Salzburg Global LGBT Forum » Overview

The Salzburg Global LGBT Forum was formed in 2013 to establish a truly global space to reflect upon and advance LGBT human rights discussions around the world.

Today it is an international network that connects over 150 Fellows in 70 countries across six continents, spanning multiple sectors, generations, cultures and sexual orientations and gender identities.


Read our new, 200-page publication, Building a Global Community - Salzburg Global LGBT Forum: The First Five Years, which chronicles the first five years of the Forum: the stories our Fellows have shared, the wide-ranging issues we’ve addressed, and the impact the Forum has had on individuals, institutions and ideas advancing LGBT human rights around the world.

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Report now online - The Many Faces of LGBT Inclusion
Report now online - The Many Faces of LGBT Inclusion
Louise Hallman 
The report from our fifth session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, The Many Faces of LGBT Inclusion is now available online to download, read and share. The report was produced following the 2016 session held in Chiang Rai, Thailand - the Forum's first session to be held outside of Europe. The session was held in Asia in an effort to amplify Asian voices often overlooked in the global LGBT discourse. Speaking at the session, Salzburg Global LGBT Forum founder and chair, Klaus Mueller, said: “If Asian societies do not advance on LGBT rights, the global LGBT community will not move forward.” He added: “The Forum is aware of the strong Western discourse in LGBT human rights, and the under-representation of Asian voices within that global discourse.”
The 2016 session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum was held in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s Being LGBTI in Asia program, a regional program supported by the Embassy of Sweden in Bangkok and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The session was also supported by Austrian Development Cooperation, the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, Michael Huffington, and the foreign offices of Sweden, Canada and the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Forum this year brought together 58 Fellows and staff representing 33 countries, bringing the Forum's representation to 65 countries. The report covers all five days of the Chiang Rai program, as well as giving an overview of the previous years' sessions, detailing the work under-taken since the end of the October 2016 session, and offering insights to how the Forum will continue in the years to come. The 2016 program had four interrelated themes. The topic of Family encouraged participants to talk about the challenges LGBT communities face regarding family rights, social acceptance, and how family is perceived, defined and lived across our different identities. Continuing the dialogue started in the previous year’s session, Storytelling conversations helped writers, filmmakers, photographers, activists, and policymakers to exchange ideas and expertise on the work they produce, the messages they share, and the audiences they hope to reach. Strengthening International Connections is a key theme of the Forum, and one goal is to deepen the relationship between LGBT human rights groups and foreign embassies, governments, and international organizations which provide logistical, financial and network support to LGBT human rights groups. Transgender Asian Perspectives were discussed with particular attention given to the ongoing legal and social changes affecting transgender populations in Asia. 
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Thilaga Sulathireh on increasing support for LGBTQ community in Malaysia
Thilaga Sulathireh on increasing support for LGBTQ community in Malaysia
Andrea Abellan 

Salzburg Global Fellow and Justice for Sisters co-founder Thilaga Sulathireh has suggested more people in Malaysia are speaking out against the discrimination members of the LGBTQ community face.

Sulathireh, 30, speaking to star2.com, said a lot of cisgender and heterosexual people were now speaking out against discrimination, which highlighted a “positive step in our activism.”

She said: “There are limitations in Malaysia when it comes to talking about gender identity. Yet, people want to talk about it now. This is really encouraging and something we cherish.

“Take the recent murder of Sameera (in Kuantan recently) as an example… there was a huge public outcry not just within the trans community but from the general public.”

Sulathireh’s activism began at a very young age. As a teenager, she participated as a volunteer at the Malaysian Aids Council (MAC) where she worked with HIV support groups, an experience that made her aware of gender-related concerns. 

In 2010, she founded the organization Justice for Sisters. Through this association, Sulathireh and her team seek to provide a bigger visibility of the transgender community, pursuing social integration.

