Over 250 guests witnessed and honours exceptional individuals, organisations, and allies working on LGBTQI human rights, and HIV last Friday 24 November 2023 in Bangkok.
Hosted by the German Embassy to Thailand, the event was opened by H.E. Dr Ernst Reichel, the German Ambassador to Thailand,
“Moving forward together in Diversity, the APCOM HERO Awards Thailand, hosted by the German Embassy Bangkok, honors the champions of equality within the LGBTQI communities.”
As Germany is the Co-chair of the Equal Rights Coalition, The Ambassador remarked that they are hoping to support the Thai Government to become a member of the Equal Rights Coalition, the first country in Asia to do so.
17 individuals and organisations were honoured, with 11 receiving a HERO Award. Witnessed by Ambassadors from Canada and Luxembourg, and representatives from diplomatic missions from Australia, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, UK and the US, and community representatives from 35 organisations in 15 countries across the region who attended the APCOM Community Summit 2023.
Remy Choo, from Singapore received the Shivananda Khan Award for extraordinary Achievement for his efforts to successfully repeal section 377A in Singapore.
“I was one of the lawyers that filed a constitutional challenge on behalf of a gay couple, Gary Lim and Kenneth Chee, on 29 November 2012. The challenge was unfortunately rejected by the Singapore Court of Appeal (our apex court) in 2014. We thought that would be the end of the challenges in Court. However, after the Indian Supreme Court ruled S377 of the Indian Penal Code unconstitutional in 2017, I was approached to file another constitutional challenge. Ultimately, this was once again rejected by the Court of Appeal in early 2022, but by then the Singapore Government had gotten concerned enough about the repeated Court challenges that they then announced, later in 2022, that they would repeal S377A in parliament,” he commented and continued, “Exactly 10 years after I filed my first constitutional challenge to S377A, S377A was officially repealed in parliament on 29 November 2022.”
Other Award Recipients were from Bhutan, India, Laos, Pakistan,Papua New Guinea, two from the Philippines, another from Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.
This is the first time that Papua New Guinea received an Award for Community Organisation, and was the only one from the Pacific region.
“KPAC values its community leaders for strengthening our advocacy programs by mobilizing resources, finance and mentoring other upcoming community leaders,”
“KPAC would like to thank the regional level leadership that have elevated us to this level and all our champions who have mentored and supported us.”commented Leslie Bola from Key Population Advocacy Consortium (KPAC) PNG,
Some nominees decline their invitation for fear of being targeted, and some brave honourees are now operating from outside their country for safety which is sadly not a good trend for the region.
Four of the Awards were received by trans and gender diverse individuals including Business Ally by TransTalents Consulting Group (Thailand), Young Achiever by Angel Queentus (Sri Lanka), Health and Wellbeing by Dr Jeremiah Pereira (Singapore), and the Transgender Hero supported by APTN went to Lattavanh Sengdala of Laos, “… access to friendly and comprehensive health facilities for trans people is a challenge. Our trans friends still face stigma and discrimination because of their gender. We need to collaborate with health care providers to educate them to understand more about gender diversity.”
“I’m married with three sons and two daughters. Despite living with the challenge of HIV, my wife and I were fortunate to discover our status early; allowing timely initiation of life-saving medication and the birth of HIV-negative children, remarkably three were given birth after our diagnosis. Our family aspires to find happiness and serenity in life as we walk this earth,” remarked Wangda Dorji from Bhutan, recipient of the HIV Hero supported APN+, regional network for people living with HIV.
This year’s HERO Awards also commemorated, APCOM’s funder, the late Shivananda – a pioneering hero of the Asia Pacific response to HIV and LGBTQI health, rights and wellbeing.
A short video clip to commemorate his legacy was shown at the event to thank Shiv from APCOM and his friends and colleagues the world over for having laid a strong foundation upon which we are committed to building a truly strong structure.
APCOM’s LGBTQI Human Rights Ambassador, The Hon Michael Kirby, commented on the stage,
“I want to start by remembering Shiv Khan and his struggles and all the others who are in this revolution…it’s a revolution…I was at the ESCAP in Bangkok meeting last week and I noticed that the common theme that they all said is ‘leave no one behind’ – but when I listened to the reports from Asia and the Pacific the LGBTQI were left behind. They were left out.”
He continued to announce the Award Recipient for the Shivananda Khan Award for Extraordinary Achievement.
“Tonight it is my duty and privilege to announce the Shivananda Khan Award to Remy Choo from Singapore! He is a lawyer and a fine champion and a fighter. He fought in the Singapore courts in 2013 to try get rid of the criminal law against LGBTQI, and he didn’t give up fighting and challenged his doubts. He fought the case for many years until the government and parliament changed the law.”
