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LGBT Forum - Building Home on the Rule of Law

Participants of fifth Salzburg Global LGBT Forum discuss rule of law and share life stories on truth and transformation

Monica Leonardo and Mark Agrast taking part in a discussion on building a home with the rule of law

The second day of the fifth Salzburg Global LGBT Forum began with law and order as participants discussed how to build a home in the countries they live.

On Monday morning, participants met to take part in a panel discussion titled, “Building Home on the Rule of Law.” The discussion featured Mark Agrast, executive director of the American Society of International Law, and Monica Leonardo, a consultant for United Nations agencies and international NGOs.

Nana King, project manager of Deutsche Welle Akademie in Ghana, moderated the discussion. She started the conversation by asking the panelists to describe their initial thoughts on the subject.

Agrast asked participants to envision the rule of law as an ecosystem. He said, “A healthy rule of law is necessary for human rights to flourish.” He suggested a thick and thin version of the rule of law existed.
The thin version of the rule of law is the minimum requirement that government officials and citizens are bound by the law and are expected to act by it. The thick version requires governments to be subject to the law and respect human rights and LGBT* rights. It also requires people to know what the laws are, in addition to a justice system which is unbiased, just and effective.

Leonardo informed participants about a gender identity law in Argentina, Bolivia, and Mexico which has enabled people to have the right for their gender identity to be recognized. Changing a document has become a simple administrative procedure. This law has also provided an important step forward concerning dignity. Following this panel discussion, Leonardo said: “There’s also the possibility for that rule of law to really become the tool that enables LGBT* people to feel at home.”

Truth and Transformation

After conversations on the rule of law, participants attended a panel discussion titled “Life Stories: Truth and Transformation.” During this event, a multigenerational panel shared intimate details of their personal journeys and experiences of identifying as LGBT*. “We were born into a world that was not prepared for us. Tell me about the world you were born into,” said moderator Marc Pachter, Director Emeritus of the National Portrait Gallery, quoting Salzburg Global LGBT Forum Founder and Chair Klaus Mueller.

The first panelist spoke candidly of her early rebellion against societal pressures facing women in her country but noted that she never questioned her attraction to the same sex. “I didn’t question it,” she said. “I thought it was interesting.”  However, the panelist spoke about her refusal to label herself saying, “For me, my sexual identity, I do not call myself a lesbian. I find that flattens my identity, as someone who doesn’t want to be labeled.”

The second speaker shared a much different journey of sexual identity, noting he did not discover his bisexuality until his late twenties, and, at times struggled to accept his attraction to men. Thanks to his public life, he said he decided to come out at 50, driven, in part, by the desire to help young people struggling with their own identities. He said, “My vision of the world is a place of love, not a place of hate. If each of us gets to the point where we really know who we are, and we accept who we are, if we love ourselves we are not going to hate anyone else.”

The youngest panelist shared experiences from his childhood, capturing the evolution of his parent’s acceptance of his identity. “My mom eventually asked me, ‘Do you want to be a boy or a girl?’ I said a boy,” he recalled. "If someone asks me when I discovered I was different, I say, 'I never thought I was different. I'm a normal boy.'" His family has grown to embrace his partners, including them in holiday celebrations. "That's how I knew I was accepted," he said.

Speaking after the discussion, Pachter said, “We realize that there are no fixed categories; there are processes and influences, and that even though we gather together under one broad umbrella, the diversity of who is in the room, much less who is talking, is so vast that we are just beginning to learn about ourselves.”

Visibility and belonging

After lunch, participants took part in a Knowledge Cafe on Visibility and Belonging. Participants were able to move between six tables and discuss different topics. These themes included: Creating LGBT visibility through surveys and data; Trans people visiting doctors; Schools of Tolerance (Ally-making and ally training); Safe spaces for LGBT students at schools and universities; Creating LGBT visibility in sport; and Discrimination of HIV & LGBT communities in Sri Lanka.

This activity was followed by an open forum, where participants were invited to express themselves or their work through song, texts, programs, and clips.

The session continues.

*LGBT: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender. We are using this term as it is currently widely used in human rights conversations on sexual orientation and gender identity in many parts of the world, but we would not wish it to be read as exclusive of other cultural concepts, contemporary or historical, to express sexuality and gender, intersex and gender-nonconforming identities.


The fifth session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum - Home: Safety, Wellness, and Belonging is taking place at Schloss Leopoldskron, Salzburg. It is being held in partnership with the German Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women & Youth. It is being supported by the Government of Canada. The Forum is a network of expertise through which conversations are facilitated to advance equal rights for LGBT people across the world. You can follow the event on Twitter, Instagram, and Twitter using the hashtag #SGSlgbt. For more information, please visit salzburgglobal.org/go/578.

15.05.2017 Category: SALZBURG IN THE WORLD, SALZBURG UPDATES, JUSTICE, LGBT
Oscar Tollast and Nicole Bogart