She has taken part in several Salzburg Global events. In 2013 she participated in the inaugural session of the LGBT Forum, Human Rights: New Challenges, Next Steps. This first meeting resulted in The Salzburg Statement of the Global LGBT Forum, a document summarizing the thoughts shared by the 60 participants on how to move forward on LGBT rights. 

Sulathireh also took part in the fourth session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum convened in Thailand in 2016. The latter aimed to boost the dialogue on LGBT rights in Asia and touched on different topics such as family-related issues and new forms of storytelling with a particular focus on transgender-Asian perspectives.

Sexual relations between people of the same sex are still banned in Malaysia. Certain acts such as wearing clothes from the “opposite” sex are also criminalized. These type of laws mean members of the LGTBQ community remain vulnerable and unprotected against violence and discrimination.

Sulathireh told star2.com raising public awareness on issues faced by the LGBTQ community is an integral part of her work. 

Speaking to the lifestyle portal, she said, “Trans people face a series of discrimination at work… right from the interview process to their experiences at the workplace. There are not many employment opportunities for them which forces them to do sex work, and this leads to them being discriminated yet again.

“With more public awareness, hopefully there will be more job opportunities for them.”

To read Sulathireh’s interview in full, please click here

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Kasha Nabagesera: An ongoing battle for LGBT rights
Kasha Nabagesera: An ongoing battle for LGBT rights
Andrea Abellan 
In the West, much of the discourse around LGBT rights is currently focused on marriage and adoption, but in other regions, LGBT activists are fighting for the right to simply exist, free from legal persecution and prosecution. Not only is homosexuality still illegal in 38 African countries, but it is also still punishable by death in four. As a consequence of these oppressive legal systems, the African LGBT community remains unprotected against homophobic discrimination, physical and emotional abuse, and persecution. In spite of the hostility, the number of citizens standing up against such oppression keeps growing. Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera is such an example. The activist, considered the pioneer of defending LGBT rights in Uganda, founded the association Freedom & Roam Uganda (FARUG) in 2003 to raise awareness of this discrimination. She has also been involved in the creation of Kuchu Times and Bombastic, two media organizations looking for a wider representation of LGBT people in the African media landscape. Nabagesera’s contributions have been acknowledged on many occasions. She has been awarded the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award, and the Right Livelihood Award. Her inspiring story has been widely featured in the media too.  She was the first openly gay African woman to appear on the front cover of TIME Magazine. This week CNN has published a piece referring to her as “The face of Uganda’s LGBT movement." CNN details Nabagesera’s life experiences, which have not been easy at all. She has repeatedly been harassed and threatened because of her sexual orientation. In 2011 she had to cope with the death of her friend and activist David Kato, who was murdered after the Rolling Stone Uganda, a local newspaper published Uganda's “top 100 homosexuals” personal details.  Nevertheless, she persists in her pursuit of LGBT recognition and human rights in her country and around the world. As part of her global outreach, Nabagesera has been working with Salzburg Global Seminar since 2013 and has participated in all four sessions of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum. Speaking to Salzburg Global, she said the organization increased her self-awareness. She said, "I always want to come back and learn more." Nabagesera said she appreciates the diversity of participants and the opportunity of having new and past Fellows involved in every session, suggesting it brings a sense of continuity and community to the program. She will be returning to Salzburg in May to participate in the fifth session, Home: Safety, Wellbeing and Belonging. To read more about Nabagesera’s story, please click here.
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Salzburg Global LGBT Forum joins Finnish independence celebrations in discussion on “Home”
Salzburg Global LGBT Forum joins Finnish independence celebrations in discussion on “Home”
Andrea Abellan 

This year sees Finland celebrate the 100th anniversary of its independence. For the occasion, Finnish Institutes in Berlin, Paris, London and the Benelux are hosting a wide range of events under the title #MobileHome2017. The activities involve different disciplines such as architecture, gastronomy and arts through which the notions of home and homeland are explored. 

The Finnland Institut in Berlin, together with Homotopia and the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, are contributing to the program with a discussion on how the LGBTIQ community relates to these ideas. 

