In Advance of IDAHOT, HRC Sits Down with Global Innovators

Emily Simeral Roberts

Ahead of International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT), celebrated annually on May 17, HRC hosted its inaugural Global Innovative Advocacy Summit. The four-day event brought together established and emerging leaders from around the world to discuss how they have advanced equality, showcasing projects and approaches that have helped improve the lives of LGBTQ people in their countries and communities.

IDAHOT marks the anniversary of the date in 1990 when the World Health Organization declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder. It is a day to bring attention to the discrimination and violence LGBTQ people around the world still face, as well as celebrate the achievements in advancing equality.

Last month, in advance of the 12th celebration of IDAHOT, HRC welcomed advocates from 26 countries for  the exchange of ideas and practices, with a focus on how to  mobilize members and supporters to advance LGBTQ equality in their countries.

HRC had the opportunity to sit with nine of of these innovators, getting an in-depth perspective on the situation in their countries, and how they are overcoming challenges through advocacy.

Luis | Chile | President, Fundación Iguales
Luis became an LGBT activist in 2009 and is a co-founder of the Iguales Foundation, a leading LGBT rights organization in Chile. His organization works on a number of LGBT initiatives, including hosting pride celebrations and advocating for trans inclusion and legislative action.

While Chile passed a civil unions law last year - a bill for which he was instrumental in leading the efforts - and Luis believes people are becoming used to seeing same-sex couples in Chile, he still cautions that the decision for others to be out and open can be based simply on where they live or where they work. He notes that although the capital city of Santiago is quite progressive, other areas throughout Chile are still dangerous as a stigma around what it means to be LGBT continues to cloud the minds of many citizens.

Luis touts HRC’s “Love Conquers Hate” Spanish-language t-shirt saying, “It’s a great slogan and I think it’s very useful for massive audiences, because some people relate to law, some people relate to social or political ideas, but most people relate to basic things such as love because it’s something that most of us have experienced.”

Andrea | El Salvador | Executive Director, Espacio de Mujeres Lesbianas Salvadoreñas por la Diversidad/ESMULES
Andrea began her career as an LGBT activist in 2009 when the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador considered passing a bill that would strip rights away from LGBT people. With a background as a lawyer, Andrea’s passion stems from experiences that she endured throughout her life as a lesbian and the deep-seated discrimination that she not only faced from society, but also from her own family.

As a teenager, Andrea’s parents kicked her out of their home for several months. When she was finally able to return she suffered through so-called “conversion therapy” because they thought she was “sick.” Eventually, her parents spoke with a priest and came to the decision to accept her for who she is. This personal experience motivates Andrea to change hearts and minds throughout El Salvador.

Despite some progress, El Salvador is still afflicted by extremely high levels of violence. Just last year, Andrea defended a transgender man who was removed from a public bus and beaten close to death by El Salvadoran police simply because of his transgender status. In her quest to seek justice, Andrea was forced to retreat to the U.S. for two months due to threats to  safety.

Jaevion | Jamaica | Director of Projects and Strategy, J-FLAG
Jaevion works for Jamaica’s oldest LGBT rights organization, J-FLAG, with the goal of changing the narrative around LGBT equality, particularly building the capacity of scores of healthcare workers to provide LGBT patients with non-judgmental and professional services.

Jaevion explains the alarming situation in Jamaica, stating that LGBT people have to find ways to navigate the homophobia and transphobia that is ingrained in Jamaican culture, from biblical references to song lyrics to teachers accepting bullying at schools. He also notes the country’s extremely high levels of intolerance toward LGBT people, particularly those from low income communities.

A large part of Jaevion’s work involves the Ministry of Health and the critical need to address Jamaica’s prevalence of HIV. He states that the HIV rate among the general population in his country is more than 1.6 percent, and the alarming rate among gay and bisexual men is more than 32 percent. One of the biggest challenges in reducing that number is LGBT people are not willing to go forward to access health services due to the fear of discrimination from both healthcare providers and other patients using the same facilities.

Tomas | Lithuania | Policy Coordinator, National LGBT* Rights Organization (LGL)
Tomas is a policy coordinator for human rights at the National LGBT* Rights Organization - known as Lithuanian Gay League (LGL) - in Lithuania.

In 2015 he managed an awareness raising campaign that sought to convince policymakers to introduce legal gender recognition procedures in Lithuania - the only country in the European Union with so-called “anti-gay propaganda legislation” in place. It is also one of the only European states with no de facto or de jure legal gender change recognition policies or gender reassignment treatment.

Tomas explains that while Lithuania is not generally a violent society, being openly LGBT causes social challenges for people living there as the prevalence of homophobia and transphobia is high, while levels of acceptance are quite low.

