Salzburg Global LGBT Forum » Overview

Humankind’s strength is its diversity. Free expression of sexuality and gender increasingly defines the societies in which we want to live in the 21st century. But progress is uneven. In 2011, the first UN Resolution on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity was supported by over 40 countries. Yet in many others, governments still legitimize and sponsor violence against LGBT citizens through legal discrimination, condoned police violence and hate speech.  

The Salzburg Global LGBT Forum was formed in 2013 to establish a truly global space to reflect upon and advance the LGBT and Human Rights discussions around the world. Its signature is the international representation of leaders from diverse fields – including human rights, legal, artistic, and religious backgrounds. Founded and chaired by Dr. Klaus Mueller, the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum currently connects representatives from more than 65 countries (as of February 2017).

Most recent sessions:

Home: Safety, Wellness, and Belonging
May 14 to 19, 2017 (Salzburg, Austria)

Building structures to support equal rights for LGBT people
Seminar and networking reception at the Embassy of Canada, Berlin, Germany, July 21, 2016

The Many Faces of LGBT Inclusion
October 2 to 7, 2016 (Chaing Rai, Thailand)

Salzburg Global LGBT Forum: LGBT Human Rights & Social Cohesion
June 14 to 19, 2015

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Report now online Strengthening Communities - LGBT Rights & Social Cohesion
Report now online Strengthening Communities - LGBT Rights & Social Cohesion
Salzburg Global Seminar staff 
The report from the Salzburg Global program Strengthening Communities: LGBT Rights and Social Cohesion, the third annual Salzburg Global LGBT Forum is now available is now available online to read, download and share. In June 2015, Salzburg Global Seminar, brought together 57 participants from 34 countries from all professional sectors, ages and expertise. They reflected upon LGBT inclusion and social cohesion in relation to democratic institutions, families, communities, social justice, activism, education, employment, hate crimes and bullying. Three general themes were proposed for conversations:
  1. The Cost of Social Exclusion: What are the economic effects of social exclusion? How does LGBT exclusion affect national economies or international corporations? What are the implications of LGBT issues on the refugee crisis, migration, and those left behind?
  2. The Power of Storytelling: How are we portrayed in media? As monsters or ordinary citizens? As individuals or as a community? How do we tell our own stories?
  3. Transformation: How far can we advance LGBT human right issues before the global attention wanes?
As session rapporteur Ivan Capriles writes: "It has been at times difficult to select, condense or leave out so much material to provide the reader with a concise and enriching insight into this wonderful experience. Hopefully, these pages will allow the reader to grasp as much as possible the spirit of our growing Global LGBT Forum." Download the report as a PDF

The Salzburg Global LGBT Forum 2015 was held with the generous support of the Austrian Development Cooperation, the German Federal Foreign Office, Hivos, Michael Huffington, and the Open Society Foundations. Additional support was provided by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Science, Research and Economy, the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, the HDH Wills (1965) Charitable Trust, the Korea Foundation and the Nippon Foundation.

Salzburg Global Seminar would like to thank all the participants for donating their time and expertise to this session.

*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.

Supporting Thoughtful, Committed Citizens
Supporting Thoughtful, Committed Citizens
Louise Hallman, Alex Jackson and Sudeshan Reddy 

Nearly 70 years after Margaret Mead praised the first Salzburg Seminar in American Studies and its “committed citizens,” Salzburg Global continues to provide a safe space for current and future leaders to tackle burning issues in their homelands. This distance can enable them to listen to and learn from each other, and find solutions across geographic and ideological boundaries.

“Civil society is the society of citizens—but citizens are not just those who have a passport but who actively work to make a country better… The more active citizens we have, the stronger and better the country will be,” said one veteran Russian civil society activist during the Salzburg Global program Russian Civil Society: Building Bridges to the Future. His sentiments echoed Margaret Mead, faculty of the first-ever Salzburg Seminar in American Studies who famously stated: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Ever since that first session, Salzburg Global Seminar has sought to support civil society and strengthen democratic processes and engagement.

While civil society is represented at almost every Salzburg Global program – in addition to building the next generation of “thoughtful, committed citizens” with the year-round Global Citizenship Program – three 2014 programs in particular sought to support Fellows in their struggles toward democracy, stability, and inclusivity in the “post-revolution” Middle East and North Africa, against the increasing restrictions in Putin’s Russia, and for LGBT rights the world over.