The discussion, “Feeling at home: in the body, the family and the society” will be held (in English) on Thursday March 2 at 6pm at the Finnland Institut in the German capital. 

Panellists Finnish actor Pekka Strang, journalist Susanna Luoto, Professor Anu Koivunen, and the founder and chair of Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, Dr Klaus Muller will be moderated by Laura Hirvi of the Finnland Institut. The panellists will discuss lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersexual individuals’ understanding of home and homeland and link these impressions to reflect on their relationships within their bodies, families, and society-at-large.

The talk will revolve around Touko Laaksonen’s work. The Finnish artist is world-renowned for his erotic paintings that helped break certain stereotypes related to homosexuality. The artwork of “Tom of Finland,” as he is popularly known, depicts strong and muscular men, often dressed in uniforms, in situations of intimacy. His drawings helped to reflect on the social perception of masculinity and sexual orientation.

The debate will touch on how Laaksonen and his paintings were impacted by Finland, the artist’s place of birth. The artist was born and raised in a very conservative and religious environment strongly influenced by the Second World War. Attendees will be invited to think about the effect that these factors could have had on his personality and work. 

The Salzburg Global LGBT Forum explores this discussion in its upcoming session, Home: Safety, Wellness, and Belonging. Also focused on the topic of home, this year participants will scrutinize the specific challenges that the LGBT community face when trying to develop a sense of belonging. The lack of support, legislative discrimination, migration and exile are just some of the obstacles that will be considered during the five-day program.

Tom of Finland’s drawings will be exhibited in Salon Dahlmann in Berlin until May 6, 2017.


For more information on the Finnland Institut event, please see: http://finnland-institut.de/en/programm/kunst/feeling-at-home-in-the-body-the-family-and-the-society/

For more information on the upcoming session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, please see: www.salzburgglobal.org/go/578 

