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 and human rights discussions around the world, as well as to form a network of international leaders from diverse fields - including human rights, legal, artistic, and religious backgrounds. Founded and chaired by Dr. Klaus Mueller, the Forum currently includes representatives from more than 70 countries on six continents.

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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Benjamin Cantu - “Artists are important because they have a specific way of sensing social injustice”
Banjamin Cantu speaking at the third session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum
Benjamin Cantu - “Artists are important because they have a specific way of sensing social injustice”
Rachitaa Gupta & Nicole Bogart 

Berlin-based filmmaker, Benjamin Cantu presented an exclusive preview of his documentary film Weil ich bin, wer ich bin / Je suis qui je suis (in English, Because of who I am) in 2015 during the session, Strengthening Communities: LGBT Rights and Social Cohesion.

During the conception of the film he worked closely with Forum Chair Klaus Mueller, who connected him with artists in Cambodia, Namibia and Morocco and shared global perspectives that artists at the Forum had raised. The film, profiling artists from regions with little visibility for LGBT individuals, found early support from members of the Forum, some of whom have since shown the film in their local communities. Here, Cantu recounts his journey following eight LGBT artists from all corners of the globe, shedding light on the important role the arts play in human rights activism.

What inspired you to profile other LGBT filmmakers, writers and artists?
I was asked to do a film connected with an exhibition that... would talk about the history of homosexual emancipation subculture and art. My film is not the historical, but the contemporary idea of what LGBT art looks like. I made the documentary film Because of who I am as a commission for a French/German broadcaster, but it soon became a very personal idea of making a film not only about a very broad subject as LGBT artists, but also about my personal relationship to my ex-boyfriend and our endeavor as filmmakers to travel to these artists.

How does art intersect with advancing LGBT human rights?
I think artists, and filmmakers, journalists, writers, are very important in the LGBT movement because they have a very specific way of sensing social, or gender injustice and injustice against LGBT [people]... There is one artist in our film who is a theatre playwright, actor, activist and director, and she really advocates for the oppressed LGBT communities, but [also] for oppressed Palestinians, oppressed women, for historically oppressed characters that she brings back to life and not have us forget them. I really think it’s important to have artists involved in activism and human rights defending because they carve out the world that we live in in a very special way so that we can understand people. And people who are not affected can understand what the world is really about, what we have to focus on.

Who are the artists portrayed in the film?
Ideally we wanted to be very broadly global about which artists we were going to film, but it soon was clear to me that the stories that need to be told are all over the world, but the artists we found happened to be from countries that also face difficult situations – not providing LGBT artists, or LGBT people any space to express themselves. So the friction between these artists from Russia, Morocco, Lebanon, South Africa and Nigeria, was more fruitful for a documentary approach, so we could not only speak about the happy life as an artist, but also how their environment creates this need, urge, political necessity to deal with the reality within their art.

What do you hope for the full release of the film?
I hope either this, or the longer version, will have a long life and we will hopefully show it at LGBT film festivals or LGBT community screenings. I really hope to get in touch with local communities. This is great to have Salzburg as a network of people who now know about this film and to hopefully become partners to show the film in small screenings abroad. I hope they fall in love with the artists we portray, as I did. I really admire these people and I really learned a lot. I hope the spark these artists have given us is transmitted in the film. I hope the names of these artists live on in the minds of the people who see it, and are eager to research and find out more about the work.

Zanele Muholi - “We don’t document for fun”
Zanele Muholi is a Fellow of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, having participated in the 2013 session – LGBT and Human Rights: New Challenges, Next Steps.
Zanele Muholi - “We don’t document for fun”
Louise Hallman 

South Africa is the only African country where not only is homosexuality legal, but same-sex couples can also marry and adopt children, and are legally protected under anti-discrimination legislation. However, this masks the horrors faced by many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender South Africans. Through the medium of photography, one South African “visual activist” aims to show the truth of what it is like to live as a black lesbian in the country.

“I’m a visual activist before I’m a photographer, before I’m an artist,” says award-winning photographer Zanele Muholi.