Carina | Mozambique | Communication and Documentation Officer, Associação LAMBDA
An LGBT activist since 2013, Carina works for LAMBDA, Mozambique’s largest LGBT organization. She is currently implementing an evidence-based communications strategy that seeks to foster societal attitude changes toward LGBT people.

Carina says that LAMBDA’s first television spot was the first time LGBT issues were portrayed on national T.V. in Mozambique, and the organization saw an outpouring of support and encouragement.

Carina explains that while LGBT people in Mozambique don’t necessarily suffer violence at the hands of those who are unaccepting, they are often faced with psychological and verbal abuse, particularly at home, at work and at school. She also says that the media perpetuates stereotypes of LGBT people by engaging in sensationalized reporting.

Elvina | Russia | Project Leader, Russian LGBT Sport Federation
Elvina joined the Russian LGBT Sport Federation in 2011 as a board member and has served as the project lead for several key initiatives. In 2014 Elvina was the chief organizer of the Russian Open Games, the biggest international LGBTQ sports and cultural event in Russia, between the Sochi Winter Olympics and the Paralympic Games.

Elvina’s work with the Sport Federation and the Open Games is an incredible achievement considering the homophobic rhetoric spouted from government leaders, coupled with the fact that a federal law passed in 2012 that criminalizes LGBT rights advocacy.

Elvina explains that since the passing of Russia’s anti-LGBT “propaganda law” in 2013, the country has seen a dramatic increase in homophobic people who take every measure to cause destruction - from calling in bomb threats at Sport Federation events to beating the participants. Depending on where they live and where they work, Elvina says that Russian LGBTQ people need to measure their risks before making the decision of whether or not to come out.

Jennifer | Taiwan | Senior Research Fellow, Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association
Jennifer has been working with the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association for 12 years with a focus on LGBT youth, gender education, lesbian sexual health, LGBT domestic violence and LGBT-inclusive policymaking.

In addition to her work with the hotline, Jennifer also ran for a parliamentary seat in the 2016 general elections. Throughout her campaign Jennifer and her team were successful in raising the visibility of LGBT issues. She was also instrumental in leading the 13th annual Taiwan Pride Parade in October, which set a record as Asia’s largest pride event with nearly 80,000 people in attendance.

While Taiwan is viewed as a progressive Asian country, Jennifer explains that many in the LGBT community are impacted by Chinese culture and traditions, particularly when facing parents’ expectations for their children. Jennifer works to combat stereotypes reinforced by older generations, as some still view LGBT people as “abnormal” and believe they are going to negatively impact the next generation. She also wants to minimize the disproportionate power of anti-LGBT Christian churches and some hostile political parties that represent a threat to LGBT rights.

Ezgi | Turkey | Volunteer, Social Policies, Gender Identity, and Sexual Orientation Studies Association (SPoD)
Ezgi works for a Turkish organization called SPoD - Social Policies, Gender Identity, and Sexual Orientation Studies Association. Since 2014 she has worked with human rights activists and lawyers on efforts to achieve constitutional and legal protections for LGBTI people in her country. She has organized awareness trainings for lawyers and public roundtables about the flight of LGBTI Turks, and she has also adapted HRC’s Municipal Equality Index for use in Turkey.

Despite seeing steady progress of the LGBTI movement in her country, Egzi said that discrimination is still a huge problem within public spaces, access to healthcare services and even in access to justice, leaving the LGBTI community open and subject to hate crimes. Noting the lack of legal protection for LGBTI people, Egzi explains that sexual orientation and gender identity are not protected classes.

Ezgi says the ban by the governor’s office on the Istanbul Pride Parade in 2015 was an unexpected and major setback that shocked the entire LGBTI movement and community. She also describes the media’s impact on society by perpetuating dangerous stereotypes through their negative rhetoric and hate speech.

Qwin | Uganda | Human Rights Defender, UHAI EASHRI
Qwin works for an LGBTIQ organization in Uganda called UHAI EASHRI. Earlier this year Uganda passed the NGO Act, which threatens the existence of LGBTI organizations as it will prohibit LGBT rights work. Qwin feels that their freedom of speech is being suppressed so much so that Ugandan citizens will eventually be silenced.

Uganda enacted and eventually nullified in 2014 the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which was responsible for a spike of deadly anti-LGBT violence that continues to this day. The Ugandan Parliament also passed a Registration of Persons Act in 2015 that prohibits intersex people from choosing the gender they prefer unless they are at least 21-years-old, in addition to hindering transgender people from changing their gender.

Qwin says that the societal impact is still felt from the now-nullified Anti-Homosexuality Act, and that hatred for the LGBTIQ community is ever-present. She explains that LGBTIQ people live in a constant state of fear and are constantly shifting and moving around because they can not guarantee a location that is truly safe.

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