On Monday 27 February 2023, APCOM, ANTRA and AGCM hosted the Asia Caucus.
See the agenda here and speakers here.
70 participants attended the session.
Here’s a summary of the two panels.
Welcome by Board Advisor of ANTRA,
Dr Judy Tang (she/her)
I would like to acknowledge that we meet on the lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and I pay my respects to their elders past and present, and also pay my respects to any First Nations people joining us today in this event. I acknowledge that we meet on Aboriginal land that has never been ceded, Always was and always will be.
My name is Dr Judy Tang (pronouns she/her), and I’m delighted to welcome you all to the Asia Caucus presented by APCOM, ANTRA (Australia NZ tongzhi rainbow alliance) and AGMC (Aus LGBTIQ Multicultural Council), for the Sydney WorldPride Human Rights Conference. These three not-for-profit organisations combined have worked tirelessy for decades for our communities and we’re so fortunate that they will continue to do so until equality for LGBTIQA+ people is achieved, and we can thrive in the Asia region.
Thank you all for being here today – your heartfelt presence shows the passion and spirit of all the amazing people gathered in this room – advocating and fighting for justice,equality and true belonging in our world and the many countries in the Asia Pacific where we come from.
Since we have such an amazing array of people today – let’s make the next 2 hours one full of impact, hope, critical thinking, connections….and perhaps a little scheming for LGBTIQA+ safety, equality, and belonging in the Asia Pacific.
There is no better opportunity, time, and place for it – together, we have activists, multilaterals, government, donors, academia, lawyers, local and global leaders. I’m honoured to make a special mention to welcome the UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz; Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons, U.S. Department of State, Jessica Stern, UK’s Special Envoy on LGBT rights, Lord Nick Herbert, and to Ambassador Chantale Wong from the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Welcome and thank you for joining us today.
And to everyone here, let’s use this chance to highlight the issues and challenges faced by our LGBTIQA+ brothers and sisters in the Asia region, and then let’s find opportunities and pathways forward for us all.
Cedric, the founder of ANTRA, shared this with me:
In 1000 BC, in the Book of Rites, Confucius once said: If the society is to work in the best way, it will be a way to achieve that under the leadership of virtuous people, where everyone pursues peace & harmony, and they seek hospitality rather than hostility, similarity rather than individuality, and they try their best to make contributions to the world. And thus a world of “Great Unity”
Asia is the birthplace of many of the world’s oldest civilisations. Asia can provide leadership and insight to the idea of Great Unity in the Queer World globally, in building a world that achieves unity, peace and love.
And it starts and/or continues here. With that, I leave the Asia region in all of your capable hands and open hearts.
Remarks by APCOM Regional Advisory Group Chair,
Bryan Choong (he/him)
Thank you very much Dr Judy Tang for the warm welcome.
Good morning, Zhao An, Kalai Vanakkam and Selamat Pagi – My name is Bryan Choong, from Singapore, I just greeted you in the four official languages in my country. My pronouns are he/him.
It is a great pleasure to be the Chair of APCOM, taking over from Dédé Oetomo from Indonesia. Dede has been outstanding in steering APCOM with Midnight for 8 years.
We are so delighted to convene the Asia Caucus in partnership with so many LGBTQI organizations in Asia, and to be able to do this face to face again. It is really great to meet old friends and make new ones in person after 3 years.
APCOM only just celebrated our 15th anniversary last year – and in Nov 2022, we were able to celebrate the repeal of Section 377a in Singapore. For those who might not be familiar, Section 377a was a law introduced by the British when Singapore was a British colony, and it criminalised sex between consenting adult males.
Before the 2022 repeal in Singapore, many in my community felt they had lost hope after we failed in so many previous attempts since 2006. Many have left the country so that they can feel safer and freer, some have settled in Australia. I was one of many activists who worked on the repeal because we want change not for ourselves, but also the future generations of Singaporeans. I know Singapore is capable of becoming a more equal society.
The 2018 victory in India motivated Singaporean activists, and I hope the recent success in Singapore, and Bhutan in 2021, and upcoming one in Sri Lanka will inspire many LGBTQI movements in Asia that change is possible.