Despite all the supposed legal protections the LGBT community receives in the increasingly prosperous southern African country, lesbians, especially black lesbians, are frequently subjected to “corrective rape” attacks, where often gangs of men pin down and sexually assault lesbians in attempts to “cure” them of their homosexuality. Some of these attacks have even resulted to the death of their victims. As South Africa struggles to combat its high level of crime, these attacks often go unprosecuted.

Muholi explains why she believes photographing this marginalized group is important: “If I even talk about the work that I’m doing on black lesbians, I’m not doing it for myself. I’m doing it for the younger generation. I’m doing it for the older generation, who were never even given the opportunity to open their mouths.”

As a black lesbian, Muholi sees her work as part of a wider effort to document black history in the post-Apartheid country. “My focus has ever been on black lesbians, on black gays, on black trans-men. And why black specifically is because as black people, they don’t have a tangible history that is captured by us on us,” Muholi explains. “We have people who write our history on our behalf as if we did not exist… I think one has to find ways to re-write the history, for our own great-grandchildren. For them to know that we were once here and for them to understand fully the resistance and other struggles that we still encounter…“It’s sort of like capturing the visual presence, which then becomes a visual history… To say, yes we are here.”

Muholi’s photographs often capture intimate moments between lovers. But she has also been working with her photography collective to document the abuses South Africa’s lesbians suffer – and the funerals held for the victims. When speaking with Muholi, her anger at the atrocities committed against South African lesbians is glaringly apparent. As a member of the community, these are issues that she feels personally – not as a neutral observer. “We don’t document for fun, or just because we have powers and cameras. With my team, I have a collective calling; we document all of these atrocities because we want the world to know that we have a situation at hand.”

Just as the oppressive regime of apartheid was ended in South Africa in 1994, Muholi hopes to see the end of the persecution of the LGBT community in her country, and believes photography can be a tactic in doing so, bringing the plight of her community to the attention of the wider national and international consciousness.

“We call upon those with powers to agitate with us, just like the people who worked with activists in South Africa to end apartheid and I think the same strategies could be used,” she says – angry yet optimistic.

Bradley Secker - “It’s about collecting the stories. It’s about not letting them be lost”
Bradley Secker - “It’s about collecting the stories. It’s about not letting them be lost”
Nicole Bogart 

British photojournalist Bradley Secker has been based in Istanbul, Turkey, for the last five and a half years documenting the consequences of social, political and military actions from an individual’s perspective. One of his long-term projects – titled Kütmaan, an Arabic word for the act of hiding or concealing something – documents the plight of LGBT asylum seekers in the Middle East.  

Why did you begin photographing LGBT people?
Nobody assigned me to do this work; it was purely done for personal motivation back in 2010. I had been to Syria in 2008 and decided to go back in 2010 with a professional focus on for documenting the situation for gay Iraqi men who had to flee from Iraq and ended up in Damascus and other parts of Syria. There was no editorial interest at that time, unfortunately. It was very difficult to get that story into the media’s realm.

I moved to Turkey in late 2011, which is when I started documenting the plight of Iranian LGBT [people] in Turkey, and, more recently, the Syrians and Iraqis who were displaced for a second time from Iraq to Syria and then to Turkey.

As a gay man, how do these stories affect you personally?
The stories I hear and the things I see do affect me. Inevitably. I try to keep it as professional as possible and try not to get emotional because it can also trigger someone [else]. It’s probably not good for them, to re-traumatize them, and it can also be difficult for me to hear, but it’s way more important to be more cautious about the person I’m interviewing.

Collecting the stories is time consuming… often putting myself in a place where I don’t feel that safe and I feel quite vulnerable. But I put that aside and concentrate on documenting the people that face much greater risks, and continue to.

[But] it makes me optimistic that LGBT people are strong and united and will always come together wherever they are in the world. They will form a community; they will find each other. It’s quite incredible and I really find that inspiring. At the same time, it’s incredibly negative, in terms of what they are fleeing from and the conditions in a lot of countries. Now, in the recent past, and what looks like the considerable future, it’s not really getting much better. It’s a mixture of optimism, happiness and complete anger and madness at the whole thing.

What sort of impact do you hope your work will have?
I’m not a big believer that photojournalism can change the world. I don’t think it’s that profound. Purely and simply I think the work I’m doing will just illustrate and educate people.

