Inspiring seminar explored advocacy options to tackle LGBTI persecution globally
The Kaleidoscope Trust yesterday co-hosted a seminar focusing on exploring opportunities and challenges related to LGBTI rights advocacy. At the half-day event, held in London and chaired by our board member Philippa Drew, we heard from a wide array of speakers from across civil society, government and inter-governmental organisations.
UN Free & Equal campaign
The seminar opened with contributions from Charles Radcliffe, Chief of Global Issues at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human rights, and Celina Jaitly, acclaimed Bollywood actress and UN Equality Champion, who told us about the United Nations Free & Equal campaign. As part of the campaign in India, Celina Jaitly starred in a Bollywood inspired video supporting LGBT rights in India, where homosexuality has recently been recriminalised.
Advocacy and the Role of Law & Litigation
The first panel then focused on advocacy and the role of law and litigation. In response to the question posed by Jonathan Cooper, Chief Executive of the Human Dignity Trust, on whether litigation is the best way of bringing about law reform, Solicitor Conway Blake said that litigation can effect social change if used smartly and sparingly, always listening to local activists. Alice Nkom, human rights lawyer and first woman called to the bar in Cameroon, talked about her work on defending LGBT rights and said that the fight for decriminalisation must be part of a broader fight for democracy, rule of law and good governance.
An important point made was that the input of international partners can support the work of local lawyers and activists and show criminalising countries that the world is watching, but at the same time can be risky and have adverse effects if considered to be Western interference. The approach of international NGOs therefore needs to be nuanced, sensitive and well strategised. The panel also highlighted the importance of the Yogyakarta Principles and South-South dialogue in litigation work.
Advocacy and the Role of Diplomacy
Acting Chair of the Kaleidoscope Trust, Siddhartha Deva, opened the panel on advocacy and the role of diplomacy, outlining the Kaleidoscope Trust's diplomatic roundtable process with Commonwealth High Commissioners. The process has provided a space for confidential dialogue on LGBT issues. Continuing on the Commonwealth space, Lewis Brooks from the Royal Commonwealth Society talked about the mechanisms of the Commonwealth and obstacles to LGBT rights advocacy. Due to the nature of the Commonwealth as a family of nations where member states are equal, informal mechanisms rather than formal ones are useful for taking forward discussions on LGBT issues.
Advocacy and the Role of Politics and Campaigning
Talking about campaigning, Andre Banks, Executive Director of All Out, said that All Out was established after seeing the need for a large, global and visible community that can be mobilised in times of crisis. He pointed out that the visible part of a campaign is just the tip of the iceberg, and work of campaigners is mostly invisible work. There was some debate on the role of Western organisations particularly in different African countries, including criticism of campaigns for victimising African LGBTI people. Western organisations should work in collaboration and solidarity with local organisations, as a 'help' mentality just causes division. Another criticism was that campaigns often see LGBTI communities as homogenous, while in reality the community within a country can have a wide range of opinions and disagreements on strategies.
Advocacy and the Role of Culture
In the last panel we heard from grassroots activists from Nigeria, Belize and Indonesia and their experiences of using cultural events, engaging with religious leaders, and harnessing social media to change culture and attitudes. Jasmin O'Connor from Stonewall introduced the speakers, stating that law is one thing and culture and social attitudes another, but both need to be changed if we want to achieve equal rights for all.
The seminar, entitled Exporing the Efficacy of Advocacy, was co-hosted by the following UK-based NGOs concered with the persecution of the LGBTI community globally: Human Dignity Trust, the Kaleidoscope Trust, All Out, Stop AIDS, and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance. We are grateful to the European Commission Representation in the United Kingdom for allowing us to hold the event in Europe House.