“In the global yet strongly Western-dominated discourse on LGBT human rights, Asian voices are underrepresented,” said Louise Hallman of the Salzburg Global Seminar.
“The PNUD [United Nations Development Program] has been working in Asia Pacific for the encouragement of activism in LGBTI issues,” Tamara Adrián, a member of the Venezuelan National Assembly, told the Washington Blade.
The LGBTI Forum was first organized by Dr. Klaus Muller in 2013 as part of the Salzburg Global Seminar, with the aim to advance equal rights for LGBT people across the world. Today, the forum connects representatives from more than 60 countries.
Adrián, the first openly trans person to be elected to the Venezuelan National Assembly, has been involved since the beginning.
“It is a unique forum for reflecting about deep and relevant issues affecting LGBT people and their lives,” she said.
The range of matters covered is broad: from family issues, to strengthening international ties with government ministries and agencies and now, trans Asian perspectives.
“This year we wanted to expand the global footprint by traveling to Thailand and partnering with UNDP’s Being LGBTI in Asia program — a regional initiative to reduce marginalization and exclusion of LGBTI people,” said Hallman.
Of the 52 participants taking part in Chiang Rai, 32 are from Asia. These include journalists, filmmakers, legislators, formers judges, ambassadors and academics along with activists.
Participating in the forum is Ahmed “Danny” Ramadan, an LGBT refugee activist who was born in Syria and immigrated to Canada in 2014.
“The conference is significant in its representation of global activists in the LGBT community, and bringing them together to sit down and participate in network building, professional development and storytelling sessions,” he said.
However, the focus isn’t just on the professional experiences of the participants, but also on personal stories.
“I have felt a lot of difficult emotions as we sat down to discuss the situation in Bangladesh and the death of the LGBTQ activists,” Ramadan told the Blade. “As we sat there hearing first-hand accounts of those attacks I felt the privilege of being in a safe country where I’m protected by the laws and the society from such attacks.”
Adrián has especially been affected by the stories concerning difficulties faced by LGBTI people in Asia.
“This contradicts the idea that Asia is a quite tolerant region,” she said. “The struggle and lack of recognition is, at least, equal to the faced in many other parts of the world.”
“No matter where we come from, our family backgrounds or our religious beliefs, I was touched by all the stories I heard, but more touched by knowing that our movement is growing and becoming even more strong in the fight for real equality worldwide.” said Mariano Ruiz, the Latin America and Caribbean Outreach and Communications Officer for the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.
Moving forward, Ramadan is also optimistic about the good work the forum can achieve.
“I’m very thankful I’m becoming part of this global network and I look forward to all of the great work we can do together,” he said.