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Salzburg Global LGBT Forum Calls for New Narratives to Combat Discrimination
Participants speak during a panel discussion on the power of storytelling through film and video.
Salzburg Global LGBT Forum Calls for New Narratives to Combat Discrimination
Ian Mungall & Louise Hallman 
Community advocates, artists, filmmakers, academics, government representatives and human rights experts from across the world gathered in Thailand last week to explore new narratives to counter discrimination and stereotypes of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, and to promote greater visibility and inclusion. More than 50 LGBTI activists and allies from over 30 countries came together for the fourth annual meeting of the Salzburg Global LGBT* Forum, titled “The Many Faces of Inclusion”. Held from 2-7 October 2016 in partnership between Salzburg Global Seminar and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), this year’s Forum aimed to enhance Asia’s role in global LGBTI dialogue, highlighting its unique legal, religious and cultural traditions regarding LGBTI individuals and their communities.   “Within the ongoing global discourse on LGBT equality, Asian perspectives have been underrepresented. We hope that our meeting in Chiang Rai contributes to amplifying the voices of Asian leadership. Global progress on equality for LGBT people will depend on advancements in Asia,” said Klaus Mueller, founder and chair of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum. “Throughout the Forum, participants shared their professional experiences and personal stories. Storytelling is a major tool for expressing who we want to be – and for changing hearts and minds.” The meeting focused on the themes of storytelling to communicate lived experiences of LGBTI people, international coalition building to advance inclusive development and promoting inclusive families that reflect the diversity of the LGBTI community.  Through open discussions, the Forum examined progress and challenges for LGBTI inclusion and identified potential entry points with government, academia and development partners for positive change. During the ‘Strengthening International Connections’ panel, ambassadors and lawmakers from Bhutan, Canada, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Venezuela called for stronger coalitions to advance common policy priorities, especially the need for comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, inclusive anti-bullying policies in education settings, freedom of association, and legal gender recognition for transgender people.  “Open dialogue between government and civil society is key to ensure the inclusion and protection of LGBTI people,” said Edmund Settle, Policy Advisor for UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub. “Ensuring civic and political participation in national legal and policy making processes will further efforts to address the discrimination and inequality that LGBTI people live daily.” Throughout the week, the Forum considered the importance of families for LGBTI people and communities. Discussions focused on the families that LGBTI people are born into, the families they choose, and the families they raise, with participants sharing their own personal stories within small groups. These stories will be collected for an exhibition, titled “Family Is…”, to be held in Berlin, Germany in May 2017. During the week, meeting participants reflected on how growing visibility of LGBTI people and communities has created opportunities for positive dialogues within their families and communities. However, participants also noted that increased visibility has the potential to lead to backlash, from the introduction of anti-homosexuality “propaganda” laws to abuse and violence towards LGBTI people.  Many of the participants noted that this anti-LGBTI extremism is often rooted in ignorance, with misinformation and false representations of LGBTI people and communities in the media. Empowering LGBTI people and communities to share their own stories through new media and emerging technologies can be a powerful and effective way to challenge this misinformation and educate wider society.  “Having been able to galvanize a movement with correct information to counter anti-LGBT extremism, we now have to share this knowledge and create allies to support our cause,” said Dennis Wamala from Uganda. Throughout the Forum, participants emphasized the opportunities that film, new media and journalism can have on communicating positive narratives to reduce stigma and discrimination and raise awareness for social inclusion throughout society. This also includes the use of social media tools to reach new audiences and address abuse and digital security. “There is a misunderstanding in society about LGBTI people. Film can be a powerful medium that can be used in advocacy efforts to correct distortions,” said Fan Popo, a filmmaker and activist from China.  “As a filmmaker and lesbian mom, I recognize that I have the responsibility to tell more stories about the LGBTI community and to help those people who cannot raise their voices,” said Cha Roque, a filmmaker from the Philippines. “I hope that through my films, I can take the fight for equality and acceptance a step forward.” The full report from the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum session “The Many Faces of LGBT Inclusion”, complete with personal stories and recommendations for action, will be published later in December 2016. To receive a digital copy of the report, sign up for the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum newsletter: www.salzburgglobal.org/go/LGBTnewsletter   *LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender. We are using this term as it is widely recognized in many parts of the world, but we would not wish it to be read as in any way exclusive of other cultures, terms or groups.
Media contacts: Louise Hallman, Editor, Salzburg Global Seminar lhallman@SalzburgGlobal.org  Ian Mungall, Programme Analyst, UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub ian.mungall@undp.org  Salzburg Global LGBT Forum The challenges confronting the LGBT and human rights movements are no longer only national or regional. They are influenced by a multitude of factors at the global level. The Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, a multi-year series of Salzburg Global Seminar, is therefore working to advance civil dialogue through further developing an active network of global LGBT and human rights actors. Founded and chaired by Dr. Klaus Mueller, the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum currently connects representatives from more than 60 countries. The Forum’s goal is to negotiate these interconnected global challenges and advance the free and equal rights of all LGBT people. The fourth session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum was held in Chiang Rai, Thailand in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Being LGBTI in Asia programme. Funding for this session, entitled “The Many Faces of LGBT Inclusion,” was generously provided to Salzburg Global Seminar through a grant from the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth to support the Forum’s ongoing “Family is…” Project and through a donation by US philanthropist Michael