Civil society has an important role to play in tackling all these issues. Countries in transition, such as Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen (the four focus countries of Salzburg Global’s ongoing Reform and Transformation in the Middle East and North Africa [link to] series), face deep-rooted problems, which politicians or “official” representatives alone will not solve; all stakeholders need to be engaged and included. “Ignore who is in charge and address the issues,” advised one Libyan Fellow to her Egyptian counterparts at the March program Strengthening Diversity and Inclusion in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen.

The fluidity and complexity of the situation in the countries facing extreme transitions or increasing restrictions can sometimes thwart the plans made by well-intentioned civil society activists, academics, donors, and policymakers.

Indeed, between the November 2013 program Getting Transition Right: A Rights-based Approach to Diversity and Inclusion and the follow-on program in March 2014, participants spoke of a sense of inertia at best and deterioration at worst.

Following the participation of its founder Belabbès Benkredda in the November session, the Munathara Initiative, a Tunisia-based multimedia public debating platform, was inspired to expand to the four focus countries, launching a series of debates on human rights, inclusion, and diversity. But outside of Tunisia where there had been some progress, Fellows were much less positive. One Egyptian Fellow, who had been outspoken at Salzburg Global programs in 2012 and 2013, asked to have his name withheld from the 2014 program report for fear of reprisals. Two Libyan Fellows had to flee and seek asylum in Europe following attempts on their lives in retaliation for their work. Although progress had been made by March, the outbreak of war in Yemen had led many of those Fellows who could, to leave.

For the Russian Fellows who attended the Russian Civil Society Symposium, the situation could also be bleak and dangerous. Oleg Kozlovsky, a seasoned political activist, was detained at the airport on his return from Salzburg; he was released after officers took his photo and fingerprints.

So if the situation is changing too quickly to formulate long-term plans and Fellows can even face detention for their participation, why come to Salzburg?

“The [November program] was quite significant in two major ways,” explains Egyptian Fellow Sherine El Taraboulsi.

“One, it allowed us to ask questions at a distance. While we are aware of the different dimensions of the problems that face the region, we are too close to it to be able to analyze it. Salzburg brought that distance while providing a platform for us to freely discuss our ideas.

“Two, it managed to bring together academics and practitioners, and that is very unique, because we rarely speak to one another.”

This bringing together of disparate views is a hallmark of Salzburg Global. Even within civil society, there is not necessarily a homogeny of opinion or approach. Within Russia, a great level of distrust exists among various sectors of civil society. The political activists (who want to change or even overhaul the entire system) accuse the direct aid groups (who provide disaster relief or services not offered by the state) of being short-sighted and state collaborators, especially those receiving state funding. But the political activists’ clashes with the state earn them the distrust and ire of direct aid and civic activist groups who blame them for provoking the government crackdowns that affect the whole sector. They are also frequently characterized as foreign-backed, disrupting the development of civil society, and the lives of ordinary Russians.

It thus became clear in Salzburg that bridges need to be built not only between civil society and the state, but also within civil society itself.

After the session, Sarah Lindemann-Komarova, founder of the Siberian Civic Initiatives Support Center, said: “A summary of [the program outcomes] is simple: no easy answers, more questions. But that does not mean it was a failure. It is no small accomplishment to capture an accurate description of the status of civil society in Russia today…

“The identification of questions that need answers and the clarification of internal fault lines provide an essential foundation for a step forward in this 25-year-old work-in-progress. It is not clear if that step will be taken; it is only certain that, if it is not, there is no hope of improved status, increased bargaining power, and self-determination for civil society actors.”

Outside Schloss Leopoldskron, positive bridges were built in Berlin, where members of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum met in May 2014 to examine how LGBT issues are addressed by ministries of foreign affairs and their embassies, and how LGBT rights organizations, embassies, and other actors can build closer networks and more effective relationships.

During the two days of discussions between the Fellows and representatives from agencies including the German and Dutch Foreign Ministries and the European External Action Service, German Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid, Christoph Straesser said: “The question before us, as societies, organizations, and persons wishing to protect and promote human rights, is how to halt negative developments and further advance positive developments. There is no simple answer to this question.

“To help us identify answers, we work with the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum in order to establish a global space to reflect upon and advance LGBT and human rights discussions around the world.”

As Klaus Mueller, founder and chair of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, wrote in the session report for Creating Long-Term Global Networks to Sustain LGBT Human Rights Organizations: “There are no easy answers and no ‘short-cuts’ to supporting, enhancing and sustaining LGBT rights. What does make a difference is ongoing networking, engagement, and dialogue between German diplomatic missions and LGBT human rights organizations…

“For a network to truly live and thrive, there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction. The momentum of Salzburg was sustained in Berlin through the processes of discovery, empathy, and learning. It must now continue.”