As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights this year – I hope we will hear of more wins in the region.
Many of you are grassroots leaders who often risk your life in doing what you believe in. Many of you are champions in the public sector, private sector, UN agencies, grant makers, or in your own professional field..
SO THANK YOU, THANK YOU for your continuous work – even on days when our goals seemed so far away, Your leadership is a shining beacon to those who are going through darkness and storms.You are change makers who will make those positive changes for equality happen.
Some of you may know APCOM’s founder, the late Shivananda Khan passed away in 2013. This year marks the 10th anniversary of his passing, we will commemorate his leadership and legacies, as well as those who have passed on.
Leadership is never easy, but rarely do our rights are given to us on a silver platter. APCOM is honoured to be part of your journey. APCOM also will need to do more on changing laws and policies in the Asia Pacific region. Looking at the outstanding leaders we have in this caucus, I think we have a great start – let’s start conversations, let’s build collaborations, let’s all create collective impact.
On behalf of APCOM – thank you for being together today.
Happy Mardi Gras! Happy WorldPride everyone!
Remarks by Hiker Chiu (he/her),
Executive Director, Intersex Asia
I’m Hiker Chiu, an intersex activist from Taiwan. Thanks to all my LGBT good friends in Asia who have been working hard for the past decades in improving LGBT rights. As the most advanced country on LGBT rights, the LGBT movement in Taiwan built the base for me to start intersex movement in Taiwan.
Intersex movement as an emerging movement in Asia is very lucky to have warm support and embrace from the LGBT community in Asia since 2013 I joined ILGA Asia. We really appreciated that and please continue to keep the luck for us. Intersex is different from LGBT, that’s why the intersex issue needs to be addressed independently in order to be acknowledged, but we share common SOCIESC issues with you all at the same time, we need to address them together.
Thanks for the support and solidarity from the LGBT movement. Let’s continue to support each other!
Summary: Setting the Scene from our Community
The Asia Region is vast, we shall hear from prominent activist on issues, challenges and opportunities to advance LGBTQI rights in their sub-region
Panelists were asked three questions;
Q1: Can you please provide an overview of challenges that LGBTQIA+ are facing in your country/sub-region?
Q2: Despite the challenges mentioned, what are some of the opportunities to advance the rights of LGBTQIA+ in your setting?
Q3: What kinds of support to LGBTQIA+ need to enable them to meet the challenges and opportunities you mentioned?
Amir Mukambetov (he/they)
Chair, Kyrgyz Indigo
Central Asia includes five countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. They are all Post-Soviet countries independent for about thirty years and LGBT movement has been for a similar length of time. There has been a lot of work done during this period, so queer people have become more visible. The majority of mass media outlets use correct terminology.
There is, however, a major problem of authoritarianism in the region, which uses LGBT people to distract citizens from real economic and social problems.
Other challenges exist, since homosexuality is still criminalized in two out of five countries. It’s in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. There are some working groups that work on decriminalization, which include local activists, experts, and the international community.
Tajikistan government adopted an anti discrimination law, but it did not include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. The same thing going to happen in Kyrgyzstan.
In Kazakhstan consent age is between 16-18, but for transgender people it was increased until 21. In Kyrgyzstan some regressive changes were added to the law on gender markers change and now trans people have to go to court to do that.
Charlene Liu (she/her)
Co-Founder, ShanghaiPRIDE China
China’s LGBT+ face two main challenges: 1) Communities that have a following and are seemed as a rights movement or as any initiatives that are not in alignment with the country’s ideology are scrutinized, discriminated, targeted, and ostracized; 2) LGBT+ people are seen to not being able to have children to increase the population and therefore, frown upon.
1) With globalization and the digital age, youths have more access to knowledge and awareness on LGBT+, so they are more accepting and willing to continue the movement of inclusion for LGBT+ people. 2) International and some local corporations are giving focus to Diversity & Inclusion, including LGBT+ inclusion in the workplace.
