Grace Poore - AsiaPacific Outgames

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[00:00:00] This recording was made at the second the Asia Pacific Outgames human rights conference held in Wellington, New Zealand in March 2011. [00:00:09] It's my great pleasure now to introduce grace poor from Malaysia. And I would like to acknowledge that grace, this presentation is made possible with funding from rainbow Wellington. Thank you for that. And, in fact, Felicia acknowledged also the funding from the Kingdom of the Netherlands, that that contributed to her presentation and these forms of sponsorship must be acknowledged appropriately. Thank you. To rainbow Wellington. For Grace's presentation. Grace is a Malaysian activist. She is the regional program coordinator for the Asia and the Pacific Islands at the International gay and lesbian Human Rights Commission based in New York. She has been working to end domestic violence and child sexual abuse for over 20 years, and has been recognized for her anti violence work by the sunshine lady peace foundation. Grace has written directed and produced documentaries that have been screened in 18 countries. And in 2001, the Rosebud award, and in 2001, creating a voice award. Grace, it's a pleasure to have you here, welcome. [00:01:41] Thank you. [00:01:45] I want to thank joy Liddy cut, who I think is not here, for making it possible for me to be here. And also, with Wellington. [00:02:02] This opportunity actually, is not only about meeting new people, connecting with people I've already met, but very particularly, to see what kinds of relationships Eagle hook, the International gay, lesbian Human Rights Commission can form with groups in the Pacific Islands. And we often talk about the capacity of local groups. And we need to pay attention to whether international organizations have the capacity to do certain kinds of work. And that rather than tokenizing and doing work, because it belongs to a title to actually look at what that means. So although the title of my title says that I'm the program coordinator for Asia and the Pacific Islands, I had made a commitment in my second year to begin working and seriously doing work in the Pacific Islands. And that has not happened. And one of the reasons that I'm hoping that I will be meeting with several people is to see what is it that we can do? Can we do it? Can we do it well, and what should we be doing? So I am very grateful for this opportunity to be here to actually do that. Thank you. I was invited to focus my presentation on my experiences in movement building for social change in Asia, and also at the international level. And to share what this experience has taught me about what is required for successful movement building and what some of the challenges are. I'm not really going to do that. I'm actually going to be sharing the insights of activists in Asia, who have been working for many years to improve conditions for the lives of LGBT people. And then to make some observations of my own about the trends that are emerging in the region. Yesterday, get them is get Angela Misra highlighted the successful movement building in India around section 377 and the development of lesbian organizing in response to the Hindu right wing reaction to the movie fire. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight two different parts of Asia, Northeast Asia, and Southeast Asia, paying attention to three different approaches to advocating for LGBT human rights. One in Hong Kong, one in Vietnam, and one in Cambodia, where different political context have shaped and continue to shape how LGBT activists define the term movement and how they strategically Now navigate their activism. In 2005, a group of LGBT activists in Hong Kong, who made up the women's coalition of Hong Kong decided that they wanted to do something for International Day against homophobia. There were 10 of them. All they had was about us $100. And right away, they knew that they could not afford to outreach through advertising and printing posters. The valuable resource they did have was an already established network of credible friendships, and working relationships with activists and other social movements, such as feminist women's groups, human rights groups, youth groups, economic rights groups and religious groups. using Facebook, email alerts and E groups. They reached out to these other movements. They also leaflets gay and lesbian bars to enter introduce the group and publicize the call together for International Day against homophobia. An unprecedented 300 people, which is a big number for Hong Kong 300 people showed up in one of the busiest intersections of the city. And since that year, they have been Idaho and pride gatherings on the streets of Hong Kong every year. [00:06:24] The same outreach and coalition strategy was used when the women's coalition of Hong Kong for to get domestic violence protections for same sex couples. That again, there was success, despite strong resistance from Christian church groups, many of them funded by groups in the UK and the United States. Hong Kong now covers same sex couples under his domestic violence law, which however, was not called the domestic violence law to appease the church, but instead was renamed and Connie, I hope I get this right. Domestic and cohabiting relationships, violence ordinance. Building and investing in broad Coalition's has worked for Hong Kong LGBT activists, particularly because of the public visible and vocal support from non LGBT supporters. Sometimes coalition support is behind the scenes, it's private, it's quiet. The trouble with that is it actually invisible barriers that support and it is critical for LGBT movements in Asia and the Pacific Islands, to receive public support from allies, particularly in a context where there is so much public and private homophobia and transphobia. When I asked Connie, who is the founder of the women's coalition of Hong Kong, who's here at this conference. So when I asked Connie, what helped move that movable middle, you know, in those many, many movements, what helped make that difference in getting the broad coalition support. He said that after over 10 years of organizing for LGBT rights, Hong Kong society had changed. People are more accepting of LGBT rights. The LGBT movement has become bigger. activists in the LGBT movement have alliances that they didn't have before. And they have gained a lot of experience on how to strategize effectively. Working together on the domestic violence law reform was a catalyst actually in reinforcing those alliances. The challenge now for the LGBT movement in Hong Kong, is the Christian rights movement, which according to Connie has grown stronger over the last few years. While only 10% of Hong Kong people are Christian, over 50% of schools in Hong Kong are funded by Christian groups. This gives them incredible access and control over the kind of education and the social services that you receive. In addition, several highly placed officials in Hong Kong government, a Christian, which has added greatest support for the family values policy that the Christian groups are