Huffington. For more information visit: lgbt.salzburgglobal.org     *LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender. We are using this term as it is widely recognized in many parts of the world, but we would not wish it to be read as in any way exclusive of other cultures, terms or groups. UNDP and the Being LGBTI in Asia programme UNDP is the UN’s global development network advocating for change and connecting countries to knowledge, experience and resources to help people build a better life. UNDP’s vision is to support countries in achieving the simultaneous eradication of poverty and significant reduction of inequalities and exclusion. Being LGBTI in Asia is a regional programme aimed at addressing inequality, violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, and promotes universal access to health and social services. It is a collaboration between governments, civil society, regional institutions and other stakeholders to advance the social inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. The programme recognizes that LGBTI people are highly marginalized and face varied forms of stigma and discrimination based on their distinct sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions. The programme is supported by UNDP, the Embassy of Sweden in Bangkok and the U.S. Agency for International Development. For more information visit: www.asia-pacific.undp.org/content/rbap/en/home/operations/projects/overview/being-lgbt-in-asia 
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LGBT Forum Day 4 - Social Media Producers & Consumers
Enrique Torre Molina and Olumide Femi Makanjuola speak on a panel about social media and storytelling
LGBT Forum Day 4 - Social Media Producers & Consumers
Louise Hallman 
Much advice was on offer on day four of the Salzburg Global LGBT* Forum in Chiang Rai as panelists considered the power of social media – for producers and consumers – when sharing LGBT-related stories.  Panelists from the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Mexico and Nigeria shared insights into their own experiences with social media, both from their personal and professional use as producers and consumers, and offered recommendations on how the other participants could better use social media tools and engagement tactics to share their stories, engage with their readers and viewers, reach beyond their typical audience, deal with abuse, and stay safe online.  Social media is ubiquitous in today’s world. A quick survey of the room in Chiang Rai showed that all but a small number (who had made the conscious decision to not use social media at all) were on Facebook, with many others using Instagram, Twitter and other regional services such as Weibo.  Knowing which platforms your prospective audience use is an important first step in developing a social media campaign, advised panel moderator, Laurindo Garcia, founder of B-Change, a regional initiative to share positive and representative LGBT stories that offers consultancy to other LGBT activists and NGOs.  Social media can be used to share opinions, galvanize support for an issue, prompt and direct action – and chronicle our daily lives, the latter of which is just as important as the other uses. Many of the participants shared that social media and earlier iterations of online forums had provided them with a safe space where they could be themselves and realize that they are not alone. Chronicling their daily lives on social media enables LGBT people and communities to show and live their truth, sharing a reality beyond fictional media representations of LGBT people in movies and TV or the limited perspectives shared in the mainstream news.  Social media can also provide a place to discover and encourage allies who might be reluctant to speak out in public. The #lovewins campaign after the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage saw many allies as well as LGBT people take part. This can be important for LGBT people, as one participant shared in an anecdote from a friend: “My uncle knew I was gay but I didn't think he was supportive until I saw him share a #lovewins post.” The “social media bubble” is gaining a lot of attention as Facebook and other platforms use algorithms to show users what they believe they “like” – causing an echo effect that sees LGBT-content shown only to those who are already supportive of LGBT rights and making reaching beyond this bubble difficult. Using paid adverts that are targeted at users with anti-LGBT or more conservative interests might be one strategy. Facebook, Twitter and Google all offer opportunities to activists and NGOs to apply for grants to use their paid-for services (such as ads) for free, reducing the barrier to access. Many platforms also all have featured to report abusive comments and accounts. “Use them!” was a key point of advice from a panelist. As activists, there can be the expectation or belief that you must engage with those who disagree with you, but the relentless nature of social media engagement can be disheartening. “Stay healthy!” and block or report those who abuse you, participants were encouraged. Mobilize your followers to also report abusive comments and users.  These report/block functions can also be used against LGBT activists to silence them. One participant with extensive experience in personal and professional social media engagement had the following advice for different platforms, having spoken to representatives from each of the corporations:
  • Twitter: apply for verification (the blue tick). Activists don’t need thousands of followers to do this and if awarded it can stop instant blocking if reported by anti-LGBT users.
  • Facebook: ask other “legitimate” and well-recognized human rights groups to message Facebook on your behalf to vouch for you. This will also prompt Facebook stop enforcing an immediate block and get you out of “Facebook jail.” 
  • Google: apply to Project Shield to protect your website from negative reviews and reports in their Google Search.
Staying safe online is a great concern of many LGBT activists. Some participants stated that they use pseudonyms or do share images of themselves online to protect their offline identities. Another simple piece of advice that was offered to stop hackers: use the two-step verification features offered by many platforms now. Many of the major social media platforms have LGBT staff and interest groups within their corporations; activists should try to cultivate a relationship with these groups. Social media campaigns with a clear purpose, strategy, with multimedia elements can be daunting and difficult for individual activists or small NGOs to pull off successfully. “Don’t try to do everything alone!” advised one panelist. Hire in experience if you have the budget. If you don’t have the funds, many organizations will work pro bono for causes they support.  Family Is... Throughout the week, the Forum has considered the importance of families for LGBT people and communities. Discussions have focused on the families we are born into, the families we choose, and the families we raise, with participants sharing their own personal stories within small groups. These stories will be collected for an exhibition to be held in Berlin in May 2017. Fellows also took time out of their discussions to take an afternoon trip to the nearby White Temple.