What everyone can do:
Whether it is “top down” or “bottom up” approach, everyone plays a part. Governing bodies (consulates, embassies, chamber of commerce) can pressure corporations and governments to be inclusive for the LGBT+ communities. Companies play a big role to implement D&I internally (create awareness, create policies, extend benefits for the LGBT+ employees) and externally (support local organizations, charities). Companies have a strong role and louder voice next to the government’s ear in advocating for more inclusion. We need to “keep the pressure on” while being mindful about the safety of those who are involved.
Naomi Fontanos (she/her)
Executive Director, Gender and Development Advocates (GANDA) Filipinas, the Philippines
Southeast Asia is a very diverse region but everywhere in Southeast Asia LGBTQIA+ people are facing patriarchy. This patriarchy is also connected to capitalism, colonialism/neo-colonialism, and nationalism. So women and LGBTQIA+ people face enormous cultural, economic, political, social, and health challenges including pervasive inequality, violence, political instability, and high burden of disease especially with HIV and AIDS. The gender binary, the idea that there are only two genders, is quite prevalent in Southeast Asia, which is a legacy of colonialism and adherence to this binary is found in our laws. It is important for LGBTQIA+ movements to find linkages with feminist movements as many feminist movements come before LGBTQIA+ movements.
Some feminists may not be supportive of LGBTQIA+ rights but more and more feminists are embracing the LGBTQIA+ movements and the work overlaps. It is important to connect with feminist movements and advocate for feminism itself that fights against oppression on the basis of class, race, gender, and histories of colonialism. In Southeast Asia, the goal of activists is to change the culture to truly participate in it.
LGBTQIA+ people also need to continue speaking out about human rights based on SOGIESC and find ways to advocate for this at the regional level. LGBTQIA+ activists also need to confront political homophobia in all fronts and challenge calls against the community that we are destroying the family or stand against traditional values or are impinging on religious freedom. LGBTQIA+ activists need to decolonize their activism to ensure that activism is connected to culture and speaks the language of the people.
Jannat Ali (she/her)
Executive Director, T-Track, Pakistan
The current situation about the trans movement in Pakistan regarding the challenge of protection of trans rights act at Syria Court and main target was on self perceived gender identity which has put our community lives in danger. I also talked about trans phobia which is increasing in South Asia and also Globally. When we talk about representation and distribution of resources we don’t have equal numbers. And less participation as well.
Mentioned the impact of anti trans legislation increasing Gender and sexual based violence Asian Immigrants from the South also need special support to get visa and asylums. Current need of time is solidarity as the whole movement is like a body, if there is pain in one part the whole body would feel pain. We need to see who is supporting our region in homophobic and transphobic campaigns.
Ryan V. Silverio (they)
Executive Director, ASEAN SOGIE Caucus
LGBTQIA+ persons in Asia engage in a complex dynamics of political and cultural forces that re-echo colonial legacies of subordination and conservatism. Criminalization of LGBTQIA+ persons continues to exist in highly authoritarian regimes that politicize homophobia and transphobia; the perceived majoritarian views that reflect anti-LGBTQIA+ sentiments are used as justification for continued violence. Repressive political strategies against LGBTQIA+ persons entail restrictions on freedom of expression and movement, on increased surveillance, on prohibiting groups from obtaining legal registration, among others. Amidst this political context, patriarchal cultures perpetuate: heteronormativity, enforcement of the binary, and control over bodies, especially among LBQ women.”
Summary Opportunities for advancing LGBTQI rights in Asia
Our community already has some entry points to sustain our movement for equality. This panel features prominent LGBTQI envoys and their role in supporting LGBTQI equality in Asia.
Panelists were asked three questions;
Q1 – Can you please provide an overview of your role, and issues you’ve heard from the LGBTQIA+ in the Asia region?
Q2 – As we heard from panel 1, there are some recommendations for support from the community. Could you provide us some examples of what is the current support you are providing to the region, and how the LGBTQIA+ community in Asia can engage with you more?