But together, as a more cohesive body of work, I hope it would stand as a documentation of the situation in general in the MENA region and Turkey for this period that I’m covering it. I really don’t think it’s going to change anything politically [or] socially. It’s about collecting the stories. It’s about not letting them be lost.

Laurindo Garcia - Using social media as a loudspeaker for activism
Laurindo Garcia is a three-time Fellow of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, having participated in sessions in 2015, 2016 and 2017 in Salzburg and Thailand.
Laurindo Garcia - Using social media as a loudspeaker for activism
Nicole Bogart 

Social media has changed the nature of how we share stories; its viral nature allows activists to spread messages further than ever before. Filipino LGBT activist Laurindo Garcia recognized this innate power in its early stages. In 2011, he founded the B-Change Group, an organization dedicated to promoting social change through technology. Today, operating out of three cities globally, the B-Change Group works with small-to-medium non-profit and other organizations to help harness the power of social media.

“We need to try to find ways to build up [social media advocacy] capabilities among activists, because we live in a world where advocacy organizations don’t have cash, they don’t have resources and they are working in incredibly challenging environments,” explains Garcia, a multi-time Fellow of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum.

At the Forum, Garcia, a highly-regarded expert in media and communications, also shared his life experiences of living openly with HIV: “I’m openly HIV+. It’s been a long journey for me to understand my place as an HIV+ gay, Asian male in the world and I’ve been learning how to do that over the last 12 years.”

He focuses his work in social justice, diversity and health for marginalized groups, especially the LGBT community and those living with HIV. These groups face great challenges when navigating the murky waters of online activism, often subjected to rampant harassment, “trolling” and even death threats when spreading their message on social media. These threats are amplified when advocating for groups in countries where homosexuality is criminalized, as discussed by Fellows from countries such as Uganda, Nigeria and Bangladesh.

Laurindo Garcia on health and access to health for LGBT people

During the fifth session of the Forum, Garcia called on participants to conceptualize a social media campaign aimed at creating online conversations surrounding LGBT families. The exercise was designed to demonstrate the unique way in which activists can tell stories using new media types; but Garcia noted it also provided an opportunity to shed light on social media’s implications, something “we are still grappling with,” the activist says.

“The reason why I jumped at the opportunity to run a session at the Forum on social media is to try to build resilience and knowledge about how to do it well and approach it with method, a greater understanding of what can work and what might be some of the risks along the way,” he explains. “[Activists] have taken to technology – and that’s a great thing – but they are often exposed to many risks. Opportunities like being [at the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum] offer a way to talk about it and impart new skills, but really help provide a space where people can be sharing how they have identified solutions to problems they have been facing, what didn’t work and hopefully through that exchange they are better at solving it themselves.”

Garcia’s work has proven effective for several organizations. In 2013 and 2014, B-Change partnered with the International HIV/AIDS Alliance to train community organizations on effective social media practices for promoting HIV testing in Algeria, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia. In 2016, the group assisted six community-based HIV organizations in Thailand to use social media tools to direct clients to healthcare providers. Through a partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), B-Change also aided research investigating the effectiveness of using social media to address discrimination against LGBT people in Asia.

Garcia is now working on building a mobile app called “Be” that allows LGBT people, women, those with disabilities and other minorities to rate public spaces on their level of inclusiveness.

“Be is the only app where diverse women, people with disabilities, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and other groups can come together towards a common goal,” explains Garcia.

“With Be you can find inclusive cafés, clinics, retail outlets, health and social support services, entertainment establishments and other places nearby at the tap of a button. You can filter your search according to your individual needs. Rate and share places so that your friend and others in the community can benefit from your experience. Give feedback to place owners so that they learn how to improve the way they serve you.

“Our vision is that Be will help diverse groups take the lead in shaping inclusive cities of the future.”
Inclusion was a key theme of the fourth session of the Forum – The Many Faces of LGBT Inclusion – held in Thailand in 2016. Speaking at that session, Garcia reflected on the Forum as a “community of trust” and a “safe space for other activists and individuals to come together,” saying: “The stories that are shared here are in good hands, amongst like-minded individuals as well, and we will take care of each other.”

