With some 220 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists coming from all regions of the world, the 23rd World Conference of the International Lesbian and Gay Association, held in Geneva, from March 27 till April 3 2006 has been a strong demonstration of how alive and needed the LGBT movement and ILGA as its platform are in the world today. The conference was organised by a coalition of Swiss LGBT groups such as Lestime, Dialogai, Pink Cross and 360° led by Yves de Matteis.
A 28 year-old NGO, ILGA is the only worldwide federation of groups – now over 500 - working to achieve equal rights for LGBT people locally and globally.
ILGA members convene every other year to decide of the association’s agenda, elect its representatives, network, share and voice their concerns over human rights violations still committed on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Today, some 75 countries still criminalise homosexuality and nine still include death penalty to condemn it.
A platform for the African LGBT movement
In spite of visa difficulties, a delegation of 15 representatives both from English and French Speaking Africa was invited to the conference. Representatives from Cameroon and Nigeria provided shocking updates on extent of homophobia in their countries. This included accounts of the recent expulsion of a group of female students in Cameroon who had been accused of being lesbian. Alice Nkom, lawyer, gave details of the case of the 11 Cameroonian men arrested last June who are currently awaiting trial for gay sex in prison. Equally alarming is the Nigerian government’s Bill banning same-sex marriages and homosexuality about to pass. A delegation of activists visited the Permanent Mission of Nigeria in Geneva to express concerns over the homophobic climate in the country following the proposal of this law. The conference provided a platform for LGBT activists to discuss ways in which to increase the visibility of the LGBT community in Africa and to work towards unity and improved networking amongst African LGBT organisations in the fight for LGBT rights. ILGA also welcomed in Geneva the election of two new board members from Africa.
Participants protest in front of Permanent Mission of Russia
Conference participants were also sympathetic to the call of Russian activist Nikolai Alekseev to react to the recent homophobic statements against the Moscow Gay Pride. Catherine Gaillard, representative of the Geneva based Lesbian organization Lestime and head of the Municipal Council of Geneva, liaised with the local authorities to hold a protest. More than 100 activists from 35 different countries joined in a protest in front of the Russian Diplomatic mission, 100 meters from the United Nations headquarter.
Embracing Transgender rights
This 23rd world conference of ILGA is likely to be remembered as the one where representatives of the global LGBT community of activists further embraced gender identity as part of the global movement for LGBT equality. In addition to a very dense two-days pre-conference on transgenderism, ILGA members voted for the creation of a secretariat to focus on Transgender rights (Instituto Runa – Peru was elected as the interim holder of this position) and in favour of numerous changes in ILGA’s constitution to give proper recognition and space to the struggle faced by transgender people worldwide.
In defence of LGBT workers
Other major themes of this international gathering have been health promotion for LGBT people and religions and homosexuality. A spontaneous initiative also saw a declaration to push for better representation of youth within ILGA. A full day meeting on the theme of discrimination at the workplace gave Global trade unions such as Public Services International and Education International and corporate businesses such as IBM and British Telecom an opportunity to present their policies in defense of LGBT workers. Roberto Mendoza gave an account of his experience as former employee of Coca Cola Mexico being fired on the grounds of his sexual orientation.
Health: Beyond Aids, a common concern for gays and lesbians
Unaids and WHO representatives were amongst the participants of two preconferences on health, the first one focusing on Gay Health and its promotion beyond Aids prevention whilst the second addressed health concerns amongst lesbians and bisexual women. Women Human rights defenders throughout the world gave a concrete insight into various topics such as HIV/AIDS, corrective rape and gender based violence as well as breast cancer, mental health issues, same sex domestic violence and sexual education. Participants underlined the need to share and disseminate information globally, a concern addressed in ILGA’s report on women's health “common concerns and local issues” which was launched during the conference.
Against a fundamentalist reading of religions on Homosexuality
The work initiated in the panel on religions and homosexuality organised by ILGA at the UN in 2005 had a interesting follow up in Geneva. Clercs from various obediences, including Rabbi François Garai, Muslim Imam Muhsin Hendricks and Bishop Michael Ingham engaged in a very inspiring interreligious dialogue on several occasions during this ILGA conference. The conference also gave birth to a new Initiative for the Advocacy of Gender, Sexuality and Human Rights in Muslim Communities and gave ILGA the opportunity to meet UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Asma Jahangir.
Particularly moving, a statement by His Holiness the Dalai Lama officially opened this 23rd ILGA World conference and was greeted by a standing ovation from participants. H.H. the Dalai Lama expressed concern’s at "reports of violence and discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and
transgender people" and "urges respect, tolerance and the full recognition of human rights for all."
Out in Politics
Several openly out LGBT politicians participated to the conference: Joke Swiebel, Former Member of the European Parliament, Volker Beck, Member of the German Parliament and Whip of the Green Party Group, Lissy Gröner, Member of the European Parliament, Spokeswomen on Gender Equality for the Party of the European Socialists and Vice President of Socialist International Women, Kanako Otsuji, Municipal Councillor in Osaka, Japan and Belissa Andia Perez, first Transgender Candidate for Parliament in Peru and Ulrike Lunacek, Vice-President Foreign Affairs Committee (Austria’s National Council) The Greens' Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Development Issues .
ILGA will keep on working for UN recognition of LGBT people and their rights
After 7 years as a co-secretary general of ILGA, Turkish activist Kursad Kahramanoglu decided not to present himself, declaring: “I am proud to leave ILGA in the moment where it is further welcoming our transgender brothers and sisters. ILGA is one of the few places in the world where gender identity and its inclusion in the world LGBT agenda can be discussed at length with such depth by our very same movement”. ILGA members elected German and Sri Lankan activists Philipp Braun and Rosanna Flamer Caldera (for a second term) to serve as secretaries generals of ILGA until the next World conference of ILGA to be hosted, as voted by members in Quebec in 2008. Philipp Braun from LSVD, the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany, has lobbied extensively on partnership, antidiscrimination and transgender legislation in Germany. Since 2003 he has been intensively involved with the campaign to get LGBT rights recognised in the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and has been campaigning with ILGA to bring LGBT groups to apply for UN consultative (Ecosoc) status.
Cynthia Rothschild from Centre for Women’s Global Leadership, Scott Long from Human Rights Watch and Chris Sidoti from International Service for Human Rights as well as Douglas Sanders, first man to ever talk of homosexuality within an UN Forum participated to the conference and expressed their support to ILGA’s struggle to get proper recognition within the UN system. Next May, no less than three LGBT groups (ILGA-Europe, Coalition gaie et lesbienne du Quebec and LSVD) will be considered by the UN committee after ILGA and Danish national group LBL were rejected without a fair process in January. In May the rejection of both ILGA and LBL will also be challenged: “It is time" Rosanna and Philipp say “the United Nations become the house of us all, regardless of our sexual orientation and gender identity. Whether it is wanted or not by some, we’ll come out at the UN!”