Lord Nick Herbert (he/him)
UK’s Special Envoy on LGBT rights
The UK is committed to the promotion and protection of LGBT+ rights. We welcome the cooperation with colleagues on this panel to work together to address the key issues facing LGBT+ equality: violence and discrimination; ongoing criminalisation and to map out our national funding priorities to ensure a greater global spread of funding.
Since 2018 the UK has allocated over £13.5m to enable governments, civil society, business and parliamentarians in their fight for human rights and equality for LGBT+ people. The majority of UK funding focuses on the Commonwealth and has been delivered in partnership with members of The Commonwealth Equality Network – without whom much of our work would not be possible. UK funding has helped to provide capacity building, technical
legal assistance to governments and civil society seeking to repeal or reform outdated laws or policies, and research to better understand the challenges faced by LGBT+ people around the world. The UK is committed to working with governments and civil society to work together to progress LGBT+ rights.
We are finalising our own plans for a new multi-year programme to support grassroots LGBT+ organisations and civil society activists globally.
Through the Global Equality Project (managed by Kaleidoscope and Westminster Foundation for Democracy), the Changing Laws, Changing Lives programme (managed by the Human Dignity Trust) and the support to the Commonwealth Equality Network (managed by Kaleidoscope trust), we are supporting work on promoting and protecting the rights of LGBT+ people across the Pacific including Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Vanuatu. Since September 2021, the UK has been working to discreetly support the work of ILGA Asia and Stonewall in developing new tools to help LGBT+ people in Afghanistan. Pleased to see that ILGA Asia launched Safar, the Afghan humanitarian platform earlier this year.
Jessica Stern (she/her/they/them/he/him)
Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons, U.S. Department of State
ROLE AND ISSUES HEARD IN THE REGION
- Concrete / big
- Core strategies
- Access bilaterally — and not just with the MFA.
My relationship with Asia
- #1 region I’ve visited.
- Countries = 9: Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam (twice), Philippines, Australia, Japan, Nepal, India, Bangladesh
- Grants to civil society organizations. (GPP data.)
- Raising human rights in multilateral institutions like the UN, OAS, G7, and beyond.
- Cultivate global coalitions — i.e., everywhere I go, I convene the like-minded embassies.
- Making HR a part of our foreign policy. Raising HR in meetings with foreign governments.
- Telling our own story — warts, progress and all. Sharing best practices and lessons learned — through public diplomacy, in bilateral dialogues, and beyond.
- Capacity building, i.e., IVLPs
- Court monitoring
- Making noise when LGBTQI+ persons have been arbitrarily arrested or subjected to violence, including court monitoring and direct engagement with Min of Justice and police when we believe there has been a miscarriage of justice.
- Increase funding to the region
- Block discriminatory use of US donor dollars.
- Ensuring that our PEPFAR dollars support key populations with more than just condom and lube distribution — tackling enabling environments and structural barriers to wellness for MSM, transwomen and beyond.
- Having leadership at State consistently message that LGBTQI+ rights are a foreign policy priority, not a niche issue, connected to our successful promotion of US values and priorities on national security, economic prosperity and beyond.
There are so many tools at our disposal. The challenge is making clear that these issues must be a US foreign policy priority and training people who are generally not human rights experts how to be strong and effective allies.
HOW IS THE US SUPPORTING LGBTQI IN THE REGION?
- Funding. i.e., Bangladesh.
- Bilateral. Japan.
- Public narratives support. I.e. speaker series in India.
- Elevating the business case for inclusion. I.e. Indonesia.
- Multilateral engagement — including ADB (safeguarding).
ASKS FOR THE AUDIENCE
- Ensure you stay in touch with the US embassy. Four times a year a meeting.
- Send data every July for the Human Rights Report.
- Convene local ERC meetings.
- Demand a meeting with the US ambassador — not just a Pride reception.
Ambassador Chantelle Wong (she/her)
U.S. Director, Asian Development Bank (ADB)
Thank you for inviting me to speak with you today. It is an honor to speak with you about important topic of how the ADB is engaging the LGBTQI community. I currently serve as the U.S. Executive Director to Asian Development Bank, or ADB,. ADB seeks to build a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific by providing loan and other support to its developing member countries. While traditionally focused on infrastructure projects, the ADB has expanded its efforts to support gender equality in recent years across a range of projects and programs. ADB has also begun to build a framework to support gender equality and social inclusion, or GESI, including for LGBTQI+ persons.