Laurindo Garcia on Salzburg Global LGBT Forum as a safe place

Marc Pachter - “History is a construct. A lot happened, but what do we remember from it?”
Marc Pachter is a multi-time Fellow and faculty member of Salzburg Global Seminar, and has attended the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum three times in 2013, 2015 and 2017.
Marc Pachter - “History is a construct. A lot happened, but what do we remember from it?”
Heather Jaber & Nicole Bogart 

Though we often accept records of history as fact, much of our understanding of that history is indeed constructed; for all that we consider to be significant, there are other events, movements and even whole groups of people that we leave out. Through his work as Director of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Marc Pachter noticed America’s LGBT history had fallen victim to this fate.

During his tenure at the Gallery in Washington, DC, Pachter was tasked with signifying achievement in American culture. “This used to be very easy… White men on horses, usually generals or Presidents,” he explains. “True history began with thinking of race and gender in general. But... the road was still stopping short of LGBT questions – also part of the reveal of what a culture really is.”

Pachter, a multi-time Fellow of Salzburg Global Seminar, was involved in introducing the controversial HIDE/SEEK exhibition to the National Portrait Gallery in which homosexuality was depicted as a core theme in the work of many American artists. He believes national museums play an important role in signaling a growing consensus within society to discuss the history of LGBT communities. Moreover, including those exhibitions acknowledge that LGBT rights and visibility are not new issues – they have always existed in history.

As explained on the Gallery’s website, the exhibition (developed by a team under his successor), which ran from October 2010 to November 2011, was “the first major museum exhibition to focus on sexual difference in the making of modern American portraiture. HIDE/SEEK considers such themes as the role of sexual difference in depicting modern America; how artists explored the fluidity of sexuality and gender; how major themes in modern art-especially abstraction- were influenced by social marginalization; and how art reflected society's evolving and changing attitudes toward sexuality, desire, and romantic attachment.”

“It boils down to invisibility; history is a construct; lots happened, but what do we remember from it?” Pachter says. “And that we chose as a nation not to think about it says a lot. The history was always there… People that were not known as gay were living their lives. The nation needed to say: our history telling is incomplete.

“We already knew that about race; we already knew that about women… but we needed to think this way [about queer history]. It felt both revolutionary and, happily, in the end ordinary to do this.”
The exhibition demonstrated that many Americans – although certainly not all – were indeed ready to learn about the nation’s queer history. There was controversy: one work was in fact removed due to political pressure, leading to protests. But the exhibition as a whole remained and the Smithsonian has now embraced the collecting and telling of LGBT history.

Marc Pachter on history as a construct: What do we remember from it?

The Power of Theater
Danish Sheikh performs a "Shakesqueer" monologue at the Open Forum of the fourth session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum
The Power of Theater
Nicole Bogart 

Eager to use the arts to discuss women’s issues, in 2011 Salvadorian theatre actress Laia Ribera Cañénguez set out to write a play summarizing debates within lesbian and feminist issues. The play – AFUERA – was first performed by Guatemalan lesbian theatre company Siluetas in front of a small crowd in Guatemala and saw great success. The play was later performed across Central and South America to audiences ranging from incarcerated women to indigenous groups.

Speaking at the 2013 inaugural session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, Ribera explained:
“It was a very difficult process where we spent five months discussing, trying things, getting people to see small sketches. It was sometimes very frustrating. But in the end we ended up with a piece in which we talk about a lot of different issues, some of them like lesbophobia and the role that the church place in the control and oppression of sexualities, the binary system of gender identities, and other questions in our community that are more intimate, about lesbian relationships and the problems we have there; about our fear of loneliness.

“We have had a lot of lessons taken from the play. One of them – for me the most important – is how we can do political activism without losing the joy, without seeing that we are sacrificing ourselves, and also to use art to find other ways to express ourselves.”

