Thursday, March 28, 2013

Welcome to the ILGA Asia Conference 2013!

(Filed by Ng Yi-Sheng)

Haha, I've finally obtained the blog password! Time to report on the events of the opening ceremony!

There's an air of triumph in the air, given that this is the biggest international LGBT meeting in Asia in history (about 200 participants - they ran out of name tags!), and the fact that ILGA Asia is finally re-convening after the disastrous events of Surabaya 2010, when extremists stormed the host hotel before the meeting even got underway.

Sahran Abeysundara, Co-Secretary General, spent some time dwelling on this moment, when many activists questioned if it was worth putting delegates' lives at risk for the sake of LGBT rights. But ultimately, their resolve was strengthened:

Sahran: What we are fighting for is not just a cause. What we are fighting for is our lives.

I have a dream. And I’m sure all of you have this dream as well. My dream is that people in all countries can live freely openly and enjoy the same privileges as everyone else in a world that accepts us for who we are. Where we can walk down the streets, hold our lovers’ hands without shame, without our heads held high, proud of who we are. I know my dream will come true because of you.

He’s quite an orator.

Sahran: Politicians talk of the diversity of Asia. We are the diversity. They talk of the colours of Asia. We are the colours of Asia. We are in the fabric of  we are the very essence of what Asia is.

They tried to burn us down. But from the ashes we have risen, the most beautiful and powerful phoenix. 

We’ve enjoyed a semi-traditional Thai transgender dance, based on a lip-sync of the tourist slogan “Amazing Thailand”, welcomes from ILGA World co-Sec Gens Renato Sabbadini and Gloria Careaga (who loves the diversity of culture, religion and food here), and a blessing from Kittinun  Dharamadhaj, head of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (pictured left!), who assures us of the safety and queer-friendliness of his nation, how he’s involved in a pretty smooth campaign in parliament to approve laws to become Asia’s first country to legalise same-sex marriage.

But most interesting might be the words of Anjana Tang Suvarnananda, from the Anjaree Group and the Sexuality Diversity Network of Thailand. She first encountered ILGA Asia 25 years ago, when it was just a committee of seven gay men in a conference room – pretty alienating for a lesbian like herself. Look how far we’ve come, she says. But, all’s not well. There’s still very little support of LGBTs in the realm of authorities, laws, institutions: transmen are even forced to wear skirts to take their public exams, or else drop out.

Anjana: Thailand seems tolerant. But we get more frustrated when people say, “Oh, Thailand is good, we all go live there!” But we say, “We’re not happy, help us!”

Trouble, even in paradise. But still, this is paradise by the standards of many of our nations. And for this weekend, this wonderful space is ours, to make contact, to speak, to listen, to learn.

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