Like other multilateral development banks, the ADB has safeguards that seek to ensure that no one is harmed from ADB projects and to help support inclusive growth for all members of society. The ADB is now in the process of updating its safeguard policy statement. The safeguards review at is an important opportunity to address the discrimination and marginalization of LGBTQI people in Asia and the Pacific and advance equitable growth. That is part of the reason why the United States supports including protections for SOGIESC in the updated safeguards. The ADB should ensure that in its projects, particularly in the health, education, and social protection sectors, no vulnerable group, including the LGBTQI community, is made worse off or not able to benefit from a project because of who they are. As you know, many ADB members continue to maintain laws that discriminate against LGBTQI people and, in some cases, criminalize same-sex acts. To be clear, an ADB safeguard cannot address these laws, and would not require ADB borrowers to change any of their laws. It is important to keep in mind that the ADB charter prohibits the bank from interfering in the political affairs of any member and that only economic considerations should be relevant to its decisions.
I want to end on a personal note, based on an experience I had on a recent trip to India. Last year, myself and two other board members traveled to India to meet Indian government officials, development partners, and CSO, including from the LGBTQI community, about India’s future work with the ADB. During our visit to Mumbai, we were stuck in heavy traffic and a beggar approached our car. I noticed that the beggar was transgender and it reminded me that in many countries, members of our community have few opportunities besides begging or sex work. This encounter moved me and underscored why the work of greater LGBTQI inclusion in ADB projects and safeguards are so important to ensuring that individuals, like that beggar in Mumbai, can have an opportunity to live fulfilling and meaningful lives.
Victor Madrigal-Borloz (he/him)
UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, United Nations
Have been able to connect with activists in Asia from the ILGA Asia in Seoul in 2019, and a training for 50 LGBTIQ+ human rights defenders in Bangkok in 2022. He also in 2023 conducted a country visit to Cambodia, the first official invited visit to a State in the Asia region.
Apart from gathering factual evidence, with support from civil society in the region with the Mandate – we now have more data to draw from for advocacy, and bringing lived realities to the UN, and more and more of our community understands the Mandate, as well as methods of engaging and using the UN human rights system to defend the human rights of their communities.
He’ll be stepping down in October this year and the end of his second term as SOGI mandate holder. He thanks all of you involved in supporting the mandate and OHCHR throughout the years, and hopes that he’s built a foundation for advancing LGBTQI rights globally when the next person steps in.
Please also find following URLs to the text and video recording of the opening keynote speech by the UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, from the first day of the Sydney WorldPride Human Rights Conference:
Henry Koh (they/them)
Executive Director, ILGA Asia
We crammed so much information within such a short time – thank you to all the speakers for sharing your expertise. You have seen that there’s so much local expertise in this region to affect positive change for LGBTQI human rights – and we need investment into preserving and growing the local knowledge.
Your support needs to ensure that local knowledge and expertise is well recognised and also compensated for. But more than that, and most importantly – how to ensure such organisations remain agile and respond to the needs of the community as it changes – and in the longer term, how to create a system that sustains the local organisations that is not project driven.
We are in a region that have seen some backwards trends;
- the situation in Afghanistan
- the continued military rule in Myanmar
- transgender rights are being encroached in Pakistan
- Indonesia – the new criminal code and the pornography law provide tools for the right wing, religious conservatives to target our community
- Thailand is implementing the NGO law which would violate fundamental freedoms guaranteed under international human rights law if passed
We know from Covid-19 situation that our groups are reaching the most vulnerable, we are raising the voices of our communities that often are not heard and heeded by our governments, and we tell you the realities. We hope that donors would look at the needs of the LGBTQI communities in our region, and support us to respond quickly to the needs of our communities, rather than the emphasis on the internal reporting.
Happy Mardi Gras and Happy WorldPride!