Sunday, March 31, 2013

Interview with Renato Sabbadini, Co-Secretary-General of ILGA World

(filed by Ng Yi-Sheng)

YS: Thanks for coming to this conference. I was quite impressed that both Co-Secretaries-General of ILGA World were able to make it.

RS: At every ILGA regional meeting there should be at least one, if not both Co-Secretaries-Generals present. Asia is such a big region, and after the experience of Surabaya, we wanted to show some commitment to ILGA. But Gloria had to leave yesterday [Saturday] to go to a regional meeting in Brazil for Latin America.

YS: What’s your view of this year’s ILGA Asia Conference?

RS: Very good. The participation, the number of participants went beyond all hopes of the beginning, so this in itself is a sign of extremely strong desire for member organisations in Asia to build a strong region, to have a strong regional structure, to participate in this process, and to build capacity. I was struck by the very young age of many activists, and by their energy. So I’m very confident that ILGA Asia is on the right track of becoming in the reasonably near future, one of the strongest regions of ILGA.

YS: What’s been happening in the organisation since the ILGA World Conference in December 2012?

RS: For one, we hired a new person [Nicolette Du Plessis, South Africa] who will start work in Geneva from May 1, and that person is the new UN Program Manager for ILGA.

We felt that since ILGA recovered its consultative status with the ECOSOC Council of the UN, that having now this status we have a greater responsibility in working at the UN in facilitating activists of member organisations – for instance, travelling to Geneva, to speak in first person when there are hearings of the so-called Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

That is a process at the United Nations Human Rights Council whereby a country every four years undergoes a review of its respect of the human rights. And within that context, every organization can submit a report to a human rights council, also considering LGBTI rights, to the Human Rights Council. So when the country goes there, the council asks why did you this and not this. To facilitate that process, we have a new person.

But in general, as there are important things happening at the UN concerning us, as the approval last year of a resolution of a human rights resolution based on persecution of people based on SOGI. And we are part of that process. We’ve been providing the office of the Human Rights Commissioner with data on legislation persecuting people in various countries in the world. So as our engagement in the UN is increasing, we thought it fit to hire a special person. 

We are also looking for a new Executive Director. Our current Executive Director, Sebastian Rocca, who’s done a fabulous job over the past three years, he’s going to leave when we find a new one because he wants to begin his own research project. We are leaving on very good terms. The current director will be part of the process selecting for a new director. So we published a call for applications, which you can find on our website. It started on Mar 22 and will close on April 22. If you know of people who may be interested, fill in the application forms and send it to us. We hope to have a new director in place by the end of July or August.

And as I said also in the plenary, the task of this person is basically to work in these three directions, which are central to the development and strengthened of ILGA and its members.

The first is membership and regions. ILGA has now more than 1000 member organisations. It’s simply becoming impossible to interact in an effective manner with each member only from the grassroots. We need to have stronger regions and regional structures so that these regional structures can take care of their own members in a more effective way.

So we want in the next couple of years, three years maximum, to make sure every region, particular of the global South, meaning Latin America, meaning Asia, meaning Africa, that these regions have their own regional offices. That they are in a position of having funds of having a conference every two years and the boards are in a position to meet on a regular basis. Because if they cannot meet on a regular basis that they cannot work properly.

The second is strengthening the international lobby with the UN – and this we did with the new person – and also strengthening our annual report that we publish every May, called State-Sponsored Homophobia, which until now reports on the countries which have legislation discriminating against people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. We want now to expand the report to include things not covered in the reports, including violent attacks against LGBTI people. But this needs an expansion on the research work. So it will be very likely in the next year there will be a new staff position for a researcher on these maters, who will work in close contact with these regions.

Third direction: communication. It is important that we keep on improving our website and the internal system of communication to make sure we get feedback from all our members on the various projects ILGA is developing. But also we need to improve our capacity for reaching the general public and governmental agencies in general, to increase the credibility and reliability of ILGA as the main source of information at a global level on LGBT related issues.

YS: Is there anything else you want to tell our readers?

RS: I could say, as a final word, Asia as we know is the biggest region in terms of surface population. It’s the most diverse region – you have so many ethnicities, so many different religions – that certainly the task ahead of the ILGA Asia region and the ILGA Asia Board is extremely challenging.

But on the other hand this task is very stimulating. If, as I’m sure they will, ILGA Asia (and the ILGA Asia region on its own) find the solution and the ways to combine this diversity, to adapt the fight for equality in every part of the region, according to the different style of the sub-region – then this will be a great lesson for the rest of the world in learning how to live together in diversity, how to work together by combining different backgrounds and different personal and cultural histories. And I think this is the most important lesson ILGA Asia can teach the rest of world, both in the North and in the South.

(The interview officially ended here, but then we started talking about the nature of ILGA conferences)

RS: If you don’t have a conference every two years, people don’t get the sense of belonging to the same region. An example: you have a difficulty in your city, in your country, and you launch an appeal to a member organization in your region. Of course they will support you online, they will submit a registration – but they will not feel as personally if they have not met you personally, if they don’t see a face behind that call for help.

With the new social media it’s so easy to launch an appeal, to call for signatures. And people, if it’s just a clique, people do it. But when you need real help, when you need for instance, you ask whether in your region someone has faced a similar problem as you, or someone has a resource that someone could tap into, if the person asking for help is just a name with a hashtag or a name and a Facebook page, you can say I’ll answer that later, or I don’t have the time right now.

But if it’s the name of a person with whom you’ve had an exchange with n a  workshop, in a plenary, then the degree of personal responsibility you feel is much higher. And you get that act together in that moment, and you find in that moment ways of helping out another organisation.

That’s why a conference is so important: it’s the most important part of the ILGA Life of the region. Because people see each other and they feel more committed to each other.

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