By Niel Steve Kintanar
The pre-conference caucus discussions of the 3rd ILGA-Asia Regional Conference held last 24 January 2008 provided a venue to identify the different Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) issues in the different countries and to enumerate different strategies, including those which can be employed at the regional level.
Three different discussions were organised to flesh out these issues and strategies: Male, Female and Transgender Caucuses. All three caucuses were synthesised into four significant spheres of LGBT struggle. This synthesis was presented by Mira Alexis Ofreneo, ILGA-Asia Female Representative, and Tesa de Vela, Associate Director of Isis International via a four-slide mind map.
The four significant spheres of LGBT struggle are (1) the self, (2) family and peers, (3) community and social movements, and (4) formal institutions and social structures. In this model, the self is affected by multiple levels of the surrounding environment. Conversely, the self can also actively influence its environment. Each discussion identified varying concerns on each of these spheres.
With participants from ten countries, the gay and bisexual men addressed issues which clustered around community and social movements, as well as formal institutions and social structures. Political equality, recognition and representation, and education were among the issues raised. One participant pointed out society’s limited openness to sexual diversity largely because of religious and legal conservatism. Various forms of discrimination also exist. An example cited was termination from employment due to one’s sexuality. Despite such intolerance, the participants still speak of progress in organisations which are dealing with LGBT concerns in the region.
Strategies to address these issues include education work towards an appreciation and respect for a diversity of identities; dialogue between and among LGBT groups in different countries; and legal reforms which recognise LGBT rights as human rights. The participants also called for a transnational strategy to abolish and/or repeal sodomy laws which is the pressing advocacy of many at the moment.
Meanwhile, lesbian and bisexual women addressed issues in all four significant spheres. On the self and family and peers spheres, they expressed the need for accessible direct services such as counseling, given that a number of LGBT experience various forms of violence. On the spheres of community and social movements as well as formal institutions and social structures, religion remains an agent of conservatism, which effectively controls women’s sexualities and sexual rights. Such control is manifested in their experience of violence. Women are also pressured to marry. The caucus participants maintained that forced marriage for women is a distinct experience from that of men. As lesbian and bisexual women are denied their fundamental rights and public policies have yet to fully address discrimination, there is a need for a visible and sustained affirmation of their human rights and other social entitlements.
The female caucus cited the following strategies: education and training in rural and urban areas, especially among the media and the religious; more direct access to social services and protection; and regional networking with other lesbian and bisexual women organisations.
Similar to lesbian and bisexual women, transgenders raised issues on visibility and recognition, equal rights, discrimination and violence. Transgender as a unique gender is still not being recognised. An example of recognition, however, is the case of Nepal which now recognises the “third gender” in their constitution. Language barriers and the lack of terminologies also contribute to the failure in capturing the experience of the transgender in Asia and LGBT communities. This has aggravated the problem of invisibility of the transgender concerns in and out of the LGBT movement despite their visibility in pride parades and other LGBT media events. The fundamental lack of understanding of transgenders’ unique issues point to their basic needs in the sphere of the self, including identity issues and health concerns. The lack of recognition of transgenders in society at large renders transgenders more marginalised in terms of social security and services and vulnerable to hate crimes (transphobia) and HIV.
Hence, there is a ned for information and education on transgender issues firstly within the LGBT movement, and secondly in society at large. A call was made by transgenders for a network that can facilitate this exchange of information, empowerment, and resource mobilisation. A unique issue on a structural level is the need to recognise the third sex/ gender and ensure their protection in the law.
The open forum affirmed the issues and concerns of the LGBT community, as cited by the caucuses. Strategies which were outlined during the plenary include the promotion of gender identities, sexual orientation and community empowerment through education. Towards this end, a premium was placed on activism and human rights work. Challenges were also posed on how ILGA can be made more inclusive of bisexual and transgenders, particularly with regard to its name. The open forum also highlighted the dearth of frameworks which can account for transgender rights.
Moreover, it was suggested that the youth be included as a caucus. Aside from their unique struggle, the youth is expected to take on the leadership in pursuing these issues in the future.
All three caucuses spoke of the need for a regional network that can consolidate the different LGBT organisations all over Asia. This regional network is envisioned to facilitate the exchange of resources and promote visibility, leading to greater possibilities for resource mobilisation and greater leverage for legal reforms lobbying.