April 26, 2019 at 11:51 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Annual HRC global summit takes place in DC
Damián Cabrera is among the more than two dozen LGBTI activists from around the world who participated in the Human Rights Campaign’s Global Innovative Advocacy Summit that took place in D.C. this week. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than two dozen LGBTI activists from around the world participated in the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Global Innovative Advocacy Summit that took place this week in D.C.

Activists from Barbados, Mexico, Ecuador, Argentina, Ukraine, Pakistan, Malawi and other countries took part in workshops and attended events that included a Tuesday reception at Spanish Ambassador to the U.S. Santiago Cabanas Ansorena’s official residence in Northwest D.C. Wanuri Kahiu, director of “Rafiki,” a Kenyan film about two women who fell in love with each other, spoke with the activists on Wednesday.

“At a time when so many LGBTQ people’s lives are at risk around the globe, the ability of advocates to collaborate on innovative tools advancing basic human rights and LGBTQ equality is crucially important,” said HRC Director of Global Leadership Jay Gilliam in a blog post. “We are thrilled to welcome these advocates whose commitment to advancing LGBTQ equality in some of the world’s most challenging places is truly remarkable.”

Spanish Ambassador to the U.S. Santiago Cabanas Ansorena speaks at a reception at his official residence in Northwest D.C. on April 23, 2019. The reception coincided with the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Global Innovative Advocacy Summit. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The summit began a day after Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a Ukrainian television comedian, overwhelmingly won the second round of his country’s presidential election.

Ruslana Panukhnyk, director of KyivPride, which organizes the annual Pride celebrations in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, told the Washington Blade on Wednesday that she and other LGBTI activists in her country “don’t know what to expect from” Zelenskiy because he “doesn’t have any platform or strategy.” Panukhnyk nevertheless said the summit has left her feeling “inspired … and motivated to work.”

Damián Cabrera, founder of the Puerto Rico LGBTQ Health Services Directory, agreed.

“What has been the best part of this experience is to learn about everyone’s experience,” he told the Blade on Wednesday. “This helps put me in the perspective of watching how we can advance in Puerto Rico as a country.”

Cabrera said the Puerto Rico LGBTQ Health Services Directory “was born from the need” for health care providers “who know how to care for the LGBTI community.” He also acknowledged to the Blade that Hurricanes Maria and Irma that struck Puerto Rico in 2017 made LGBTI Puerto Ricans’ vulnerability to violence, discrimination and poverty “even more visible.”

“It is a very slow process,” said Cabrera, referring to post-Maria recovery efforts. “A disaster like this doesn’t affect everyone the same.”

‘We have a lot of questions’ about Trump

The summit took place against the backdrop of continued outrage of the Trump administration’s record on LGBTI-specific issues from HRC and other advocacy groups. The White House’s overall foreign policy has also sparked widespread criticism.

The Trump administration in February announced openly gay U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell will lead an initiative that encourages countries to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on March 19 reiterated his opposition to LGBTI rights when he spoke alongside President Trump during a press conference in the White House Rose Garden. Grenell and the State Department have both criticized the provision of Brunei’s new penal code that calls for the death penalty for anyone convicted of consensual same-sex sexual relations.

Panukhnyk told the Blade that Trump “is a big concern for the global LGBT community.”

“We have a lot of questions,” she said. “We still have a lot of questions and they are not answered yet.”

Cabrera echoed San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and others who have sharply criticized the Trump administration’s response to Maria.

“This is one more example of a colonial violence,” Cabrera told the Blade, referring to Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. commonwealth. “We are truly good citizens to be exploited and to give to the U.S., but when we are seen as different when we are in need during a situation like this.”

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

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