July 15, 2016 at 9:56 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Uruguay hosts global LGBT rights conference

Uruguay, gay news, Washington Blade

Uruguay this week hosted a global LGBT rights conference. (Image public domain)

More than 150 activists from around the world gathered in Uruguay this week for the first global LGBT rights conference to have taken place in Latin America.

Uruguayan Minister of Exterior Relations Rodolfo Nin Novoa on Tuesday spoke at the opening of the conference that is taking place in his country’s capital of Montevideo.

“We are gathered together for the purpose of effecting very significant cultural changes for our countries, keeping in mind the universality of human rights and fundamental liberties that are inherent to each person without exception,” he said.

Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Bert Koenders spoke at conference — which his country co-organized with Uruguay — on Wednesday.

“Human rights apply to all human beings,” he said. “The choice to exclude certain groups from protection endangers not just these groups, but society as a whole.”

Special U.S. Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry is among those who have also traveled to Uruguay. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power was to have led the American delegation to the conference, but she cancelled her trip because of the escalating violence in South Sudan.

Power spoke to conference attendees via a video from the U.N.

Ovejas Negras, a Uruguayan advocacy group, and COC Nederland, a Dutch LGBT organization, co-hosted the gathering.

Mauricio Coitiño of Ovejas Negras told the Washington Blade on Thursday in an email from Montevideo that his country’s decision to co-sponsor the conference “is a new significant sign” of the Uruguayan government’s support of LGBT-specific issues. He added the gathering also provides an opportunity to hold officials accountable for preventing anti-gay violence, expanding anti-discrimination campaigns, ensuring LGBT Uruguayans have equal access to the country’s judicial system and other issues.

“It represents an opportunity to bring new attention to the situation of LGBTI people in Uruguay and the challenges we still face, even in the context of legal equality,” Coitiño told the Blade.

Koenders: Pulse nightclub massacre ‘shocked the world’

The conference began one month to the day after a gunman killed 49 people inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

Power in her speech noted the deadliest attack to have taken place against the LGBT community before the Pulse nightclub massacre was the 1973 firebombing of the Upstairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans, that killed 33 people.

She noted that activists around the world organized vigils and other events to honor those who died inside the Pulse nightclub. Power also said that the U.S. Mission to the U.N. had four condolence books for people to sign in the days after the massacre.

“Perhaps most moving were the stories of the 49 individual victims, which have revealed the beautiful diversity of just a small sliver of the LGBTI community,” she said.

Orlando, Jerusalem, gay news, Washington Blade

LGBT activists in Jerusalem organized a vigil for the victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre on June 12, 2016. (Photo courtesy of Rotem Pesso)

Nin and Koenders also acknowledged the Pulse nightclub massacre in their remarks at the conference.

“Last month’s heinous attack in Orlando shocked the world,” said Koenders. “It was a vile reminder of why safe spaces are so important, and how threats to justice do not always come from governments.”

Conference ‘a great opportunity’ to advance global LGBT rights

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in more than 70 countries around the world. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Mauritania are among the handful of nations in which homosexuality remains punishable by death.

The U.S. and Chile last August co-hosted the first LGBT-specific U.N. Security Council meeting that focused on the so-called Islamic State’s persecution of Syrian and Iraqi men accused of committing sodomy. The U.N. Human Rights Council on June 30 approved a resolution co-sponsored by Uruguay that creates organization’s first-ever watchdog to fight discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Power noted in her remarks that Geraldine Roman in May became the first openly LGBT person elected to the Philippine Congress. Boxer Manny Pacquaio, who described marriage rights for same-sex couples as “more disgusting than (sex) between animals, also won a seat in the country’s Senate during the same election.

Power pointed out that nearly 1,600 LGBT Brazilians have been killed over the last four years, even though the country co-sponsored the first U.N. resolution against discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2003. She also noted that 40 percent of trans Americans have attempted to take their own lives.

“Governments do not have to choose between advancing LGBTI rights within their own countries and around the world,” said Power. “We can and must do both.”

LGBT Federation of Argentina President Marcela Romero, who is also the regional coordinator of the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Trans People, is among the activists who are attending the conference.

She told the Blade in a statement that the gathering “is a great opportunity.” Romero said it also provides an opportunity for countries to recommit themselves to do more to support their trans citizens.

“There are really good practices in our region that need to be shared and there’s still a lot to do for the life of trans people,” she said. “States in the world need to know there’s a trans population that needs a gender identity law that recognizes their rights to be able to enjoy full citizenship.”

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

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