Largest ever LGBTI conference in Asia elects new representatives and chooses Taiwan for next conference in 2015

Thailand – The 5th ILGA-Asia conference with the theme “The Phoenix Rising” held March 29-31st 2013 has seen the biggest attendance ever of LGBTI activists in a conference in the region. Over 250 delegates from some 25 countries attended the event, joined by a numerous and enthusiastic team of Thai volunteers who were on rotation work-shifts throughout the three-day conference. The event was co-organised by local ILGA members Anjaree and the Rainbow Sky Association of Thailand.

It was made possible thanks to funds provided by Hivos, Arcus Foundation, SIDA, Open Society Foundations, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Finland and of The Netherlands, and facilitated by ILGA’s world secretariat.

Unlike the 3rd Conference held in Chiangmai in 2008, which paid honoraria for a conference secretariat, this 5th ILGA-Asia conference relied mostly on local and international volunteer work as the ILGA-Asia Board decided to devote the conference budget to funding more scholars to the conference. All helped in the logistics preparation: board members, conference delegates, ILGA Co-secretary General Gloria Careaga…. 200 conference kits consisting of the program, t-shirt, lanyard, freebies like condoms and lubricants were assembled in a fancy ILGA-Asia conference bag by volunteers from Indonesia who arrived early for the conference and Thai volunteers from the Sexual Diversity Network of Thailand which joined the two host organisations in their efforts. By lunchtime of the first day of the conference, organizers ran out of conference kits and had to use the left-over conference material from the aborted Surabaya conference in 2010. Still, this was not enough and some late registrants made do with the conference program and other materials in brown envelopes.

After the opening ceremony, ILGA Co-secretaries general Renato Sabbadini and Gloria Careaga opened the first plenary on the challenges faced by ILGA as a global federation committed to supporting the creation of autonomous regional federations. They were joined by Sahran Abeysundara and Poedji Tan, ILGA-Asia Board representatives to the ILGA world board, and conference host organizers Anjana Suvarnananda from Anjaree and Mr. Kittinun Dharamadhaj from the Rainbow Sky Association of Thailand. Both welcomed the participants and informed them on the situation of LGBTIQ rights in the country. Dr. Taejing Siripanich, Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, welcomed the participants. He asured the delegates that Bangkok is a safe place for LGBTs. He added that he will do whatever he can to support the Thai LGBTI community while he is in office.

Participants were also given a change to listen to brief country reports on LGBTIQ situation prepared by some delegates ahead of the conference on Bahrain, Burma, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Lebanon, Macau, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Palestine, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam. Yahia Zaidi from the Pan Africa ILGA board presented a report on work undergone by the federation in Africa. Manisha reported on the situation of trans in Nepal while Hiker Chiu focused on intersex issues throughout Asia.

The three days programme was packed with thematic workshops, trainings on UN instruments, meetings on the future of ILGA-Asia restricted to ILGA members and self-organized activities. A blogteam was set up and reported on the conference’s blog every day. ILGA-Asia regional coordinator JJ Josef was seconded in this endeavour by Ng Yi-Sheng (Singapore), Azusa Yamashita (Japan), Lana Tran (Vietnam/Thailand), Ernest J.K. Wen (Indonesia), Toni Almuna (Indonesia), Mikey Batbayar (Mongolia), Stefan Joachim (Sri Lanka). Blogteam members also took minutes and kept time in various workshops while ILGA Asia Board member Suki Mijidsuren and JJ Josef took care of media work with the help of Tao Hattirat of Anjaree Thailand.

And there was much to report! The number of abstract submissions was so great that some workshops had 6-7 presentations. There was also a record number of requests for slots for self-organized activities and the four workshops venues could not accommodate all of them. Even the conference secretariat room was taken over by the delegates!