Also recognizing the power of theatre, lawyer and keen amateur dramatist, Danish Sheikh, draws inspiration from a man widely regarded as the greatest playwright in history, William Shakespeare. Sheikh attended the Forum in 2015 and 2016, where he not only shared his legal expertise but also performed Shakespearean monologues during the Open Forum. He was struck by the contemporary take on love and sexuality in Shakespeare plays such as Measure For Measure, in which fornication is prohibited, drawing similarities to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, introduced by the British empire during colonial rule, which criminalized homosexuality in the country. This fascination with Shakespeare’s work led the lawyer to perform adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, focusing on the intersection of love and law, in a popular Bangalore park, later adapting the plays to star queer characters.

“I was always confused by the idea of love in Midsummer Night’s Dream where a love potion makes Helena fall in love with Demetrius. Later, I realized that Shakespeare was saying how irrational the idea of love can be. It is an important point because of how law tries to regulate love (with Section 377) and how it comes up short,” he explained to the Times of India.

Laia Ribera Cañénguez on LGBT awareness through theater

A Global Network of Storytellers
Filmmakers Popo Fan, Su Su Hlaing and Cha Roque at the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum in Chiang Rai, Thailand
A Global Network of Storytellers
Nicole Bogart 

Storytelling is a major tool of expressing of who we want to be – and of changing hearts. Our Forum cooperates with and amplifies the work of writers, filmmakers and photographers, from all over the world, who portray the complexities of our lives. Here, we profile just some of the vibrant international storytellers in our network.


Álvaro Laiz, Spain

With a commitment to shed light on marginalized communities, Spanish photographer Álvaro Laiz travels to remote locations around the world telling visual stories of exclusion. His work, featured in The New York Times, National Geographic and the British Journal of Photography, has won numerous awards. In 2015, the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum mounted an exhibition of two of his projects documenting two very distinct LGBT communities: Transmongolian, which brought him to Mongolia to capture the secret lives of its LGBT communities, and Wonderland that narrated his travels to the Orinoco River delta in Venezuela documenting the lives of the Warao Indian communities, including its transgender individuals called Tida Wena by the Warao (in English, “The Twisted Women”). Their inclusion in Warao society goes back to pre-Columbian traditions. According to investigations, 40 to 80 percent of the Warao tribe are infected with HIV, due to outside influences.

“Photography for me is a tool to promote social change. And this drives my ideas.”

On his project in Mongolia: “My main idea was to take pictures of them in their traditional queen dresses, deep in the desert. We drove around for a week to find the right shots. I learned that since my departure, they decided to dress up as queens in the desert one a year. So they began a sort of pride parade. They definitely inspired me and I hope it was mutual.” 

Lyno Vuth, Cambodia

Cambodian artist, curator and photographer Lyno Vuth had his first European exhibition at the inaugural session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum. One group of photos that Vuth showed and discussed in Salzburg – a collection called Thoamada, which means “normal,” “everyday” and “commonplace” – consisted of portraits of nine Cambodian men who have sex with men, all disguised by having their faces covered in paint. For the project, Vuth invited a group men to discuss issues related to sex, gender and sexual orientation. At the end of the workshop he asked the men to pose for a photograph, but they were reluctant for fear of being identified. Vuth thus proposed that they paint their faces, and they were happy to do so – some with more paint, some with less. Although they were still recognizable once they finished painting, they were then willing to be photographed, signaling a transformation that had occurred, according to Vuth, as a result of the workshop.

“I wanted to share to the audience that there are different possibilities and realities; you can still define your own family, regardless of being gay, transgender, bisexual, or lesbian, and people have different ways to define that.”

A second group of Vuth’s photos also shown in Salzburg, from the exhibit Thoamada II, explores the family contexts, dynamics and memories of LGBT people in Cambodia.

“I interviewed people together with their families, inviting them to share their stories and journey. After the conversation, I asked them to pose for two different photographs. One was a simple family portrait inside their house. They decided on their dress and pose. For the second photograph, I asked them to collectively choose a memory to re-enact, improvised with their belongings and surroundings.”
In addition to the image, a narrative is offered to audiences in the titles and texts accompanying the images. In The Salt Seeker the text reads:

“I met my wife during the Pol Pot regime when we were digging a canal opposite each other… During rice transplanting month, I went to ask for some salt from her, but she refused… During harvest month, we met again and started to talk, and we fell in love… This love is difficult, because they didn’t let us meet… After 1979, we didn’t get married properly but we created wedding rituals. I play the role of head of the family, as husband and with her as a wife, and we have adopted three children—two daughters and a son—and have six grandchildren. My children call me dad, and my grandchildren call me granddad.”