Continuing the spirit of Margaret Mead, Salzburg Global’s programs on strengthening democracy and civil society will support and expand the networks of thoughtful and committed citizens for generations to come.

Download the Salzburg Global Chronicle 2015 in full (PDF)
Benjamin Cantu: "Artists are important in LGBT movements because they have a specific way of sensing social injustice"
Benjamin Cantu: "Artists are important in LGBT movements because they have a specific way of sensing social injustice"
Rachitaa Gupta 
Benjamin Cantu, a Berlin based filmmaker, presented an exclusive preview of his documentary film Weil ich bin, wer ich bin (Je suis qui je suis) (in English "I am who I am") at the third annual Salzburg Global LGBT* Forum - Strengthening Communities: LGBT Rights and Social Cohesion. Cantu spoke to Salzburg Global about the journey he took following the eight LGBT artists featured in his film and the lessons he learnt from them about the importance of artists in the global LGBT movement. He thanked the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum for its early support, as its Chair and Founder Klaus Mueller had connected him at the start of the production with artists and writers in Cambodia, Namibia and Morocco who are part of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, and shared the global perspectives the Forum had gathered in recent years.  "It is important to have artists involved in activism because they carve out the world we live in, in a very special way." "Artists make us aware that we live in an inhuman time, in human conditions, and art can touch people on that subject very much," said Cantu. Listen to the interview below:

The Salzburg Global program Strengthening Communities: LGBT Rights & Social Cohesion is part of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum. The list of our partners for Session 551 can be found here. For more information, please visit:

*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.

Salzburg Global LGBT Forum - Day 4: What is Family?
Salzburg Global LGBT Forum - Day 4: What is Family?
Louise Hallman and Rachitaa Gupta 

Family is...?

Having a family is a fundamental right – whatever the constellation,  State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Family Affairs Ralf Kleindiek told Fellows at the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum on day four of the program. The German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth is one of the many supporters of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, and this was the second time Kleindiek had addressed the Fellows, having met with a number of them at the Berlin meeting in 2014.  Families come in all sorts of “constellations,” Kleindiek said, including heterosexual couples, same-sex couples, and childless adults caring for older parents. The German Ministry is now committed to helping all these constellations, and hopes other countries will follow Germany’s lead. Although Germany does not yet support equal marriage – something which is often cited by countries such as Russia as proof that not all Western countries support LGBT individuals and communities and thus they should not be expect to support these citizens either – the impact of the recent popular vote in favor for marriage equality in Ireland is being felt across Europe, with many in Germany hoping that their country will “keep up and follow” the example of other European countries.

Voices of Fellows

What is family? “Family to me is often burdensome when it’s blood-lineage, though I dearly and desperately keep the lineage with my biological daughter and son, even though I don’t know if they think I am burdensome. But I love my current family (living together), which consists of my partner, her biological new born baby (who is also my child), and a cat; none of who have blood lineage with me!”
Kaoru Aoyanna “To me, family is like ‘cats’ (of course I live with cats). My family is always around me, supporting me, watching me with some ‘curious’ eyes like cats. They are very cautious and considerate, so they do not ask me directly about my sexuality. They are waiting ‘quietly’ for me to come out to them. ”
Hyun Kyung Kim “Family to me is a party: loud, obnoxious, and fun. It’s who we choose to be and who chooses to love us in return.”
Clifton Cortez “Family to me is that which I can call my own. Family members are those which I can rely on and they can rely on me. Family back one up no matter what the physical and emotional circumstances. Above all, family loves genuinely. ”
Name withheld “Family to me is to be together with someone you love. ”
Popo Fan “My natal family – oppressive; my family of choice – warm, responsible, supportive; my family by marriage – wife and four step-children: terrific, exciting. ”
Saskia Wieringa “Family to me is attachment and support, no matter who should be in family. It could be mom, dad, friends, supporters, colleagues, and parents. ”
Manisha Dhakal “The definition of family should be changed. When we think of family we often think of love, respect, solidarity. Two people. One pair of lovers. Family may not just be based on the goal of reproducing. Three friends can also set up a family to support each other. Maybe we will have very diverse family format in the future. ”
Xin Ying “Family to me is people who love and care for each other and plan to do that forever. ”
M.V. Lee Badgett “Family to me is a community of love that we create by choice, as opposed to just one we are born in to. An institution that can be incredibly disempowering, but can also unleash power.  ”
Danish Sheikh “Family to me is individuals who have come together to form a unit that provides love, safety and security, either by birth or by love.”
Mary Audry Chard “I have two families. The one I am born in to and loves me in the best way they can. The other is made up of people of my choosing, second mothers and fathers, friends that are like family and a partner.”
Angeline Jackson  “Family is my life. Doesn’t matter relative or not! Global brotherhood!”
Fumino Sugiyama 

Telling our own stories: What do we tell and whom do we reach?