21 thematic workshops ran in parallel in 4 separate rooms. The themes covered a wide variety of LGBTIQ issues such as discrimination and homophobia/transphobia; mental health; religion and fundamentalism; LGBT Youth; strategizing for sub-regional LGBT advocacy: Other themes included the case of the ASEAN; disaster and disaster preparedness of sexual minority communities; domestic violence; sexuality, cyberspace and security; same-sex marriage in Asia; LGBT in national education system; rights advocacy and education, women; safer sex; intersex and transmen life stories and HIV-AIDS.

Trainings on the United Nations aimed at providing participants with more practical knowledge and skills in advocacy work. A program of its own, the training focused on engaging with UN human rights mechanisms on sexual orientation and gender identity; writing shadow reports for the UN Universal periodic Review; ICCPR mechanism and Individual complaints, advocacy and security: LGBT Advocacy in Hostile Environments; and finally CEDAW mechanism and shadow reporting.

ILGA members from the region also had the opportunity to meet and discuss the constitution and a strategic plan for their regional federation, ILGA-Asia. Talks also touched on the establishment of an ILGA-Asia regional office and six tasks were outlined as priorities for its work: capacity-building of LGBTI organizations; organizing regional conferences; research, documentation and sharing/dissemination of researches; lobbying and advocacy at the regional and international level; develop information references applicable for use in the whole region; and setting up of an ILGA-Asia office which location has not been decided. Bangkok is one of the options but additional research is needed to select which city could best host this office. Factors being considered for an ILGA office include: security considerations; openness of the country to accommodate regional NGOs/CSOs, accessibility to ILGA Board members and regular members (e.g. Visa considerations and airfare costs). This strategic plan will be implemented by the ILGA-Asia Board through an operational plan. Together with the constitution, it was approved by ILGA members during the General Assembly.

ILGA members also had to decide which city would host the following conference. Votes favoured Taiwan to Cambodia which also bid to organise the next conference. Tapei will therefore host the ILGA-Asia 6th Conference in 2015.

Finally, ILGA members elected a new board: Otgonbaatar Tsedendemberel (LGBT Centre, Mongolia) representing East Asia; King Oey (Arus Pelangi, Indonesia) and Poedjiati Tan (Gaya Nusantara, Indonesia), representing Southeast Asia; Stefan Joachim (Equal Ground, Sri Lanka) and Yogita Singh (Sangini, India), for South Asia; and a representative from West Asia who asked to remain anonymous. Participants also chose two members of the newly elected board (a female and non-female representatives as per ILGA constitution) to represent the Asian region on ILGA’s world board. They are Dana Zhang (Chinese Lala Alliance, China) and Kaona Saowakun (Thailand).

Dana Zhang shared her views on her tasks as ILGA Asia Board member and representative to the ILGA World Board:
“I believe ILGA-Asia is just starting on its long and exciting journey. If you compare the current number of members of ILGA-Asia to the number of people in Asia, we are just beginning to become visible and make our presence felt. From my previous work in the LGBT movement for the past four years, I have gained many hands-on experience, especially on network building and strengthening. I am honored to be part of ILGA network to share my relevant experience in network building and institution-building, and be part of the birthing of a stronger and more effective ILGA Asia.”

Kaona Saowakun also known as Toto was also elected trans representative to the ILGA-Asia Board. Toto spoke up on diversity of the trans experience. “Transgenders are not only transwomen” he said while expressing his desire to share the voices of both transwomen and transmen within ILGA. The newly elected board member of ILGA-Asia hopes to set up an ILGA Secretariat in Thailand.

In his closing speech, Renato Sabbadini, ILGA Co-secretary general thanked the outgoing ILGA Asia Board members, Sahran Abeysundara, Ashley Hsu-liang Wu, Sukhragchaa Mijidsuren, and Frank/Gina Jian gang Zhao. He rejoiced in seeing how the wounds from Surabaya in 2010 had been healed by the success of this Bangkok conference: The Phoenix has risen and soared! The Asian LGBTI movement will meet again in Taiwan for a stop on its journey!

Source – ILGA Asia