Vuth Lyno on how artists shape our conversations on LGBT human rights

Photographer from Bangladesh

In 2017, as well as Bradley Secker’s work (see interview on page 122), the Forum also showcased the work of a photographer from Bangladesh. His name does not appear in this report for safety concerns, but his work has been guided by a desire to give voice to the alternative families built by Bangladesh’s Hijra communities. Hijra, he explains, “is a traditional group and they have long back history. Basically they are biological male and they do gender change as woman… but traditionally Hijra don’t like to call themselves trans woman. They have their own subculture, language and alternative family system. They love to stay together in a group. They have strong leader and follower systems.”


Sridhar Rangayan, India

Sridhar Rangayan wears many hats: he is a gay rights activist; co-founder of India’s first gay NGO, the Humsafar Trust; co-founder of the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival; and an award-winning filmmaker. Among his accolades, Rangayan was selected through a worldwide nomination process to be part of the British Council’s inaugural “fiveFilms4freedom” Global List in 2016. The list consists of 33 inspiring people from 23 different countries who are changing social perceptions about LGBTQ communities throughout the world. Rangayan’s works include Breaking Free, a documentary aimed at exposing the harsh legal punishments gay people face under India’s Penal Code, and Gulabi Aaina (in English, “The Pink Mirror”) a widely-celebrated Bollywood-like film starring two drag queens and a gay teenager. The film, originally banned in India, was released on Netflix in early 2017.

“As a filmmaker, my main aim has been to use cinema as a tool for greater awareness, combining entertainment with advocacy. I have seen change in my lifetime, and I’m really happy that many things around me have changed for the better for the LGBT community.”

Lola Amaria, Indonesia

As the founder and program director of Kresna Duta Foundation, filmmaker Lola Amaria strives to raise visibility for human rights through audio visuals in all areas of her work. Amaria has conducted research and starred and directed films on LGBT rights, trafficking and women's issues. She contributed a short film to the LGBT “omnibus” film production, Sanubari Jakarta, which received its European première at the inaugural session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum in 2013. The film is a compilation of 10 films by 10 directors – the majority of whom are heterosexual and cisgender – each lasting around 10 minutes long. Each part of the film portrays a different LGBT life and experience, and collectively the directors aim to reduce violence towards LGBT people in Indonesia.

“Love belongs to everyone.”

Popo Fan, China

Chinese filmmaker and writer Popo Fan is determined to show the positive side of LGBT people and their experiences despite facing occasional questions on his portrayal of the happier side of LGBT lives. Fan’s dedication to visibility of LGBT rights has led him to pen Happy Together: Complete Record of a Hundred Queer Films, the first book published in mainland China about queer films. His films primarily focus on same-sex marriage, transgender individuals, and LGBT families, and the documentarian has recently branched out into feature films. Fan made history in a landmark case against state censorship after successfully suing the Chinese government following the removal of his film Mama Rainbow, profiling LGBT families in China, from the internet. Fan is the director of the Beijing Queer Film Festival and has received accolades such as being included in Advocate magazine’s “40 Under 40” list. His films have been shown at festivals around the world, and the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum was proud to show his ground-breaking documentary Pink Dads shortly after its release at its film festival during the 2016 session in Thailand.

“I am sometimes criticized because my films are too happy, but I am determined [to] tell positive stories about LGBT people and their families.”

Su Su Hlaing, Myanmar

Myanmar-based filmmaker Su Su Hlaing has witnessed the power film and art can have once the cameras are turned off. After making the documentary, Love and Other Matters, profiling LGBT people from humble rural backgrounds, she was shocked to see her subjects’ families come from far away to see the film’s premier. The film was shown at the fourth session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum as part of the impromptu Chiang Rai LGBT Film Festival.

“To my surprise, families came from far, far away to show support for their sons and daughters.”