The fourth session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum is being held in Chiang Rai, Thailand in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Being LGBTI in Asia programme.

Funding for this joint Salzburg Global-UNDP session was generously provided to Salzburg Global Seminar through a grant from the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth to support the “Family is…” Project and through a donation by US philanthropist Michael Huffington. The Being LGBTI in Asia programme is supported by UNDP, the Embassy of Sweden in Bangkok and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Additional session support was provided by the Austrian Embassy New Delhi, Austrian Development Cooperation, Capital Group Companies, Dreilinden gGmbH, the Elizabeth S. MacMillan Fellowship Fund, the Embassy of Canada to Thailand, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in China, and the Robert Bosch Stiftung.

Recaps and interviews with participants will be published on a regular basis throughout the session onlgbt.SalzburgGlobal.org and medium.com/being-lgbti-in-asia. You can also follow the event on social media using the hashtags #SGSlgbt and #BeingLGBTI on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. 

*LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender. We are using this term as it is widely recognized in many parts of the world, but we would not wish it to be read as in any way exclusive of other cultures, terms or groups.

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LGBT Forum Day 3 - Storytelling and International Connections
B-change Founder Laurindo Garcia with B-change filmmakers and contributors taking part in the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum.
LGBT Forum Day 3 - Storytelling and International Connections
Louise Hallman 
The third day of the Salzburg Global LGBT* Forum in Chiang Rai, Thailand saw participants focus on storytelling and strengthening international connections with panels featuring filmmakers, lawmakers and diplomats.

The Power of Sharing Our Lives Through Video and Film

Representations of LGBT people and characters in TV and film have been increasing in recent years, but how do we make sure we have the opportunity to tell our own stories? What sorts of stories should they be – positive or negative? And who do we want to share these stories with? These were just some of the questions facing the panelist of filmmakers from China, Myanmar, the Philippines and Nepal.  “Filmmaking is a communication between you and the people in front of your camera, between them and the audience,” shared one of the filmmakers.  What we want to communicate is important. Films often reflect the personalities of their makers – the more positive they are the more positive their films are likely to be. One panelist admitted he had been accused of being “too positive” in his films, a series of which show LGBT people and their families’ acceptance – an experience not shared by all LGBT people. When asked what inspires her more – the negative stories or the positive – another filmmaker-panelist responded: “I want to tell the story of now.” That “now” may be negative or positive or constantly changing – the immediacy and genuineness of the film is more important than whether it is relentlessly positive or brutally negative. Queer film festivals are growing in the region with international networks forming to help promote such festivals in communities with less experience or success so far. However, these film festivals are still mostly only reaching a niche audience.  “When I first became a filmmaker, I was a lesbian but I never identified as a LGBT filmmaker,” admitted one panelist who has worked primarily in mainstream rather than LGBT cinema. “I thought that if I establish myself as a filmmaker first, then I can later make films that matter more to me – and my audience will accept me.” She added: “We don't want just LGBT people to watch LGBT films, we want the entire population to see our stories.”  Sharing these stories are important not only to help foster acceptance and understanding of those outside the LGBT community towards LGBT people, but also to offer reassurance to those within the community: you are not alone.  