Film can be a powerful medium for sharing our stories and changing the mistaken impressions of others. Filmmaker Popo Fan and social entrepreneur Laurindo Garcia shared their experiences of using the medium to tell stories and increase exposure of LGBT individuals, communities and issues. Fan realized the power of film when a homophobic classmate became more LGBT friendly after Fan showed him a series of queer movies. Since then, Fan has focused his film-making on women as he felt them to be under-represented within queer film. Despite the positive reception his films have received from some audiences, Fan has faced problems with the authorities. His film Mama Rainbow, which focused on the mothers of queer children, was removed from an video hosting website for dealing with themes that were deemed to be “not following the values of Socialism.” He has repeatedly asked for explanations as to why he work was removed, but has yet to have an adequate response and he is now unsure if or when his work will be accessible in China again.  Financing such films can prove difficult, with some Chinese filmmakers turning to selling socks to fund their films. Fan has been fortunate with support coming from individuals and organizations such as PFLAG. Garcia takes an alternative route to relying solely on donors to support his film sharing platform B-Change. As a social enterprise, his organization offers services including building apps and uses that money to support their websites such as and These two websites host videos that offer advice on a variety of topics from how to come out to your parents to how to access healthcare services for those who are HIV+. All videos feature LGBT Asians as Garcia felt they were not represented in the media – not even LGBT media.  In addition to the social enterprise revenue, B-Change is also supported by multiple international donors, but as Garcia explained, this can often prove difficult. Many of his donors want to promote the human rights angle of the films on the platform, but audience research proved that viewers want to know how to come out, how to get jobs, how to deal with society, laws, health services, etc., and so he has had to push back on his donors’ expectations in favor of those of his audience.
Download the Day 4 Newsletter

The Salzburg Global program Strengthening Communities: LGBT Rights & Social Cohesion is part of multi-year series Global LGBT Forum. The list of our partners for Session 551 can be found here. For more information, please visit:

You can follow all discussions online on FacebookTwitter and Instagram via the hashtag #SGSlgbt

*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.

Salzburg Global LGBT Forum - Day 3: Extreme Forms of Exclusion
Salzburg Global LGBT Forum - Day 3: Extreme Forms of Exclusion
Louise Hallman, Rachitaa Gupta and Sarah Sexton 

The case of LGBT refugees

In recent years, the option of seeking asylum to escape LGBT persecution has become a growing phenomenon; but is this really the easy option some people (LGBT and others) claim it to be? Experts from Uganda, Zimbabwe, the Philippines, and the USA examined the challenges facing potential refugees, the countries that recieve them, and those they leave behind on the third day of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum. What are the asylum options for potential LGBT refugees? What obstacles stand in the way of their departure from their home countries, and what new hurdles do they face when they arrive in another country? For many international agencies seeking to aid refugees, the ultimate goal is to make countries and communities safe places for LGBT people to stay. As one Fellow remarked: “How can we make the situation better? No one wants to leave home. Most of us want to stay. We must make sure that relocation is a last option.” For those unable to stay, the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugee ensures their right to leave their home in search of asylum, if they have “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” But proving this can be difficult for members of the LGBT community. As one Fellow remarked, some LGBT people seeking asylum in the West have been asked questions, including which gay bars could they name in their home countries, as proof of their “true” LGBT status. (These questions could be counterproductive for people seeking asylum, as certain responses may be used to prove someone is safe enough already if he or she is able to socialize in gay bars.) LGBT migration includes more than just those who flee persecution. Many choose to leave their home countries due to poor economic and educational opportunities, often having been cut off by their families.  Following the enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act in Uganda, many LGBT people faced homophobic treatment - including violent attacks - and chose to flee to neighboring Kenya, but they faced the same treatment in the refugee camps as they had in Uganda. Seeking to aid the situation, the UN chose to fast-track applications from those fleeing homophobia and seeking asylum in Western countries, but this decision had unintended consequences. LGBT asylum seekers experienced severe backlash from their non-LGBT peers, causing some LGBT refugees to flee again - this time onto the streets, without any support network. For those leaving Zimbabwe, neighboring South Africa is most promising. However, many avoid the camps in hopes of having greater freedom and work opportunities upon arrival. Still, many refugees experience homophobic treatment. Unable to acquire refugee status or jobs, unable to return home, and unsafe in the camps, some LGBT people become vulnerable to sex traffickers. Better information for asylum seekers is needed, and international agencies and receiving countries need to be better prepared to offer support, including legal advice, to LGBT refugees. As one Fellow said: “We have to inform [potential asylum seekers] that even if conditions are hard [at home], there are no easy ways out.” Asylum does not guarantee safety or support.

