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Echoes from an Amnesty Conference in Brussels

On Wednesday, November 4, 2009, I was invited to Brussels by Amnesty International to take part in a conference entitled “Activism in Dangerous Countries”.

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10th November 2009 00:36

yahia.zaidi | ILGA Asia


On Wednesday, November 4, 2009, I was invited to Brussels by Amnesty International to take part in a conference entitled “Activism in Dangerous Countries”.

I presented Meem and underlined how its structure and tools were different from mainstream LGBTQ activism. My main concern was to have the audience understand that our struggle is multi-lateral, that we are not only gays and queers, that we are women, transsexuals, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, against violence, wars, occupation and collective amnesia. I wanted them to know that the fight for LGBTQ rights was also a fight that needed to take into consideration gender binaries, class and race.

I wanted to show that I wasn’t only there as a woman or lesbian. I am someone who condemns the occupation of Palestine, the denial of the Armenian genocide, politicized religious institutions, and deforestation even. You cannot subtract me from my environment and try to turn me into a typical middle-class homo who only cares about spending her pink dollars and whom everyone adores as long as she behaves well and stays in line. I cannot stay in line. If I stay in line, I disappear.

I wanted them to know that there were sometimes discourses – albeit well-intentioned – that try to fight regimes that oppress homosexuals by using the same racist and right-wing terms that we fight against. When addressing groups from the Global South, they should be very careful not to become a pawn of the geopolitics of the region and the power struggle of countries and armies.

Groups in Europe need to understand that sometimes their solidarity and radical actions can sometimes put activists in our regions under the spotlight and in a lot of trouble. This is why communication is key. If such groups mobilize themselves for the sake of a specific country, the activists in that same targeted country should have something to say about the action being planned abroad in their name. Also, this mobilization should not come from a discourse of: “Poor South, let the North help,” because that’s how we fall back into the perverse hierarchical dynamics of power struggles.

For me, the real danger is not having a holistic vision of things and not understanding that our fight is not only for LGBTQ rights, but an intersection of many identities and struggles. The danger is re-creating the same power dynamics where one is the missionary and the other the victim; fighting international homophobia with the same tools and vocabulary used by fascists; viewing activists and LGBTQ individuals of the South as an exotic addition to conferences and meetings.

Throughout my stay, it was quite clear that such a subject of debate struck a cord with Belgian activist circles, in which ethnic minorities spoke about facing discrimination within LGBTQ groups. And the first tool to be considered was raising awareness about these issues and having the ability to critique their movements, means of inclusion and agendas.