Rooted within the Family? A look at families, gender and sexuality in Asia

Continuing with the storytelling and families themes of the week, a further panel on day three had participants from Bhutan, Cambodia, Korea, Nepal and India share their own experiences and country-wide trends and attitudes towards three aspects of our family lives: the families we’re born into, the families we choose to create, and the families we raise.  Family is important in cultures across Asia. In many countries across the region, it is typical for multiple generations of families to live together in the same house, leaving minimal opportunities for independence and privacy. Nepalese and Bhutanese participants told the international audience of their compatriots’ ancient beliefs that one cannot die in peace until one has seen the face of their grandchild. A family’s “honor” is important in countries such India, with certain behaviors or actions considered “dishonorable” and worthy of a variety of often severe punishments.  All of these attitudes can have serious negative implications for LGBT people, with a number of the participants sharing personal stories or anecdotes of how they or their friends have been cast out of their families for being LGBT. Many then seek to establish “alternative” families or “families of choice” that offer them the love and security they did not find with their families of birth.  “I have found an alternative family where we have love and care,” shared one participant, who had been cut off from his family and had at one point turned to sex work to help fund his university studies. His new family includes parental figures as well as siblings.  For those LGBT people who choose to raise their own families, legal protections are sparse in the region, leaving children vulnerable should anything happen to their biological parent – there is little guarantee that their deceased biological parent’s partner will be able to continue to care for them. Advocates are working to change the laws in many countries, but some communities, such as in Cambodia, have found legal support at lower, local levels, where a contract can be signed by two individuals agreeing to take shared responsibility for caring for a child, which is enforced by local village chiefs.  After inputs from the panelists, participants discussed the three elements of families in groups. These discussions will feed into their main thematic working groups being held throughout the week. The purpose of these groups is to encourage the participants to share their own stories and experiences of families – be that the families they were born into, choose to build, or raise – with these stories later becoming part of an exhibition to be hosted by the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth in Berlin, Germany in May 2017.

Strengthening International Connections

Another key theme of this year’s Salzburg Global LGBT Forum is “strengthening international connections,” building on the Forum’s existing work of bringing together LGBT rights activists and advocates with government ministries, agencies and embassies to examine how they can collaboratively and independently work to advance LGBT rights in countries across the world. Bhutanese politician Ugyen Wangdi, Venezuelan politician Tamara Adrian, Canadian Ambassador to Thailand Donica Pottie, UK Ambassador to Thailand Brian Davidson, Swedish Ambassador to Thailand Staffan Herrström all spoke on the panel, moderated by Michael Kirby, former Justice of the High Court of Australia. 
Read the full report of the Ambassadors’ Conversation panel here.

The fourth session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum is being held in Chiang Rai, Thailand in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Being LGBTI in Asia programme.

Funding for this joint Salzburg Global-UNDP session was generously provided to Salzburg Global Seminar through a grant from the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth to support the “Family is…” Project and through a donation by US philanthropist Michael Huffington. The Being LGBTI in Asia programme is supported by UNDP, the Embassy of Sweden in Bangkok and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Additional session support was provided by the Austrian Embassy New Delhi, Austrian Development Cooperation, Capital Group Companies, Dreilinden gGmbH, the Elizabeth S. MacMillan Fellowship Fund, the Embassy of Canada to Thailand, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in China, and the Robert Bosch Stiftung.

Recaps and interviews with participants will be published on a regular basis throughout the session onlgbt.SalzburgGlobal.org and medium.com/being-lgbti-in-asia. You can also follow the event on social media using the hashtags #SGSlgbt and #BeingLGBTI on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. 

*LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender. We are using this term as it is widely recognized in many parts of the world, but we would not wish it to be read as in any way exclusive of other cultures, terms or groups.

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