Cha Roque, The Philippines

Cha Roque may have established herself as filmmaker dedicated to social change, but she has another equally important role as a mother. Her film What I Would’ve Told My Daughter if I Knew What to Say Back Then, her most personal work to date, made its European debut at the fifth session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum in May 2017. The film takes viewers on a personal journey of Roque’s relationship with her daughter Kelsey and her difficulty in coming out to her. It was part of the official selection of Hanoi International Queer Film Week, founded by Salzburg Global LGBT Forum Fellow, Bao Chau Nguyen.

“As a filmmaker and as a lesbian I believe I have the responsibility to tell the stories of fellow LGBT people in our community and to make other people understand what we are going through, and help LGBT people become accepted by society. It might not always be my own story, or my daughters story, but as a filmmaker I think I can use my voice in helping other people tell their stories, especially those who are not yet open about it.”

Cha Roque on being a lesbian filmmaker

Klaus Mueller, Germany

Klaus Mueller has worked for decades on the plight of gay and lesbian survivors of the Holocaust and engaged in film as a tool to widely share his conversations with them. He was the initiator, research director and associate producer of the award-winning American documentary film Paragraph 175 (2000) that profiled gay survivors of Nazi persecution and won many international prizes, including from the Berlin and Sundance film festivals. He was assistant director of But I was a Girl (1999) that is based on his eight hour interview with lesbian Dutch resistance fighter Frieda Belinfante and director of Just happy the way I am (1998) on LGBT youth. In 2017, his documentary with Salzburg Global Seminar on Family is…? A Global Conversation premièred at the fifth session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum in Salzburg and Berlin. He has taught film history at the University of Amsterdam and shared his enthusiasm for blockbuster movies in many film reviews.

“Going through and weaving together the many interviews conducted over three years with our LGBT fellows on their understanding of family for me was a long journey coming to fruition. The film portrays deep and global connections between our various different stories. It felt like coming home. And I felt protected to talk about my own family.”

Klaus Mueller on cultivating global voices for global conversations

Nilu Doma Sherpa (1985-2017)

The LGBT Forum family suffered a great loss in 2017, with the passing of Nepalese filmmaker and Forum fellow Nilu Doma Sherpa. Nilu was a participant at the fourth session of the Forum in Chiang Rai, Thailand, in 2016. A leading member of the mainstream Nepalese film industry, her work included main choreographer for Jholay (2014), producer for the films Anaagat (2017), actor for Punte Parade (2014) and director for the highly praised films How Funny (2016) and Kagaj (2016). She was also part of the LGBT digital short documentary series Stories of Being Me by the social entrepreneurship platform B-Change, for which she directed the heartfelt autobiographical film The Story of Nilu, which she shared with Fellows at the session in Thailand. As described by B-Change, Nilu’s film “explores the universality of love with the help of some of Nepal’s leading women.”

The Story of Nilu - Stories of Being Me - Episode 7 (Kathmandu)


Fadi Zaghmout, Jordan

Widely celebrated for his commentary on Arab society in his novel The Bride of Amman, Jordanian writer Fadi Zaghmout has secured a reputation for being outspoken on issues including women’s rights, religious coexistence and sexuality. His book, which centers around four women and one gay man in Jordan’s historic capital, particularly attracted a lot of attention for addressing homosexuality in Arab societies. Zaghmout is the founder of the blog the Arab Observer, covering social issues unaddressed by traditional Arab media outlets, and with over 350,000 Twitter followers, remains one of the most prolific online voices in Jordan.

“It has been a wonderful experience for me to be here, in 2017, at Salzburg Global LGBT Forum for the second time. In 2013, when I joined for the first time, I had just published my book in Jordan and was encouraged by the Forum to do a reading of one chapter in English that a friend helped to translate. It was great then to get so many responses and I felt encouraged. Now I returned as a writer, with my book ‘The Bride in Amman’ having been translated in English, having published two more books and working on the fourth. I had the chance to meet activists, writers, journalists, artists, politicians and filmmakers from all over the world and listen to their stories and how each one of them is making change. I was able to share my story as a writer and present my book ‘The Bride of Amman’ to this big audience. The connections I have made in this week are priceless, not just in terms of strengthening my knowledge and empowering me as an activist but also as human connections and life-long friendships.”

