citizens.

Increased global visibility of local LGBT communities has in some cases fueled further scapegoating and persecution, but on the flipside of the coin, as prominent African LGBT activist Kasha Nabagesera reminds Fellows, this approach “is helping us progress. Now you can’t say that we don’t exist.” She describes international networks as “our strongest weapon.” Local activists can work with international organizations to remind hostile governments of their obligations under international law.

Diverse voices

However, the key issues facing LGBT communities are not the same across the world. In the West, there is currently a push for marriage equality, adoption rights and legal recognition of gender identity. Yet in countries where homosexuality remains illegal, decriminalization is far more pressing than marriage rights. Speaking at the inaugural session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum in 2013 – and echoed across sessions over the following five years – Fellows have expressed concern that the vocal Western campaigns for rights like marriage are distracting from other, for them more urgent campaigns regarding the protection of LGBT people from discrimination, persecution and violence. The Forum engages in ethical listening to develop a fuller understanding of different challenges and encourage joint learning.  

At each session, Fellows open up about their personal experiences. From growing up gay in a religious family in Hong Kong, to the struggles of family relationships post-coming out as transgender in the UK; from empowered lesbian theater performances in El Salvador to harrowing tales of “corrective” rape in South Africa. Some Fellows are able to be completely open about their stories and identities, having already publicly spoken out before arriving in Salzburg; some have to speak strictly under the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals once they return home.

Listening to each other helps us to explore and extend the diversity of approaches that are needed to address inequality the world over. We might live in an increasingly interconnected global world, but a global approach, without taking account local contexts, may not be the answer.

Unintended consequences

When in 2014 the UK declared it would make its foreign aid to Uganda conditional on its compliance with human rights norms, including abandoning its then-pending legislation on the further criminalization of homosexuality, many, especially in the West, thought this was a great advance in how to encourage the globalization of human rights. But these conditions did not take into consideration the local LGBT community. As Nabagesera explained in Salzburg, following the UK’s declaration, a gay man in Uganda was attacked by his neighbors who blamed him for the death of their daughter due to the lack of medicine in hospitals, which had previously been supplied thanks to UK aid. Good global intentions can lead to devastating local consequences if not guided by local leaders.

The stoking of the anti-gay fervor that led to the introduction of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda was in part due to the global influence of another group: American evangelical Christians. In response, as Dennis Wamala, vice-chair of the board of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), explains, SMUG have taken one particular prominent anti-gay evangelical preacher to court in the US (where he is based) for his role in the persecution. The case is ongoing. Within the Forum, we discussed how Western LGBT human rights organizations can confront such post-colonial export of hate by extremist religious congregations in their own countries.

In Jamaica, a country where homophobia is rife and the sodomy law a colonial adoption of British buggery laws, many dismiss advocacy for LGBT rights as “colonial,” and thus public international support for local organizations can be counterproductive, explained Paola Amadei, Head of the Delegation for the European Union to Jamaica.

In many ways, the Forum breaks away from simplified notions of a North/South divide and recognizes that progress has been led by many countries in the Global South. The groundbreaking 2006 Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity have inspired National Human Rights Commissions in Indonesia, Mongolia and the Philippines to review their legislation. In 2010, South Africa spearheaded the first UN Resolution on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (supported by Brazil and 39 other countries); Argentina passed ground-breaking legislation that recognizes the right to gender identity based on an individual's own feelings; South America became the first continent where a majority of its inhabitants have access to marriage equality; and, in 2015, Nepal introduced passports for a third gender – to name but a few landmark cases. These national and regional advances greatly inspire advances globally.

Alternative approaches

National narratives are frequently misleading, as Dutch sociologist Saskia Wieringa cautions. Societies and governments may take pride in their LGBT inclusion, or in their homo- or transphobia repackaged as “traditional values” but history shows there have been profound societal shifts in the treatment of LGBT communities. For example, while their national narratives might now have reversed, historical accounts show episodes of homosexual-targeted executions in the Netherlands and acceptance of trans people and same-sex relations in Indonesia. Deconstructing these narratives and presenting accurate local histories that show LGBT people have long been part of their communities can be a powerful step forward in reclaiming the place and impact of LGBT people and communities in their respective cultures. 

Other approaches proposed at the Forum have included: find allies and adopt a different language. As Ian Southey-Swartz, LGBTI program manager for the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, somewhat controversially said in 2013: “LGBT organizations need to get over themselves!” Despite that sounding hostile on paper, his advice that followed was sound: strengthen your cause by allying yourself with other causes than can, in turn, advance your own. This approach was successful in the initial repeal of India’s sodomy laws, which was achieved through a broad-based coalition of interests including women’s, children’s and LGBT rights groups.

Another suggestion was: If LGBT groups are not making progress with human rights arguments, then they should instead present the economic argument for their greater freedoms. “The language of economics is more universal,” suggested one Fellow. Global, cross-border collaborations on research in this area can help support local arguments. In his explanation of how LGBT groups in Lebanon had successfully overturned the violating “anal tests” that were being carried out to “check” for homosexuality, multi-time Fellow Georges Azzi, co-founder of Helem, a Lebanese non-profit organization working on improving the legal and social status of LGBT people in the region, said their target had been the medical legitimacy of the tests, rather than campaigning on a human rights violation platform.