LGBT Human Rights groups, embassies and their new relationships

In 2014, the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum convened in Berlin at the request of the German Federal Foreign Ministry. One year later in Salzburg, Forum members considered this new relationship between LGBT groups and embassies. On-the-ground activists provide valuable information for embassies representing LGBT-friendly countries. Well-intentioned actions –  including fast-tracking asylum applications [see front page] or posing for solidarity photos with local activists – can have negative consquences, such as providing hostile governments opportunities to accuse their LGBT citizens of operating under Western influence. Economic aid sanctions against hostile governments – such as Uganda – or boycotts of international events in hostile host countries – such as the Winter Olympics in Russia – also have the unintended negative consequence of prompting backlash against the very people Western governments or activists seek to protect or support. Better engagement with local activists can not only better inform embassies and international organizations of the LGBT situation in specific countries, but also prevent unintentionally harmful policies.  One of the key recommendations from the Fellows in Berlin was for embassy staff to engage more closely with local activists – and for activists to engage more closely with embassies.  A Fellow experienced in dealing with the US Department of State had valuable advice for Fellows:  Call and ask for the “human rights officer” – a name isn’t needed;  Collaborate with other LGBT groups – scheduling meetings will be more likely if embassy staff can meet with several local experts at once; Due internal reporting schedules within the State Department, September and October can be the best times to contact embassies’ human rights staff; Don’t expect to have to go to the embassy – US State Department staff are sensitive to security concerns and likely to be willing to meet off-site, if deemed safer. 
A full list of all the 2014 recommendations can be found in the Session 545 report

Activism brain drain: How do we rescue activists and deal with losing activism?

LGBT activists can often face serious persecution and threats to their own and their families’ security, prompting them to leave their home countries. Other activists face mental health issues and “burnout” due to the stress and constant fear related to their work, prompting them to leave the movement, and sometimes their country entirely. How does the LGBT community cope with losing this activism, and how do LGBT individuals cope with losing their friends?  As one Fellow said, when we see activists leave countries for security reasons, the activists that remain wonder: “If someone so strong as that has to leave, what am I supposed to do now?” The removal of activists can be demoralizing for those left behind, said another activist: “It is demotivating when some human rights defenders are taken out and others are forgotten.” As activists leave the country, how do those left behind continue the work? And how do we ensure that those who have left are able to return?  Technology and training can help build more connected, sustainable movements so that those who remain can continue the work, and those who leave can remain engaged. Building linkages with the broader human rights movement can also strengthen LGBT groups. But ultimately, as one Fellow remarked, “We must ask also about why we leave. We have to look also at the root of the [problems in the] country.” This may be through changes in the law or sentisization of public institutions like law enforcement.”

