Government and civil society from across the globe must work together to identify strategic opportunities and leverage each other’s strengths to further advance the human rights and inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, said a panel of ambassadors and lawmakers at the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum this week in Chiang Rai, Thailand.
The Ambassadors to Thailand from Canada, Sweden and the United Kingdom, as well as lawmakers from Bhutan and Venezuela participated on the panel, titled ‘Strengthening International Connections’, moderated by the Honourable Michael Kirby, former Justice of the High Court of Australia.
The panel was part of a week-long global forum on LGBTI inclusion with more than 50 advocates, artists, government representatives and human rights experts from Asia-Pacific and beyond, and was organized by Salzburg Global Seminar and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The panel agreed on the importance of building coalitions — be they within the LGBTI community, between the LGBTI community, governments and development partners, or with other civil society organizations that deal with other marginalized populations. Building these bridges, particularly with governments and state structures, can contribute greatly towards turning advocacy into legal reform and policy change.
“In Bhutan, we are currently reviewing the legal provisions in Bhutanese law which discriminate and criminalize LGBTI people, and will be making the necessary recommendations for amendments,” said Ugyen Wangdi, Member of Parliament from Bhutan. “This opportunity [Salzburg Global LGBTI Forum in Asia] gives us a unique chance to learn about the needs and issues concerning the LGBTI community, and how us, as lawmakers, can make a difference to improve their well-being.”
“An active civil society will likely further necessary progressive social and legal change that will advance LGBT peoples’ rights, health and well-being,” said Staffan Herrström, Swedish Ambassador to Thailand. “All citizens have a right to be treated equally in society, irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The discussion highlighted how some governments currently address LGBT issues within their development and social protection priorities, and identified where further opportunities exist. It also noted potential entry points that civil society can use to further engage with governments and donors to improve access to policy making processes and LGBTI participation in human rights reporting mechanisms.
“It was great to have such a wide ranging discussion from such a diversity of perspectives. Engagement across the three pillars of civil society, government and the donor community is essential to developing effective agendas for economic and social inclusion,” said Brian Davidson, British Ambassador to Thailand. “I will be taking back the lessons from today to inform the approach of my own Embassy in supporting the work of LGBTI groups in Thailand.”
In the Asia-Pacific region, as in all parts of the world, stigma and discrimination are widespread in key aspects of LGBTI lives including employment, education, housing, and health care. While there has been significant progress, LGBTI people continue to face both legal and social barriers to equality and inclusion, which must be dismantled for these marginalized populations to fully enjoy their deserved individual rights to development and quality of life. Attention to these needs are essential if countries are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
“It is imperative that the international community recognize that inclusive development has to address the barriers to equality faced by LGBTI communities,” said Donica Pottie, Canadian Ambassador to Thailand. “This requires strong partnerships between government, international organizations, civil society and other stakeholders.”
The challenges confronting LGBTI persons are not only national or regional, but also global. Developing an understanding of how the region’s successes and challenges relate to and influence issues at a global level is essential. The lessons that different cultures and experiences provide should be harnessed to advance LGBTI inclusion on the global stage.
“Countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador in Latin America have made remarkable strides on improving the legal recognition of transgender people and their access to official identity documents,” noted Tamara Adrian, the first transgender woman to be elected to public office in Venezuela. “Opportunities to exchange best practices between governments and civil society across regions are tremendously beneficial for those working on the protection of transgender health and citizenship rights, but also broader LGBTI advocacy efforts.”
“This session in Asia builds on a series of meetings and engagements of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum with numerous foreign offices and other government ministries and agencies,” explained Forum Founder and Chair, Klaus Mueller. “Continuously bringing LGBT human rights groups and government agencies together is vital for a better understanding of how both can collaboratively and independently advance equality and inclusion of LGBT people and communities.”
“Today’s conversation between ambassadors, lawmakers and civil society highlighted that governments remain key partners in promoting and protecting the inclusion of LGBTI people,” said Edmund Settle, Policy Advisor for UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub. “We look forward to continuing to work together to ensure that marginalized groups, including LGBTI people are not left behind.”
Louise Hallman, Editor, Salzburg Global Seminar
Ian Mungall, Programme Analyst, UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub
Salzburg Global LGBT Forum
The challenges confronting the LGBT and human rights movements are no longer only national or regional. They are influenced by a multitude of factors at the global level. The Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, a multi-year series of Salzburg Global Seminar, is therefore working to advance civil dialogue through further developing an active network of global LGBT and human rights actors. Founded and chaired by Dr. Klaus Mueller, the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum currently connects representatives from more than 60 countries. The Forum’s goal is to negotiate these interconnected global challenges and advance the free and equal rights of all LGBT people.