By Kathleen Aquino
The 3rd ILGA-Asia Conference held in Chiang Mai, Thailand last 24 to 27 January 2008, was an opportunity to unite LGBT activists from the different parts of the region. It provided a venue for LGBT activists to discuss pressing issues within their respective countries and to share strategies towards the attainment of gender equality and sexual diversity in Asia.
A critical agenda of the conference was the establishment of a Regional Board for ILGA-Asia. This was among the main accomplishments of the conference.
Isis International interviewed the former representatives of ILGA-Asia: Mira Alexis Ofreneo, ILGA-Asia Female Representative and Research Associate of Isis International; and Aung Myo Min, ILGA–Asia Male Representative and Director of the Committee of Lesbigay Rights Burma. Both Ofreneo and Min were responsible for organising the conference.
Isis International (Isis): Why did you choose the theme “Equality in Diversity Now” for this regional conference?
Mira Alexis P. Ofreneo (MO): When we were planning for the meeting, what always emerged was the diversity in Asia, and consequently the diversity of expressions of genders and sexualities. However diverse the cultures of Asia are, we have a common call for equality. And so we put them together and made it “Equality in Diversity Now!” Some wanted the theme to be “De-criminalisation Now” because in their own countries, there is a pressing need to abolish laws criminalising homosexuality. But we [still] felt that “Equality in Diversity Now” was more Asian.
Aung Myo Min (AM): We are living in diversity — a diversity of culture, religion, belief. But the sexual minorities are not usually seen or visible in this kind of diversity. So we have a panel of diversity but we really want to have equality so that people from the sexual minorities, the LGBT people should be regarded as human beings.
Isis: What do you think this conference has achieved?
MO: For one, we have never put together so many LGBT people from different parts of Asia in one place before. We have had academic conferences like “Queer Asia” but we had not reached West Asia or Mongolia. In this conference, we have participants from these places. The participants are mostly activists who are working underground.
So the conference has really stirred excitement, drawing a number of people who are here. Hopefully, this will create momentum for people to come together [in the future].
AM: I am so pleased to have this conference right here. It [has been] a very successful event of ILGA-Asia, in terms of the number of participants coming from the different parts of Asia. The discussions are also very good. A lot of new inputs and knowledge were gained.
One other thing that I am so proud of is having the first ever gay pride parade in Chiang Mai. Last night, a huge number of people turned up, [showing their] interest.
Isis: What do you envision for ILGA-Asia?
MO: It is [really good] seeing these people attend this conference. As organisers, [we were] very anxious [of the possibility] that people would not come. I [am also happy] to see the “pride parade.” But then I hope that a real network of groups [will emerge from] the region and do something concrete beyond the conferences. [These initiatives can be] a pilot campaign on “Equality in Diversity Now” across the different countries and a visibility campaign to affirm transgenders in the region. But then [these initiatives] will depend on the creation of a regional board for ILGA Asia.
AM: So many new ideas came up and were discussed in this conference. [What] we need to do is to [proceed] from discussion to action. We discussed how to build up good networking and solidarity in the struggle for equality. We need to take action so that we can [proceed] as planned. Discussion without action is useless. So we should take the discussion out of the conference room and take action in real life.