Voices of Fellows

What is the greatest hurdle facing LGBT refugees? “I think the biggest hurdle facing the LGBTI refugees is the lack of information so the expectations are high, and that causes them to make many mistakes in the process of moving out and settling in another country. We need to deal with that lack of information for those dealing with outgoing refugees.”
Dennis Wamala, human rights activist and program manager of Icebreakers Uganda, a care and support organization for LGBTI people in Uganda “For LGBTI people in Zimbabwe, the biggest hurdle we have is for people leaving the country. People leave without documentation and when they reach other countries they realise that camps are not what they thought they would be. They have to then live on the streets as undocumented people and continue facing harassment from the police. If you are caught, it’s not you being a refugee, but you are now an illegal person because you have no documentation...The second issue is that we don’t have any documentation once people leave. We don’t know if they are safe or if they met up with other groups to get support. We don’t have any data to find out where they are, what the challenges are, where they need assistance. All that is the information we need and need to give out to people. ”
Mary Audry Chad has worked with the gay and lesbian community of Zimbabwe for past 15 years in an organization called GALZ “In Syria, LGBTI refugees go to Beirut or Turkey, because they don’t need visas to enter and have ease of mobility. But the biggest problem they are having is their inability to have access to the offices of UNHCR or lack of any organizations within Turkey, international or otherwise that directly works with the LGBTI refugees or that have strong emphasis on LGBTI issues and rights. If you look at trans women, it is a very delicate issue for them to go in public or to an institution and apply for asylum. ”
Fadi Saleh, lecturer in gender and sexuality studies, University of Beyreuth, Germany “I think the biggest hurdle can be talking about their sexuality in a way that aligns with requirements and maybe expectations from the immigration officer that they are talking to. In the Netherlands, we are working on sensitization of immigrant officers improves their attitude and their procedures, but we are definitely not there yet. It can also not be a full solution because in some countries there are no ways to express certain aspects of sexualities and that cannot be solved by training immigration officers. So to explain stories, experiences, and to communicate them in a way that is understood as they are meant to be understood is a challenge. ”
Lucas Hendriksen, program officer for LGBT rights at Hivos, a Dutch development organization “When refugees are trying to enter a country to seek asylum, one of the biggest problems they face is that through the asylum process, you have to prove that you personally have well-founded fear of persecution. In their own countries, they had to lie about their identity and had to live in secrecy.  But if you have been very secretive about your life, because you know the situation is dangerous, often it becomes hard to prove that you personally have a well-founded fear of persecution. ”
Michael Heflin, director of equality for the Open Society Human Rights Initiative Download Day 3 Newsletter

The Salzburg Global program Strengthening Communities: LGBT Rights & Social Cohesion is part of multi-year series Global LGBT Forum. The list of our partners for Session 551 can be found here. For more information, please visit:

You can follow all discussions online on FacebookTwitter and Instagram via the hashtag #SGSlgbt

*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.

Salzburg Global LGBT Forum - Day 2: The Cost of Discrimination
Salzburg Global LGBT Forum - Day 2: The Cost of Discrimination
Louise Hallman and Rachitaa Gupta 
What is the cost of discrimination? Can we measure this? If so, how can we best use this information to advance LGBT rights? Thus were the questions facing the international cohort of Fellows on the second day of the Global LGBT* Forum, Strengthening Communities: LGBT Rights & Social Cohesion. Opening the panel, US economist M.V. Lee Badgett explained the thinking behind her World Bank-backed study of the cost of LGBT discrimination in India. This study was an opportunity to ask: what are the costs of homo- and transphobia? Cost was defined as harm to individuals and the larger economy. The greatest costs can be found in the workplace, with LGBT people leaving employment following harassment, facing underemployment or being excluded from the workplace entirely because of discrimination, and thus not contributing to the economy.  Costs can also be found in education and health too. Education becomes harder because of bullying; access to healthcare is more difficult because of stigma – both situations limit economic opportunities. Studies in Japan found that 48% of LGBT people felt discriminated against in the workplace, with 51% stating that they changed jobs as a consequence. Enforced gender-binary uniforms in high schools across the country leads to many trans students dropping out of school early, hindering future employment opportunities.  More open and inclusive countries have more successful economies. This “macro” economic-led argument, another panelist argued, can be effective when speaking with governments which would otherwise be hostile to the expansion of LGBT rights, using a human rights-based argument alone.  Having more rights leads to having a greater opportunity to live, study and work freely and ultimately have greater capacity to contribute to the economy and society. However, it is not only laws that need to change to enable this, but also societal attitudes. “Discrimination and violence starts within the family and communities,” pointed out one Fellow.  But should we be using this economic, utilitarian argument to advance LGBT rights? Does it not suggest that in order have rights you need to be able to contribute to the economy and society, creating a hierarchy of rights? “It is immoral to quantify the cost of our suffering... People should have rights because they are born with them – not because it is less costly to society for them to have them,” argued one Fellow.  Certainly, dignity shouldn’t be based on “usefulness” to economy, commerce, society, families, but activists do need to tailor argument to different audiences. “We should have the principles,” argued a Fellow, “but we mustn’t lose pragmatism.” Whether a human rights-based or economic argument is used, or a combination of both [see Fellows’ opinions on back page], one thing remains the same: data can be key to formulating persuasive arguments. In some countries, such as Jamaica, data collected on sexual minorities focuses primarily on gay men and trans women, rendering the difficulties faced by lesbians almost invisible.  If your government is not yet collecting useful data, “Collect your own data,” urged Global LGBT Forum chair, Klaus Mueller.

