October 22, 2014 at 8:48 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Hundreds to attend global LGBT rights conference in Mexico
Judy Shepard, gay news, Washington Blade

Judy Shepard, right, and her husband are among those scheduled to speak at a global LGBT rights conference that will take place next week in Mexico City. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Nearly 400 advocates from around the world are expected to attend a global LGBT rights conference next week in Mexico City.

Dennis and Judy Shepard are among those scheduled to speak at the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) World Conference that will take place in the Mexican capital from Oct. 27-31. Ty Cobb of the Human Rights Campaign, Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First, Urooj Arshad and Ariel Cerrud of the Washington-based Advocates for Youth and advocates from Cuba, the Netherlands, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and dozens of other countries are also expected to attend.

“We are happy that delegates to the conference come from government, academia, inter-governmental and activist organizations,” ILGA Co-Secretary General Gloria Careaga Pérez told the Washington Blade.

The Shepards — who have traveled to Jamaica, Poland and other countries in recent years on State Department-sponsored trips — are scheduled to take part in a panel on families during the ILGA conference with advocates from the U.S., Brazil and India. They also plan to meet with LGBT children and their parents through the U.S. Embassy while in Mexico City.

“Dennis and I are excited to be able to meet so many amazing activists from ILGA next week,” Judy Shepard told the Washington Blade in a statement. “We’re very much looking forward to learning from the other participants.”

Davis Mac-Iyalla, a gay Nigerian advocate who sought asylum in the U.K. in 2008, had a similar sentiment.

“I hope to learn from others attending the conference across the world [about] how they are leading human rights issues in their locality,” he told the Blade. “[I] will share those experiences with my Nigeria brothers and sisters in the movement.”

Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, executive director of Equal Ground, a Sri Lankan LGBT advocacy group, said the conference is “a unique opportunity” to network with fellow activists to ensure “there is a constant exchange of ideas and ideals which lead to furthering the LGBTI global movement and making positive changes for LGBTI persons all over the world.” Anne Lim, founding director of Galang Philippines, an advocacy group that seeks to reduce poverty among LGBT people in her country, added the gathering is a chance to highlight economic disparities as they relate to discrimination.

“Participating in ILGA processes is first and foremost an opportunity for knowledge sharing with colleagues working on SOGIE (sexual orientation and gender identity and expression) rights,” she told the Blade.

More than 1,000 LGBT organizations throughout the world are members of ILGA.

ILGA’s annual European conference took place earlier this month in Latvia.

Cuba in May hosted an ILGA gathering amid controversy the organizers did not invite independent LGBT rights advocates from the Communist nation. Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro who directs the country’s National Center for Sexual Education, was president of the local committee that organized the conference.

Next week’s conference will take place as Mexican LGBT rights advocates continue to make strides on marriage rights for same-sex couples and other issues.

Gays and lesbians have been able to legally marry in Mexico City since 2010.

Lawmakers in the Mexican state of Coahuila last month overwhelmingly approved a same-sex marriage bill.

The Mexican Supreme Court in June struck down Baja California’s same-sex marriage ban in the case of officials in the city of Mexicali denying a marriage license to a gay couple. The same tribunal in late 2012 ruled Oaxaca’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.

Same-sex couples in Colima, Quintana Roo and other Mexican states have also sought legal recourse — known as an “amparo” — to allow them to marry.

The Mexican Supreme Court earlier this year ruled same-sex spouses of those who receive benefits under Mexico’s social security system must receive the same benefits as their heterosexual counterparts. A gay couple seeking the right to legally marry in the country in May filed a formal complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in D.C.

The Mexican Supreme Court in March 2013 ruled anti-gay slurs are not protected speech under the country’s constitution.

Benjamin Medrano later that year became Mexico’s first openly gay mayor after voters in Fresnillo, a city in the state of Zacatecas, elected him to the post.

Ricardo Baruch, a member of the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights who currently lives in the city of Cuernavaca, acknowledged to the Blade on Monday that LGBT rights have gained traction in Mexico in recent years.

He said anti-LGBT discrimination and bullying remain problems in the country in spite of these advances. Baruch added a lack of visibility and “tons of resistance” to efforts to expand rights to LGBT people in Central and South American countries without “fabulous” laws like those in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Colombia are additional challenges facing advocates in the region.

“Having the conference here (in Mexico City) is a good way to make visible, at least in the LGBT activist community, that things are not perfect in the region,” said Baruch.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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