The event was held just ahead of Thailand’s Gender Diversity Rights Day on 29 November, the World AIDS Day, which this year’s theme is ‘Let Communities Lead’, and the Human Rights Day, which this year celebrates the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The evening was filled with performances from Mr Gay World Thailand, Bangkok Gay Men’s Chorus, music by Daddy and Bear, and Queer singer Silvy of Warner Music. The finale show had the community representatives doing a fashion show, with messages of hope as they strutted down the runway to the cheers of amazed onlookers at how professional they all were.
“We’re only able to provide this unique platform to shine a light on some of the remarkable work done by individuals, organizations and allies across Asia and the Pacific region because we have support from various stakeholders who also believe in and invest in the very community that is dedicated to live in a more equal and just world. Thank you to all the Award Recipients and Honouress for all the work you’re doing tirelessly on the ground, thank you for sharing your stories of resilience, and thank you to our Sponsors and Community Partners for making the 7th HERO Awards a success.”Commented Midnight, APCOM Executive Director.
HERO Awards 2023
Shivananda Khan Award
for Extraordinary Achievement
“…this award is an opportunity to highlight the intersectional and foundational importance of decriminalization. Around the world, 65 countries in the world continue to criminalise private, consensual, same-sex sexual activity. In the year 2023, there are 65 countries in the world where queer acts of love are a crime.
As we’ve seen in Singapore, criminalisation stigmatises, and prevents queer people from accessing the healthcare they need.
While we’ve been fortunate in Singapore to have seen repeal, countless of our queer siblings around the world still struggle under the yoke of laws left to us by colonial masters whose countries have long since moved on.”Remy Choo
TransTalents Consulting Group
“Our fight for a more inclusive and equitable society is far from over; it’s a class struggle, a journey we’re all on. To all LGBTQIA+ folks and allies, remember our presence reflects two sides of the coin, the systemic injustice and exclusion and at the same time we are the revolutionaries of human history. We are not going anywhere and will take our space of power and cement it to claim our rightful space, and to shine the light of equality.”Natthineethiti (Nikki) Phinyapincha
TransTalents Consulting Group
“Empowerment and inclusion of transgender people in companies and society at large is something I am firmly committed to as an individual and through my organisation InHarmony. In fact, this is the only community for whom we actively offer placement support and mentorship. Achievements like the national job fair exclusively for transgender people and COVID-19 support projects underscore our commitment to the transgender community.”Anupama Easwaran
The Community Hero is supported by our Community Partner ILGA Asia
“I want to dedicate this Award to the brave transgender community in Pakistan who are fighting so hard for the protection of human rights in my country. And this Award is a motivation for me to continue my work and my global advocacy for the rights and dignity of all the people in my community.”Aisha Mughal
Key Population Advocacy Consortium (KPAC) PNG
Papua New Guinea
“KPAC is very grateful and privileged to work alongst partners and regional networks who have strengthened our foundation to be strong and influential at all levels of society.
KPAC would like to thank the regional level leadership that have elevated us to this level and all our champions who have mentored and supported us.”Lesley Bola
Key Population Advocacy Consortium (KPAC) PNG
Papua New Guinea
Mujer LGBT+ Organisation
“This award isn’t just a recognition of our organization’s work in the grassroot; it’s a celebration of the strength and solidarity within the LGBT community in the island of mindanao. In navigating the challenges of the pandemic, we have demonstrated the power of compassion, inclusivity, and unwavering support for one another.”Alvin Fernandez
Mujer LGBT+ Organisation
Health and Wellbeing
Dr Jeremiah Pereira
“My path has been made so much easier because of my queer elders that have come before me. I will always be grateful for them. I would like to especially thank Ms June Chua, for being the best mentor I could ever have asked for and to my mother, for always choosing me no matter how difficult it was. Gender diverse people have always been here and will always be here.”Dr Jeremiah Pereira
The HIV Hero is supported by our Community Partner APN+
“At this very moment, I am filled with an overwhelming sense of pride and honour as I stand before you as one of the recipients of the prestigious APCOM Hero Awards 2023. This recognition holds a special place in my heart, and I am deeply grateful for the acknowledgment bestowed upon me in the category of HIV Hero.”Wangda Dorji
“In achieving true inclusivity, we must also recognize that the struggle for justice encompasses a broad intersectionality. Our commitment cannot be limited to one cause or one community alone. Only by embracing the diversity within our movements can we forge a path towards a society that is truly fair and equitable.”Rhadem Musawah
The Transgender Hero is supported by our Community Partner APTN
“In Laos I was working on an HIV program since health care providers are not aware who is Transgender, they know only MSM, until today, they are more aware about who is transgender, and we have to continue our work to make our transgender community stronger and for a better quality of life. However, the most important thing is community inclusion, we can’t work for transgender without transgender.”Lattavanh Sengdala
“This accomplishment is not something that I did alone, and there are many others who deserve to share in this award. I would like to thank my LGBTQIA++ community members and Friends. I am very optimistic about the future. Our actions today will determine the future for the generations to come. The time to act is now! I am humbled and appreciative.”Angel Queentus