This year APCOM celebrates its fifteenth anniversary. Founded as a result of the Risks and Responsibilities Consultation in Delhi, India, on 23-26 September 2006, it was launched at the 8th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP) in August 2007.
In many ways it was the culmination of the desire to have a strong network or coalition of community organizations advocating for gender and sexual minority rights in particular connection with HIV and sexual health. These organizations emerged throughout the 1980s in the region. There was a similar effort by ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans & Intersex Association) Asia to organize in the 2000 decade, and another one by a loose network of activists calling ourselves Asia-Pacific Rainbow, predominantly initiated by activists connected to the Asia-Pacific Council of AIDS Service Organizations (APCASO). ILGA Asia grew stronger in the 2010s, but unfortunately Asia-Pacific Rainbow floundered in 2008.
Fortunately APCOM took off in 2007 and has been active until now. We even facilitated the founding of the Asia-Pacific Transgender Network, which was strongly expressed at the 2006 Delhi Consultation, in 2009, and have collaborated with ILGA Asia and ILGA Oceania regularly.
Most of the activists in the region grew up with the narrative of nationalist struggle demanding decolonization. In many countries nationalists organize and print publications throughout the 20th century, as brilliantly recounted by Benedict Anderson in his Imagined Communities (1984).
At the 2016 ILGA World Conference in Bangkok, a young lesbian activist from Africa stated unequivocally that people and communities of gender and sexual minorities are, as it were, colonized by cis-heteronormative patriarchy, and our struggle is to decolonize ourselves.
On different occasions in Indonesia, I have dubbed the struggle of LGTBIQ+ people and communities as the second wave of national awakening.
It is in this light that APCOM is invaluable as a vehicle for the struggle for equality, rights and well-being for gender and sexual minorities. The road ahead will not be easy; in fact, it is full of challenges.
On the one hand, many governments and societies are still not accepting towards us, as we can see from the countries that still criminalize same-sex relations or gender non-conformity. Some changes have been won, but many battles have yet to be fought. There is largely no legal guarantee against discrimination based on SOGIESC.
On the other hand, APCOM and similar organizations are still dependent on relatively short-term multilateral grants. In other words, we are far from sustainable as an institution.
I therefore sincerely wish all the best to APCOM’s current leadership in the journey ahead. You are yet another team in the relay race which is our long journey of struggle. And indeed it will take many, many years before we reach our vision of “a world where all gay men, other men who have sex with men and people of diverse SOGIESC can fully participate in and achieve sustainable development in all aspects of their health, rights and well-being.”
About the contributor:
Dédé Oetomo, a long-time activist in his native Indonesia and in the Asia-Pacific region, was part of the Risks and Responsibilities Consultation in 2006 that gave birth to APCOM in 2007, and was in one way or the other on the (Interim) Governing Board, later called Regional Advisory Group, since the beginning. He was Chair in 2013 to 2021. He is still active in his home organization, GAYa NUSANTARA (www.gayanusantara.or.id).