Voices from Fellows

I do think economic argument has usefulness in certain situations. I think activists should judge for themselves what will work better in their country. The argument that exclusion of LGBT people is bad for the economy can create conversation amongst people who might not otherwise see them as rights... People who are concerned about the economy, whether the government officials or business people, often will see that it has some value... So if it works in a particular country, I think it can be a powerful argument.
M. V. Lee Badgett, professor of economics and director of the Center for Public Policy and Administration at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA I think it is a very crucial argument to make. I think pragmatism is as important as the principled approach. In fact what I want to challenge is why we are even uncomfortable making the economic argument in the first place. I think given that we know how effective it can be, we should definitely push it in as a strong term specific.
Danish Sheikh, Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore, India  There are many ways to approach this issue and all of them are correct. The most important thing is to include everything... I meet lot of people, from top to bottom, like politicians, lawyers, teacher, families, younger generation, older generation and try and connect them with each other and gather that power. It is important to remember to make friends and not enemies when fighting for the LGBT Human Rights.
Fumino Sugiyama, transgender activist in Japan and LGBT advisor for Shibuya district in Tokyo, Japan For some persons and governments, the economic argument will resonate more and for some persons human rights argument will resonate more...It is like looking at change in the laws of a country. You don’t want to work on changing the laws alone without changing the society’s hearts and minds. So you try to bring legislative change as well societal change at the same time... We have to use and work both arguments, seeing ways in which both arguments can work together and separately in taking the movement forward.
Angeline Jackson, co-founder and executive director of Quality of Citizenship Jamaica   I think we should use whatever argument is in our resources in order to advance LGBT human rights... But we have to make sure we are bringing the change as quick as possible. Some arguments slow us down and when it comes to LGBT rights we have to look at the wider picture. Are we also fighting for the artificial divide that exists in terms of economic, social, or political civil rights? We have to look at issues through interconnection of human rights, through solidarity with other groups within the human rights, because it will advance LGBT rights and human rights in general... And if we look beyond human rights and try and fight the issue of poverty, social exclusion, it will help fight for LGBT rights.
Vasilika Laci, program officer at Civil Rights Defenders, Albania An economic argument can help to bolster the human rights arguments and mobilize greater investment to tackle discrimination against LGBT community. My premise is supported by new research in other rights areas. For example, the World Bank argues that domestic violence isn’t just an egregious human rights abuse. It’s also an economic drain. Globally, the loss of productivity resulting from domestic violence range from 1.2 of GDP in Brazil and Tanzania to 2 percent of GDP in Chile. These figures do not include costs associated with emotional wellbeing.
Rangita de Silva de Alwis, associate dean of the international programs at University of Pennsylvania Law School, USA Download the Day 2 Newsletter

The Salzburg Global program Strengthening Communities: LGBT Rights & Social Cohesion is part of multi-year series Global LGBT Forum. The list of our partners for Session 551 can be found here. For more information, please visit:

You can follow all discussions online on FacebookTwitter and Instagram via the hashtag #SGSlgbt

*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.

Salzburg Global LGBT Forum - Day 1: "Going Global"
Salzburg Global LGBT Forum - Day 1: "Going Global"
Louise Hallman 
“The global discussion has reached a critical point where we need to secure progress,” declared founder and chair of the Salzburg Global LGBT* Forum, Klaus Mueller. Speaking at the opening of the third annual Forum, Mueller urged the growing network of LGBT rights advocates to ensure this global attention is met with “real structural changes” before attention and momentum is lost. “Now is the time to combat for full equality,” he added. To this end, this year’s program focuses on Strengthening Communities: LGBT Rights & Social Cohesion.  “Some states...use homo- and transphobia as a marker of their cultural identity, national sovereignty or religious purity. So-called ‘traditional family values’ are claimed to justify the exclusion of their lesbian, gay, trans- and intersexual citizens from legal protection, their daughters and sons from their families, their neighborhoods, their culture. Advocating hierarchies, exclusion and hate, they threaten the very fabric of family, parenthood and citizenship which are defined by inclusion, protections and equality,” stated Mueller. The Salzburg Global LGBT was founded in 2013 with the goal to engage in and strengthen the global conversation on LGBT human rights, developing a long-term global and personal network – which now spans 53 countries six continents – that enables LGBT advocates across the world to understand each other and join forces in developing and galvanizing international solidarity.  Over the course of the five-day program, Fellows will focus on how to advance LGBT rights both locally and globally, focusing on the social impact and economic cost of social exclusion of LGBT communities; the value of LGBT community-led storytelling in enhancing visibility and acceptance of sexual minorities; and the need for truly transformative change. “Before the global attention wanes – and it will – can we identity the decisive steps needed to advance LGBT human rights?” asked Mueller. Through facilitating global conversations, working groups and exhibitions, Salzburg Global hope the Fellows will find some helpful answers.

