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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 21, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 51
Report on the 2018 OutSummit Conference
Section One
ALL STORIES
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Report on the 2018 OutSummit Conference

by Maridee Bonadea - Special to the SGN

OutRight, an LGBTI rights organization, just wrapped up its advocacy week with the OutSummit conference. I was privileged to be a part of this. After studying human rights in Thailand, my interest in international human rights has deepened. Volunteering with OutRight gave me an opportunity to meet LGBTI activists from all over the world, hear their stories of their work, and get to know them personally. It gave me an opportunity to be a part of the human rights movement at the United Nations level. Now that I'm back home, I'm processing this experience and looking at what I can do next to further LGBTI rights globally.

The LGBTI activists started coming in on Monday; some were seasoned travelers, and others had never been out of their country. Meeting transwomen from Fiji and Turkey, lesbians from Kenya and Sri Lanka, and gay men from Russia and Indonesia at the airport was like a family reunion. We instantly bonded over who we are, as well as our goals for human rights. These bonds lasted for the rest of the time we were together.

Through meetings and workshops, we learned how they counteract their daily struggles with activism, both in their community and in their country.

Luckily, I got invited to several United Nations meetings: the EU Mission, the Equal Rights Committee, and the LGBTI Core Group. Of all these, I thought the Equal Rights Committee would cover LGBTI rights in depth and that information on the status of LGBTI people around the world would be extensive. I couldn't have been more wrong. Instead, at the EU Mission meeting, the room was packed with LGBTI activists from many member states of the EU who engaged in conversations about the EU's global human rights work. The EU Mission staff listened to the activists' questions and suggestions and answered them in depth. I left this meeting inspired and full of hope for the work ahead.

The Equal Rights Committee took place at the Canadian mission. They led us into a great conference room, with snacks laid out for us. At this meeting, only the two chairs of the committee attended, along with all of us activists. The dialogue couldn't have been more different, leaving all of us confused when we left. We all went on to other meetings or training sessions, or took advantage of some free time. All we could do is move on and keep up with the work we came to New York and the United Nations to do.

After these two meetings, I was invited to attend the LGBTI Core Group the next day. We met early in front of the UN, and were handed our visitor passes. When everyone arrived, we got in line. When I entered the halls of the UN, I became speechless, taking it all in, and looking at the history on the walls, including a picture of Eleanor Roosevelt holding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights -a moment that changed history. The LGBTI Core Group meeting reviewed the past weeks of meetings, reporting on a mix of positive and hard conversations. So glad the LGBTI Core Group at the UN exists!

Karamo Brown of 'Queer Eye,' a keynote speaker at the Out Summit conference, gave the opening address. He summed up our role in the struggle for LGBTI human rights around the world. He said our stories are a gift to others who want to grow and build a better world, and a roadmap of courage for those who want to do this work. These words captured the essence of what we expressed in the past week and continued in the workshops.

It didn't matter whether you were a seasoned LGBTI activist like me, or someone new to the movement - the personal stories from activists gave us inspiration and the courage to carry on with the work of demanding freedom to live our lives with respect. These stories identified the common thread we have in our lives. We all are at some place on the continuum of the road to freedom. Those of us in the USA told stories of getting married; the LGBTI people from Egypt talked about being afraid for their lives every day. The gay man from Lebanon shared a story of inroads in building a movement, and a transwoman from Turkey talked about how repressive acts make it hard to have a stable life.

All of this confirms that LGBTI rights are now a global movement. A lot of the struggles don't get into the media, partly for security reasons: people's lives are in danger if their identities are revealed or their struggles become headline news anywhere in the world. For us in the US, it's important to support international human rights movements and actions.

OutRight an international LGBTI organization that sponsored the advocacy week, and the OutSummit conference is the only LGBTI organization that has a permanent presence to advocate at the United Nations. For more information, or if you want to donate and be a part of the global human rights movement for LGBTI rights, go to the website www.outrightinternational.org.

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