Hundreds attend global LGBT rights conference in Bangkok

LGBT rights advocates and allies from all over the world have gathered in Bangkok this week for the 28th ILGA World Conference.

The gathering began in the Thai capital on Monday. Activists are be meeting and networking, discussing recent achievements and planning next steps all week.

“This conference … provides a space for the LGBTI community around the world to come together and dialogue on issues facing our community, and also celebrate the achievements we have made,” Micheal Ighodaro from AVAC (Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention) told the Washington Blade.

Established in 1978, ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) is a global federation of national and local organizations dedicated to achieving equal rights for LGBT and intersex people.

Ighodaro said conference organizers are “giving voices and space to groups within the LGBTI community that normally do not get to speak.”

“The biggest high to date for me was first ever bi pre-conference with 26 countries represented,” Sally Goldner of the Bisexual Alliance Victoria, which is based in the Australian city of Melbourne, told the Blade. “There’s a start on increasing bi visibility!”

Dr. Anastacia Tomson, an LGBT activist who specializes in transgender rights, explained to the Blade the conference is more than just networking, but a place to “build connections.”

“The work that we do can often be exhausting and isolating, and it’s important that spaces like this exist for us to come together and find some commonality,” she said.

“[It] is very well attended by a diversity of identities, from all over the globe,” continued Tomson, speaking of the almost 700 expected participants. “There has been a tangible energy at the conference, as well as a feeling of unity and solidarity.”

Ighodaro, however, said there are still “divides within the community.”

“LGBTI people of color do not get involved in global space like this conference and that is also an issue,” he said. “The gays will clique up, the lesbians will clique up, so on and so forth. We need to all come together and respect each other’s differences.”

Vitit Muntarbhorn, the first U.N. watchdog on LGBT rights who is from Thailand, spoke at the conference on Wednesday. He said the five key goals — decriminalization, depathologization, recognition of gender identity, cultural inclusion and empathization — could only be delivered with “a broad global partnership.”

Speaking to the Blade, United Belize Advocacy Movement Executive Director Caleb Orozco is also aware of a shift in the political climate.

“The conference has brought an opportunity for political engagement with diplomats, strategic side dialogue on who will take up the slack when the president-elect (Trump) takes over, to examine how can the current gains be safeguarded,” he said.

Orozco is the plaintiff in a lawsuit against Belize’s sodomy law that was found unconstitutional earlier this year.

Tomson, herself a former medical doctor who left clinical practice because of transphobia in her home country of South Africa, agrees with Orozco.

“Although the community has seen some bolstering victories in recent times, the political events taking place at the moment remind us that our hard-fought freedoms should never be taken for granted,” said Tomson.

“I believe that recent political events have given the far right a louder voice to discriminate,” Misty Farquhar, a PhD student from Western Australia, told the Blade.

“It’s important that we continue to be visible, to have our voices heard, and to keep fighting towards equality, equity and justice,” concluded Tomson.

Moving on from the conference, Goldner is optimistic about the future.

“LGBTIQ+ people are amazing, innovative, resilient, creative and unique and by connecting with equality and respect, we can at least minimize the impact of the shift to the right and keep moving forward,” she said.