Going Global - Help or Hindrance?

That global attention on LGBT issues has increased is indisputable – but is this having a positive impact on individual nation’s situations? As the 57 Fellows from 33 countries grappled with the question, the overwhelming response was: not always. Too often “helicopter researchers” come into countries without a real understanding of the local context, explained Kasha Nabagasera of Uganda. “They take our stories but they don’t give back,” she added. Often these stories only portray the extremes, calling certain countries “the worst place in the world to be gay.” This narrative is not helpful, Fellows agreed, as it enables countries to maintain their regressive laws on the assumption: “At least we’re not the worst!” “Sometimes we need the world to make noise,” added Nabagasera. “Sometimes we need quiet diplomacy.” Too often the international attention given to LGBT rights enables homophobic governments to claim that sexual minorities are not a natural feature of their societies but instead a Western import. Xin Ying of China added that LGBT advocates are often advised to avoid working with Americans. International media and advocates need to realize and respect the local situation, recognizing that it is not the same from country to country. Marriage equality and gay adoption might be a priority in some countries – but you cannot advocate for these rights if homosexuality is still illegal. Even if legal recognition and protection are in place, these laws can be “hollow” if they are not supported by real societal change. We need to sensitize institutions like the police, maintained one Fellow. Nor is the situation the same across communities. Homophobia is rife in Latin America, remarked one Fellow, but trans acceptance is higher than in more LGB-tolerant societies: what can be learned? But this is not to say that the global conversation cannot be helpful. Global alliances can provide valuable support – financially and emotionally, offering the aspiration: “If they can do it there, we can do it here – and in our lifetime.”

Voices of Fellows

Sometimes the Chinese LGBT activists localize the projects or campaigns from abroad, which can help our community become more visible and develop more alternate strategies. We also try to adopt best practices from other countries and form connection with activists from those countries to exchange opinions and information. We recently learnt to get involved in litigation to promote our advocacy.

You have to think globally, and strategize globally. You think of a globally strategic plan, but at the same time you have to give everyone in the field the ability to change this strategic plan according to the specific needs of each country. You cannot impede equality. It is inevitable in humans to have equality. That is where global perspective is influencing local perspective. You have to strategize at both levels: global and local. It gives an idea of where we are in terms of LGBT rights not in a particular country, but globally. There is no place that is perfect and picking a particular country and saying that needs improvement or that needs improvement, is just too narrow. So it sets the perspective of where we are as humanity... But the most important part of global movement is that it inspires other people to become activists. When they see that change has been achieved somewhere in the previous years, it makes it feel like it is possible to achieve it in our country. The global movement has brought the issue [of LGBT community in Uganda] to the forefront. The countries that were never paying attention are beginning to pay attention. It is no longer under the carpet. People have to face reality that it is happening in our backyards, it is happening in our own homes. For me that is a positive thing that activists are willing to speak out and put a face to the struggle. There is also a negative side. The line ‘LGBT rights’ is being misinterpreted by people, who think we are asking for special rights. So it should be human rights for LGBT people. That language needs to change to encompass it in to general human rights for everybody. Download Day 1 Newsletter
The Salzburg Global program Strengthening Communities: LGBT Rights & Social Cohesion is part of multi-year series Global LGBT Forum. The list of our partners for Session 551 can be found here. For more information, please visit: You can follow all discussions online on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram via the hashtag #SGSlgbt *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.
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In the lead up to our fifth session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, we're sharing videos from our session in Chiang Rai, Thailand last year.

This week's theme is ASIA

Founder and Chair of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum Klaus Mueller explains why the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum met in Asia

Laurindo Garcia on the diversity and complexity of LGBT lives in Asia

Bao Chau Nguyen and Seakley Pipi Say on being happy & transgender

Thilaga Sulathireh on LGBT communities in Asia

Passang Dorji on coming out on TV in Bhutan and the progress made in his country since then

Cha Roque about being a lesbian filmmaker

Pema Dorji on being bullied in school