Shereen El Feki, UK / Egypt

Like many who straddle East and West, writer and former journalist Shereen El Feki, a Muslim woman raised in Canada, wanted to learn more about her Arab roots. Her work in HIV research led her to choose sex as her lens, spending five years traveling across the Arab region speaking to people about their views on sex and sexuality. Her non-fiction book Sex and the Citadel explores populations outside what she refers to as the “citadel,” in the context of marriage – typically the only socially accepted context for sexual activity in the Arab region – including LGBT communities. El Feki served as vice-chair of the UN’s Global Commission on HIV and the Law, representing the Arab region.

“Sexuality, which also brings in values and beliefs, is an incredibly powerful lens in which to understand any society because it tells you about politics, about economics, about religion and tradition, about gender and generations.

“It’s important to realize that LGBTQ populations within the Arab region are part of a spectrum of exclusion. What I discuss in my book is how we are going to find ways to bring people ‘inside the citadel.’”

Shereen El Feki on sexuality in the Arab world and the shifting borderlines between ḥalāl and ḥarām

Danny Ramadan, Syria / Canada

Named one of Canada’s “top immigrants” of 2017, Syrian refugee Danny Ramadan has used his personal experience to evolve his voice as a storyteller and writer. His novel The Clothesline Swing, which tells the story of two lovers fleeing the aftermath of the Arab Spring, features the stories of fictional refugees, some of which are inspired by stories Ramadan heard as a Fellow of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, and many of which are based on his own personal experiences of fleeing war-torn Syria. With his advocacy based around refugee rights specific to the Syrian culture, Ramadan plans to continue sharing insights into the lives of LGBT refugees through his storytelling.

“Understanding how unique every person I met here is [has] helped me form bits and pieces of every character I included [in ‘The Clothesline Swing’]. What I noticed about my writing is that it’s evolved and instead of having one or two outcomes – whether you stay home or you leave – I started to imagine other outcomes that could happen. Other chosen families that could be created, other connections that could come between characters. That, in itself, has enhanced my storytelling abilities.”

Travis Kong, Hong Kong

Associate dean and sociology professor at the University of Hong Kong, Travis Kong presented a short video on older Chinese gay men during the inaugural session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum 2013, with a very lively and supportive discussion, and has continued working on this topic, among many others. One year later, he published Oral History of Older Gay Men in Hong Kong that documents twelve life stories of such men. The book captures how the complexity of their lives is interwoven with the Hong Kong history, as well as the difficulties and hardships they have encountered especially due to their sexual orientation, through colonial to contemporary times.

“I became an academic because it offered a way for me to theorize experiences through writing.
This ‘gay and grey’ project is my dream project as I found older gay men have been absent in LGBT studies, aging studies and social history studies in Hong Kong. They are the missing puzzle of local gay history and also the ‘minority of the minority’ in LGBT social services and aging services.”

Travis S K Kong on the lives of older LGBT men in Hong Kong

Elizabeth Khaxas, Namibia

Poet Elizabeth Khaxas is the director of the Women’s Leadership Centre, an organization that promotes feminist leadership among young women from marginalized sectors of Namibia’s society and a founding member of Women’s Solidarity and Sister Namibia. Through her love of poetry, Khaxas emits a voice for LGBT rights, using words to fight against gender barriers and sodomy laws, and express pride in the fight for LGBT visibility. At the inaugural session of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, Khaxas shared a number of her poems with participants.


Our daughter has come home
The one who has been cast away is home
let us dance and rejoice today
Shame on those who do not acknowledge
my daughter’s homecoming
The African!
Shame on those who treated my daughter
as the stepchild of this continent
Lesbian, gay, transgender, transsexual, bisexual, heterosexual...
The image of the goddess, all of them...
Sons and daughter of Africa
Gods and goddesses!
Much beloved, know that nothing will separate you
from the love which is you
No homophobic dictators
No rejecting parents and siblings
No religion
No sodomy law
What took you so long to find your way home, daughter?
We have prepared a feast for you
Let all the world behold
Our daughter has arrived
The lesbian
The African lesbian

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