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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

LGBT Human Rights Conference in Montreal

By Kim Hughes - LINK

Amongst the trips overseas that I have had the fortune of experiencing, I can say without hesitation that my journeys to Amsterdam in 1998 and Sydney in 2002 to participate in the Gay Games have been amongst the genuine highlights of my entire life thus far. The feeling of spending a week in these two cities—already fabulous experiences to begin with, especially since both happened to be blessed with picture perfect weather —was made even more memorable by both cities’ palpable celebration of love in all of its forms. Playing sports (in my case, soccer) by day, enjoying various cultural celebrations by night, and experiencing full acceptance for sexual minorities in practically every encounter with local citizens was an experience I can best name as both thrilling and empowering.

I was most disappointed, then, when finances seemingly conspired to keep me away from the action in the summer of 2006—which was this time divided between the Gay Games in Chicago and the brand new OutGames in Montreal. While my soccer-playing days were by unfortunately over, now beckoning me with a fervor was an international LGBT human rights conference scheduled to take place in Montreal just prior to the opening of the Outgames. After nearly resigning myself to the fact that attending the event was just not going to be possible, one of my freelance clients generously offered to pay my registration fees for the conference. A difficult-to-refuse offer, indeed!

This stroke of good fortune, combined with a kind invitation from friends living in Montreal to join the group of lesbian activists already scheduled to stay with them during the conference, suddenly transformed my fantasizing into a reality. A few weeks later, I was settled into their cozy home with a Mongolian advocating for same-sex marriage rights, a Colombian heading a human rights organization for sexual minorities, a professor from the U.S. who was also living in Japan, and our hosts—a Canadian scholar of feminism and a German healer/therapist living together with their small son.

In Amsterdam and Sydney, the opportunity to experience camaraderie with others from around the world was a definite highlight of my experience. Montreal was no different, and we were all soon getting to know each other while discussing various queer rights trends over bagels and coffee each morning, and then processing our experiences at the conference while relaxing out on our friends’ patio each evening.

The four-day conference itself had a dizzying number of sessions on offer, from speeches held in a massive conference hall to smaller breakout meetings featuring panelist presentations and offering opportunities for focused discussion. Region-based speakers explained the state of LGBT rights in their respective parts of the world, and an array of Canadian politicians made appearances to speak upon the recent impressive gains that have been made in their country in this regard. For me personally, amongst the most memorable speakers were those comprising a multi-racial, multi-gender panel from Africa (including a human rights lawyer from Cameroon and a lesbian HIV rights activist from South Africa), a representative from Lebanese LGBT rights group Helem who delivered her impassioned speech (to a standing ovation) via a video screening after the Israeli attack upon Lebanon forced a cancellation of the delegation’s visit to Montreal, and a dynamic closing presentation given by none other than lesbian icon/ fitness guru Martina Navratilova.

As an anti-war advocate myself, I was greatly appreciative for the opportunity to meet others at this conference who have successfully managed to combine activism in the areas of both queer rights and movements for peace. Perhaps the most inspiring session for me was one led by two male members of the Chicago-based Gay Liberation Network, who explained how their organization helped forge a completely new and unexpected bridge of solidarity with another oppressed population by being one of the first groups to offer support to Chicago Muslims who had been targeted by a series of violent post 9-11 hate crimes. This presentation was then followed by a lively, engaged discussion where people from various countries detailed the peace activism in their respective communities.

One other highlight of the conference for me was the opportunity to meet four delegates from Japan, who were co-chairing a panel discussion covering various issues facing lesbians in Japanese society such as the implications of coming out, racism affecting Zainichi Koreans, issues faced by lesbian mothers, and existence within the Protestant church of Japan.

The conference, with 2000-some attendees, was the largest LGBT human rights conference ever held thus far, and of course each participant had a completely unique experience reflecting individual priorities and interests. Tying all of these disparate threads together, however, was a singular document: the Declaration of Montreal on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Human Rights. Submitted to the United Nations (which very unfortunately dropped consultative status to the International Lesbian and Gay Association several years ago), the declaration recognizes the gains that have been made for LGBT individuals in some regions—and clearly articulates the lengthy list of human rights violations that continue to represent the lived reality for sexual minorities throughout many areas of the world today. It also spells out an action plan for making the implementation of LGBT rights a reality, beginning with a concentrated information and education campaign that is slated to coincide with the next OutGames in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2009. The Declaration of Montreal is available online here:


I am extremely grateful to the supporter (who wishes to remain anonymous) for enabling me this fantastic opportunity, to my friends Debbie and Adriana for opening their home, and to all who continue to fight to make basic human rights a reality for those of diverse sexualities and genders around the world.

posted by WellJapan at 3:44 AM - LINK


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