24th world conference in Vienna

Created in 1978 as IGA, the International Gay Association, the organisation known for the last 22 years as ILGA, the International Lesbian and Gay Association will be known from now on as “ILGA, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association” as voted by LGBTI activists gathered for the association’s 24th world conference in Vienna, Austria (Nov 3- 6, 2008)

This conference, which coincided with ILGA’s 30th birthday focused on building regional associations of African, Asian, and Latin American activists and on moving away from a traditional binary gender representation.

The conference strongly pushed the organisation “to promote equality of women, trans and intersex persons within and outside ILGA” and decided to move away from the traditional binary gender representation: all positions to be filled within the organization will now need to include two representatives, of whom one at least identifies as a woman”. This proposal, put forward by the LGBT section of the UK trade union UNISON, enables activists who do not wish, for political or personal reasons, to identify as a man or a woman or identify as both to occupy a position within the association while ensuring the organisation is not ran by men only. A UNISON representative noted “there should be space for non-gender specific self-perceptions in ILGA and in its Constitution, if anywhere in the world”.

“With the creation of the Trans Secretariat, we’ve succeeded in establishing a body to coordinate trans issues at a global level and have a say at ILGA’s world board” says Belissa Andía Pérez, trans activist from Instituto Runa (Peru), the group which was re-elected for another two years as ILGA World Trans Secretariat. “This is key as it allows us to put forward the demands of the trans community within ILGA”. She adds: “Vienna was the opportunity for an extensive dialogue on gender issues. It is important within ILGA, when amending ILGA’s constitution and the way it deals with gender for example or by ensuring trans activists are given scholarships to attend conferences, but also important in the whole LGBTI movement: our aim is to achieve real inclusion of gender identity and advocate for non discrimination of trans persons, by far the most vulnerable group in the LGBTI community”.

Trans issues were also discussed during a full pre-conference day for trans participants. A second pre-conference event for lesbian and bisexual women explored the link between the feminist and lesbian movements and the importance to include a feminist approach in activism, be it gay, lesbian or trans.

With approximately 200 activists coming from 81 countries, this 24th ILGA conference gathered a balanced number of participants from almost all regions of the world thanks to a scholarship scheme which allowed 120 activists from the Global South to participate. ILGA invited the regional boards of ILGA Asia, ILGA LAC (Latin America and the Caribbean), and Pan Africa ILGA, which had been elected by activists during regional conferences over the previous two years in Johannesburg, Lima and Chiang Mai. Conference organizers also made a particular effort to ensure participation of activists from the Caribbean region. This provided the opportunity for these regional groups to hold regional and inter-regional meetings, to discuss and make progress within the global ILGA structure.

“ILGA really showed an international face, faithful to the diversity in our movement with activists equally represented from each region, gender identity and sexual orientation. We will continue working to have African, Asian, Latin American and Caribbean activists run their own ILGA structure on a regional basis so that lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and intersex activists from each region of the world can speak on their own behalf” says Gloria Careaga (Mexico) who was elected as Co-Secretary general of ILGA together with Renato Sabbadini (Italy). The conference thanked former co-secretaries general Rosanna Flamer Caldera (Sri Lanka) and Philipp Braun (Germany) for their years of work for ILGA.

“It is particularly important that we, as a global association are committed to helping activists to self organise locally: it should never be arguable that homosexuality is a western import, our Association and its 600 organisations from 111 countries are a living testimony, if need be, that same sex love exists in every country of the world in spite of the many laws criminalizing us around the world” says Renato Sabbadini.

Participants also discussed the way forward around LGBTI issues at the United Nations and other international forums such as the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting or the review of the Durban conference, a follow-up to the 2001 UN World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance. “In line with its previous work, ILGA will continue working on ensuring that both gender identity and sexual orientation are properly addressed within the UN system” says Gloria Careaga. ILGA works together with other human rights and LGBTI rights NGOs such as Amnesty International, Arc International, Global Rights, Human Rights Watch and The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

Maria Sjödin, from the Swedish Lesbian and Gay Federation RFSL which was re-elected ILGA world Women’s Secretariat adds: “ILGA occupies a very special place at the UN as it draws its legitimacy from the many groups it represents over the world; ILGA is our channel to have an influence on our struggle at the global level. ILGA can base its actions and recommendations on its membership’s collective experience and knowledge”. The Swedish group was among the six which gained ECOSOC status at the UN in the last two years within the framework of ILGA’s campaign to give direct access by LGBTI groups to the United Nations.

But the political discussion did not only focus on the United Nations. Three motions were approved by the conference: the first one was presented by ILGA LAC. The Latin American and Caribbean region asked the conference to express its rejection of the Vatican’s decision to have “to-be priests” undergo a psychological exam in order to determine if they are gay. Secondly, LGBT LEGAL (Peru), MUMS (Chile) and El Closet de Sor Juana (Mexico) asked for the end of persecution of the women’s and human rights defenders movement by the government of Nicaragua. In a more joyful note, the whole conference spontaneously celebrated the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States of America and passed a motion to congratulate him.

Engelbert Theuermann, head of the Human Rights Directorate of the Austrian Federal Ministry of European and International Affairs, opened the conference which benefited for the first time in ILGA’s history from the patronage of a head of state, as Heinz Fischer, Federal President of Austria, assumed this role. IBM Director of Austria Leo Steiner also greeted the participants and spoke of IBM Diversity programme to promote LGBTI rights within IBM and the corporate sector while Paula Ettelbrick (IGHLRC) praised our individual commitments, the connection between local and global, the interdependence of both. She spoke of the value of network and the power of joining forces, celebrating, in the 30th anniversary of ILGA, the very concept of “association” which lies at its core.

Conference participants were invited to receptions both to the City Hall by Michael Häupl, the Mayor of Vienna, and to the Austrian Parliament by its President Barbara Prammer, who, in her welcoming speech, praised the work of ILGA on the occasion of the organisation’s 30th anniversary. The first “GO Visible” award, an initiative of the Austrian Green Party was awarded to Aswat, a lesbian and bisexual women’s group in Palestine. The second prize was granted to Labrys, an LGBT group from Kyrghistan, and the third prize was granted to MEEM, an LBT group from Lebanon.

ILGA would like to thank the following partners and funders for their support to this 24th ILGA World Conference:

- Federal Government of Austria
- City of Vienna
- HIVOS (Netherlands)
- IGLHRC (the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission)
- ILGA-Europe, the European region of ILGA
- SIDA (the Swedish International Aid Agency)
- Austrian Airlines (official carrier of the conference)
– RFSL-Sweden
- Tels Quels (Belgium)
- NOVIB (Netherlands

ILGA would like to acknowledge the tremendous work and commitment of local group HOSI Wien for hosting an ILGA world conference for the third time in its history. “We are very pleased that in the end we managed to co-organise a full-fledged world conference despite the fact that we only took over this task last April”, explains HOSI Wien Secretary-general Kurt Krickler, “We are especially proud that we could secure such strong support including substantial funding on so short notice here in Austria”.

Participants to this conference chose Rio de Janeiro, Brazil as host city of ILGA’s 25th world conference to be held in 2010.

More information:

Stephen Barris
ILGA Brussels 32 2 502 24 71

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