By Bianca Miglioretto

Why should LGBT organisations, communities, and movements want to collaborate with feminist organisations, feminist movements, communication movements and the broader social movements?

This was one of the questions raised by Tesa de Vela and Bianca Miglioretto of Isis International at the panel, “LGBT Movements Traversing Other Social Movements.”

Our sexual orientation and gender identity are just among the many more important factors which define our personal identity and our engagement as social beings, including our status in society and our experiences of discrimination. Other social categories such as gender, race, nationality, ethnicity, caste, class, and age, among others are equally crucial.

“While it is important for LGBT movements to build communities, it seems equally important to engage the broader social movements on LGBT issues,” de Vela asserted. Places such as the World Social Forum and the Feminist Dialogues provide safe spaces. But these spaces must include stakes from the LGBT movements and allow the latter’s dialogue with other social struggles such as those on patriarchy, neoliberalism, fundamentalism, and militarism.

Communication tools are likewise important for making LGBT issues more visible and advocating LGBT rights. Most organisations are against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. One of these organisations, AMARC (World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters) commits itself to such principle that it even articulates this in their by-laws.

However, its content on the airwaves rarely mentions LGBT issues. An open lobbying against a board candidate on the basis of her being a lesbian was also not apprehended by the organisation. Miglioretto, Isis community radio officer pointed out that, “the lesson here is that it is important to unite LGBT people within organisations and assert our rights and claim our space. Often we can count more from our solidarity with feminists that with heterosexual men.”

Meanwhile, Aditya Bondyopadhyay from the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health pointed out that the HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns target MSM (Men having Sex with Men). Yet many MSMs hardly identify themselves as gay men. For them, having sex with men does not constitute a question on their gender behaviour at all: “Man penetrates, woman is penetrated…Effective fucking makes the man. Even if they have sex with a man, they still perform the penetrating act. [They believe that] they are not homosexual as they [usually fail] to develop a notion of sexuality. The ‘gay’ identity means nothing to them,” Bondyopadhyay explained.

On the other hand, the self-identified gays are confined to a minority who are educated; who live in an urban setting; and who are economically well-off to gain access to communications tools and services. As he puts, “Gay activism therefore is restricted in reach, it is often exclusive or exclusionary.”

This conjecture illuminates the fact that the many “non-gay” men are those most at risk of HIV. Albeit HIV/AIDS prevention work is often well-funded, it tends to sidestep the LGBT rights discourse.

History taught HIV workers the importance of human rights to sustain themselves in their work. Interestingly, the pioneers of HIV work are mostly human rights activists. But it cannot be denied that HIV work attracts enormous funds — something which human rights work sorely miss.

Bondyopadhyay then urges the need to “create a symbiosis, forget false debates, and push the envelope gradually but firmly.” He explained that HIV must be used where the disease exists and at the same time, for human rights advocacy. “Rights need not be strapped for cash,” he added.

Bondyopadhyay also asserted that as “HIV needs rights for survival”, the “rights universe” must also tap the resources and opportunities that HIV work provides. Finally, he urged that HIV work include a broader agenda by involving LGBT issues, among others.

Articulating LGBT issues as human rights issues is likewise a strategy adapted by Indonesian LGBT groups. “LGBT communities have been good at creating social space for themselves, but there is now a greater need for political space. The mainstream human rights movement offers many opportunities to hook up,” said Toen-King Oey from Arus Pelangi as he recounted the Indonesian experience of LGBT advocacy within the human rights movement. “Visibility is crucial. It enhances the coming out process. That is why we are always present at celebrations of Labor Day, Women’s Day, Human Rights Day, and AIDS Day,” he added.

Arus Pelangi (Rainbow) was formed in 2005 as an alliance of LGBT individuals and organisations as well as non-LGBT human rights activists. It is a pioneer in inclusive organising strategies for LGBT rights, that is including heterosexual supporters, moving beyond the traditionally exclusive approach of LGBT groups. It was the first organisation to dialogue with legislators and bureaucrats towards legal reform on LGBT issues. It has also allied itself with other minorities, who are also subjected to various forms of discrimination. These minorities include the differently-abled, ex-communists, and religious minorities. An umbrella coalition “Indonesian Anti-Discrimination Committed” (KADI) has been set up to help address all forms of discrimination that minorities confront.

While member organisations of ILGA at a national level are successfully queering other social movements, it is time for ILGA to go beyond community-building and initiate inter-movement dialogues. The debates are important, but now it is time for action.

As de Vela and Miglioretto posed, it is time to think about the following questions: “How can we broaden and enrich other social movements by introducing LGBT rights issues and how can we enrich the LGBT-movements by taking up other social issues?”

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