Global learning

In 2016, in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s Being LGBTI in Asia program,  the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum met for the first time in Asia in order to learn from rising voices and better understand the unique challenges and progresses in the region. In Chiang Rai, Thailand, Fellows agreed that the lessons that different cultures and experiences provide should be harnessed to advance LGBT inclusion on the global stage.

“Countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador in Latin America have made remarkable strides on improving the legal recognition of transgender people and their access to official identity documents,” noted Tamara Adrián, president of IDAHOT and multi-time Forum Fellow, drawing parallels with Asian advances. While many LGBT people on the continent are enjoying growing rights and protections, Adrián’s own country has lagged behind. The widespread influence of military and evangelical groups in the state has kept Venezuela from following Latin American trends. “Opportunities to exchange best practices…across regions are tremendously beneficial for those working on the protection of transgender health and citizenship rights but also broader LGBT advocacy efforts,” she added.

The Salzburg Global LGBT Forum is global in its very nature (and name) but it highly values regional and local insights. By bringing together human rights defenders of many sectors, backgrounds and countries, the Forum seeks to encourage a trust-building and learning environment where Fellows can hear candidly what the situation is like on the ground for local activists, helping Fellows realize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when advancing LGBT rights around the world and avoid unintended negative consequences.

Sudeshan Reddy on cautious optimism for LGBT human rights globally

Michael Kirby on globalism with a reality check

MV Lee Badgett - “I Take a Vow of Never Being a Helicopter Researcher Again!"
M. V. Lee Badgett, professor of economics and two-time Fellow of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum
MV Lee Badgett - “I Take a Vow of Never Being a Helicopter Researcher Again!"
Nicole Bogart 

The Salzburg Global LGBT Forum doesn’t only bring together activists. The Forum seeks to build broad alliances that include LGBT rights defenders and supporters across multiple spheres including law, politics, the arts and academia.

M. V. Lee Badgett is a professor of economics whose research focuses on LGBT poverty and employment discrimination, and she is writing a new book on the economic case for LGBT equality. A two-time Fellow of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, her past work has helped debunk the myth of gay affluence and examined the positive experience with regards to marriage equality for same-sex couples in the US and Europe. Her research also discovered that homophobia costs the Indian economy $31billion per year. Badgett’s third book The Public Professor: How to Use Your Research to Change the World gives practical advice to academics about engagement in public debates.

What has been your experience at the LGBT Forum?

It’s a little clichéd, but it’s opened up the world in terms of LGBT activism. I had met lots of activists at more ordinary conferences, but I never had the chance to get to know them as friends, to play ping pong, to dance and drink and have intense conversations over a meal. And everybody just wanted to engage, and I felt like I made a lot of connections and close friends over a short period of time.

Did this inspire your work?

For one thing, it made it possible for me to take a vow of never being a helicopter researcher again! I have no excuse now for doing a project on a country and not talking to someone I know from that country first.

The other thing was that I had a couple of projects and trips come directly out of conversations here. One involved working with UNDP to start an LGBTI Inclusion Index. I met Cliff Cortez here, who was then with UNDP [Cortez is now with the World Bank], and we had conversations in Salzburg about the need for better data and more research on LGBT people, and a few months later we started working together on aspects of that index. And we’re still working on it.

Someone I met here – Hyun Kyung Kim – wanted to translate a book [When Gay People Get Married] I had written into Korean, so she and a few colleagues worked on that and I ended up going to Korea for a book launch and did a bunch of public speaking there. On that same trip, another Fellow, Wei Wei invited me to speak at his university in Shanghai and arranged another talk at Renmin University in Beijing. The Beijing visit also included a tour of the LGBT Cultural Center with Xin Ying and a wonderful lunch with some of the other LGBT activists in their building.  So Salzburg creates a web of connections — one always intersects with another!

What other action have you taken with Forum members outside of Salzburg?

There was a Ugandan activist [Stella Nyanzi, an LGBTQ theorist and research fellow at Makerere University, Kampala] who had been jailed for about a month, so I reached out to Kasha [Nabagesera, Ugandan LGBT activist and Fellow of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum] just to see if there was anything I could do, and she recommended a petition and more pressure from international bodies. So a colleague and I launched a petition campaign and got at least 500 other academics to say this was a violation of academic freedom.

How would you describe the Forum to someone who has never been?

I get to hear people talk about the work that they do, and I get to know them as human beings at the same time — and that’s just something that doesn’t happen at other conferences.

Lee Badgett on the reinvigorated state of LGBT activism in the US

Fellows’ International Connections
Fellows from the Philippines, Austria, Russia, Germany, China, USA, Australia and Bhutan
Fellows’ International Connections
Nicole Bogart 

The Salzburg Global LGBT Forum was formed in 2013 to establish a truly global space to reflect upon and advance LGBT and human rights discussions around the world. Its signature is the international representation of leaders from diverse fields – including human rights, legal, artistic and religious backgrounds. Through participation in the Forum, Fellows are encouraged to share their personal experiences and expertise of their local context, bringing these to a global audience – and to take these shared learnings back to their home communities.

