Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, director of Freedom and Roam Uganda, during a speech she gave at CUNY School of Law in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens said she and her colleagues became advocates because they were “tired” of discrimination.
“We have had enough,” said Nabagesera.
OutRight Action International organized the conference that Council for Global Equality Chair Mark Bromley and activists from dozens of other countries attended. It capped off a series of events around International Human Rights Day that included a U.N. panel on the economic impact of anti-LGBT discrimination.
Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight Action International, said at the beginning of the conference that advocates had met with representatives of more than 25 governments. They also sat down with officials from UNICEF and three other U.N. agencies.
— Samantha Power (@AmbassadorPower) December 11, 2015
“Change doesn’t happen in any one place,” said Stern as she spoke at the conference. “It happens from a combination of forces that create a forward momentum that eventually produces a catalyst for change.”
Uganda is among the more than 70 countries in which consensual same-sex sexual activity remains illegal.
Those found guilty of homosexuality in Iran, Mauritania and a handful of other nations face the death penalty. The Islamic State, a Sunni militant group also known as Daesh, has executed dozens of men in Syria and Iraq who had been accused of committing sodomy.
The U.S. is among the jurisdictions in which same-sex couples have received marriage rights. Argentina, Colombia, Ireland and Malta allow transgender people to legally change their name and gender without medical intervention.
Ging Cristobal, an OutRight Action International staffer who co-founded Lesbian Advocates Philippines, said during a conference panel that “all this talk about same-sex marriage” is “undermining gains” the LGBT rights movement in Asia has made. Gloria Careaga Pérez, a Mexican activist, added that pro-LGBT governments need to do more to support other social justice movements.
“Many governments are for LGBT people, but against women’s rights,” she said.
Another panel focused on the media coverage of LGBT-specific issues and the way that advocates can use it to raise visibility around their efforts.
Diana Mailosi of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe said sensational coverage of LGBT issues exacerbates discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity that is rampant in her country. Miriam van der Have, co-chair of the Organization Intersex International who lives in the Dutch city of Nijmegen, stressed to her fellow activists that the media “is not your friend.”
“It’s also not easy for journalists,” said Yuli Rustinawati, chair of Arus Pelangi, an Indonesian LGBT advocacy group, while discussing the challenges that reporters face when covering LGBT-specific issues. “It depends on who their boss is.”
Conference organizers also honored to three LGBT rights advocates — Diana Sacayán of Argentina, Joel Gustave Nana of Cameroon and Mirka Negroni of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) — who died this year. They placed a memorial to them outside the lecture hall in which the gathering took place.
Gay Palestinian man fled ‘problems with’ local police
Ramzi, a gay man from the Palestinian city of Ramallah, is among those who attended the conference.
Ramzi, who asked the Washington Blade not to publish his last name, fled to Belgium eight years ago to escape what he described as “problems with” Palestinian police because he is gay. He received asylum in the European country and now works with an organization that provides assistance to LGBT asylum seekers from the Middle East and North Africa.
“I had to choose between two things: To work with the Palestinian police as a spy to find LGBT guys and let them put them in prison or punish them, or I had to escape,” Ramzi told the Blade as he ate lunch with Bromley, Ernesto Zelayandia of the Human Rights Campaign and several other advocates who were attending the conference. “I decided to escape because I won’t work against my community.”Ramzi said homosexuality is not illegal by law in the West Bank, unlike in the Gaza Strip that the Islamic militant group Hamas governs. He nevertheless told the Blade that Muslims and Christians alike who live in the Palestinian territories remain largely hostile towards LGBT people.
“It’s a shame to be LGBT,” said Ramzi. “Just saying to your family your son is gay is kind of a shame for them.”
Ramzi also discussed the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and how it impacts the local LGBT rights movement.
“As Palestinians are busy with the Israeli occupation,” he told the Blade, referring to Palestinian politicians and officials. “People don’t look at the LGBT. The priority now at the moment is to finish the occupation.”