“I believe one of the most important aspects of the Forum was that we were given a fantastic opportunity to network. I have now contacts to more or less every part of this world! In fact, Bisi [Alimi], from Nigeria, and I have discussed the possibility of establishing a West African support network. Obviously, this is not something that can be done overnight, but I am confident that we can create something good, one step at a time. Apart from that, we are looking into the option of an LGBT film festival, either here or in Nigeria, or maybe even both.”
Nana S. King, Project Manager, Deutsche Welle Akademie, Ghana

“When I came and saw the diverse nature of this Forum, and the diverse nature of the information coming in and the discussion, I got very interested, so I wanted to be part of it in the longer term… The Forum allowed me to highlight the advocacy work in my organization; to create networks in which we use for advocating our work. To add a voice to the general advocacy of LGBTI around rights in Uganda.”
Dennis Wamala, Director of Programs, Icebreakers Uganda

“When you bring so many diverse individuals together for a five-day period, how deep can your insights go? Quite significantly, as I found. I go back quite overwhelmed by the ideas I’ve picked up. To name a few: I realize how strongly I need to focus on evidence building vis-à-vis discrimination particularly when it comes to making an economic argument on exclusion. The radical possibilities of this argument have really opened up for me after the conversations we’ve had around it at Salzburg. I also see the need for broadening my activism to focus on solidarities across movements – discussions here have helped me think through how I can re-frame my positions in a manner to get more people on board. Finally, I must say I’m quite enchanted by the possibilities of using storytelling in my work in a more creative manner. I’ve also been gratified by seeing the manner in which academia can be integrated into activism, a personal ambition of mine which I now see new routes to achieving.” 
Danish Sheikh, Advocate & Researcher, Alternative Law Forum, India

“Apart from the high-estimated opportunity to spend time away from the daily work and routine, which actually works as a burn-out prevention mechanism, this Forum brought practical assistance to the activities that I implement within Russian LGBT Network. Several sections of the Forum were dedicated to the topic of LGBT allies. Within the mingles, we discussed approaches to attract new allies, different categories of the supporters or social groups that could be regarded as potential allies for the LGBT movement, and also how cooperation between the labor unions and LGBT movement is arranged (if any) in other countries. That helped me to generate new ideas for the future projects that focus on reciprocity development. I also had a chance to speak out on the fact of state-orchestrated mass atrocities in Chechnya in a safe forum, applying to some individuals directly to exercise concrete tasks for facilitation of the crisis resolution.”
A Fellow from Russia

“This program is unlike any other program or space for the exchange of opinion and experiences about the LGBT population and for addressing – in a global Forum – the problems affecting LGBT people in various continents and environments. We see a clear link between equal rights and citizenship. Through our exchanges we learn that hostile environments are affecting not only those directly targeted by hateful acts, but also the country in which such acts occur. Diaspora, lack of equal opportunities, bullying and discrimination have clear repercussions on the economy of the country in which such acts occur. I would therefore encourage you to continue to organize this kind of event, in order to promote a better world for us all.”
Tamara Adrián, Human Rights Lawyer; President, IDAHOT Committee, Member, National Assembly of Venezuela

“Getting to know advocates, researchers, film producers, photographers, members of government agencies and professors from 38 different countries was a deeply profound experience for me. Seeing how the advance of LGBT rights and equality can be so much more powerful and effective when we all work together, with shared objectives and strategies that involve advocates and allies in every field of study, gives me such renewed focus, determination and enthusiasm.  For example, stronger bonds with activists from Bolivia and Jamaica, particularly, fostered developing new collaborative projects that we apply for funds together.”
Mariano Ruiz, IDAHOT Committee, Latin America & Caribbean Outreach Communications Officer, Argentina

“Even though I had a chance to participate at many different international forums and conferences this one was exceptional… They were media representatives, professors, NGO activists, politicians and individuals who defend the idea of equality and justice for LGBT minorities. In addition, it was a group of people where each person had a personal story from which generations should learn.”
Marko Karadzic, Former Serbian State Secretary for Human and Minority Rights, Belgrade, Serbia / USA

“The Forum is truly a special gathering of some of the bravest and most committed people one can encounter anywhere.”
Sudeshan Reddy, Communication Specialist, UNICEF, South Africa

“This was my second time at Salzburg Global Seminar, and I feel a stronger connection to the global movement. As a writer, a big perspective is one of the most important things to me. Hearing so many different personal stories was an inspiration. I hope I will be able to work with some of my friends and Fellows at Salzburg Global to capture their stories in writing one day. As an individual activist in a complicated political environment it makes a big difference to have friends and networks who can offer help and support. It was also very precious to learn from others of their strategies around security issues. The session also gave me a clearer picture of myself and my own expertise which is a big boost to continue with my work here.”
Rooi Teve, Human Rights Activist & Writer, Russia / UK

Dennis Wamala on how empathy and faith inspire him to work against persecution of LGBT people

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