pushing for in Hong Kong. Now a quick glimpse of Vietnam. When I asked activists there, how they would describe the movement for LGBT rights in Vietnam, the first response was, what movement, we have no movement. The word movement in Vietnam is associated with confrontation, and is one of the directors of an organization that is documenting discrimination against lesbians and gay men, explained, our approach is not confrontation, we promote education. He said that by carrying out research and documenting the experiences of gays and lesbians in Vietnam, they only focus on gays and lesbians. By documenting the experiences of gays and lesbians in Vietnam, and presenting this information in a scientific way, he believed that Vietnamese society would be more open to challenging their ideas about gay people, even if their personal beliefs and customs are rooted in a tradition of non acceptance. As he explains, enlightenment through education is promoted by the government. So this then becomes the entry point for LGBT advocacy without using the word movement without using the word activists. This strategy is premised on the expectation that when people have information that they never had before, they have an opportunity to challenge their floor thinking, which is based on misinformation and all ideas. In other words, they believe that people are applicable. Now, Cambodia is a third country that I want to focus on. Cambodia also uses the education approach, but their focus of the Education Strategy is the LGBT community, and not so much the general public. [00:11:22] In 2009, Rainbow coalition Kampuchea rock organized a three day long weekend workshop during pride 300 to 400 women who love women came from the capital city of non pen but more significantly, they came from distant cities and provinces traveling, you know, sometimes for a night and a half on a bus. According to rock, this was the first time that lesbians had been invited to do anything for pride, which has been celebrated in Cambodia since 2004. Now when I say pride activities, I don't mean rallies and marches on the streets. These activities are low profile activities that take place indoors, because when we think pride, you know, people usually assume outdoors. So for instance, a pride party would be held in a hotel, and like 500, gay men would be at the party. [00:12:22] This [00:12:24] workshop series of workshops that took place, all took place on the premises of HIV AIDS NGOs, where the gay gay directors very quietly allowed them to use the space. And I say quietly, because they were really not supposed to do that. Now, what's interesting about Cambodia is that the people who mobilized the Cambodian lesbians were foreigners. They were from the UK, they were basically white people from the UK and Ireland, who came under the VSO voluntary services organization. Now, they saw that the lesbians were marginalized and invisible. And can Maria, they raised 6000 US dollars, from supportive American, European and overseas Cambodians, and organize the workshop, [00:13:10] as one of the VSO staff said, [00:13:15] it's hard for lesbians to come out and Cambodia, because we are foreigners and white, we could risk being out. And we had access to resources that the local lesbian community did not. Now since 2009, that workshop that was held lesbians in Cambodia have met, again, to address the key issues in their lives, one of which is violence. And they have formed a national email network through which they keep in touch regularly. So this kind of arrangement where foreigners drive a local movement can be a problem. And I think that sometimes, and a very careful circumstances, it may be necessary to have this kind of arrangement, particularly where it is not possible for local activists in a particular point of time to initiate a movement. But again, I think that it has to be very carefully monitored, it has to be done in partnership, there have to be a lot of caveats, has to be short. And priority has to be given to developing local capacity and developing local leadership as soon as possible. I think that three of the four VSO people have now left Cambodia, because their terms are now over. But two or three of the Cambodian lesbians that convened in 2009, have now emerged as leadership to continue the work. Also, the National Human Rights Commission of Cambodia has begun the documentation project on violence against women. And when they heard that there's this lesbian network that is forming into Cambodia, and that violence is one of the issues, they have now invited that lesbian network to be included in the documentation project, which would not have happened if this hadn't come forward, if happened before. So from the three examples, I hope that it is clear that movement is not a monolithic concept. It depends on context and possibilities, that that people have in that context. That can be a movement with few people, because only they can be visible and vocal, you can have a movement from outside a country, because it's not possible with activists inside the country. A movement may start because local people who have been educated abroad come back to connect, collaborate and inspire. But the integrity of movement building is linked to who suffers the consequences of being part of a movement, and who bears the brunt of what that movement does. Sometimes people outside the country may drive a movement from outside, but they don't face any of the risks within the country that they're advocating for. Similarly, people inside the country may internationalize an issue without first consulting with other people in that country. So the question becomes who represents Who? The have a few more minutes? Yes, I would like to talk about new media technology and how new media technology is actually changing landscape of movement building in some parts of Asia. When I say new media technology, I mean, Facebook and Twitter, half of the stuff I don't even have internet, you know, all of this stuff. So but it's it's mass numbers of people can now join movements that spring into action thousands of miles away. Now, some of the complaints about the strategy is that, you know, you can press a button, you can send a letter of protest, you can sign on to petition and you may be thousands of miles away from a country that's initiating it. And then you feel satisfied, because you somehow now part of this movement, and you feel great that you've done something, but you know nothing about that country, you know nothing about the issues. And, you know, trying to fit a critical message into 160 characters. The tweet thing, it's, you know, it's it's a challenge to come up with it, but it's a challenge. How do you communicate and convey details to people about issues of that campaign. Having said that, though, there are people in Asia who rely and find that this new media technology is very useful. In 2007, Singapore gay activists Johnson on put on, he sent her an online petition, he collected 8000 signatures worldwide for the repeal of the Singapore sodomy law. [00:17:59] Also in 2007, a South Korean LGBT coalition of activists, they initiated an international cyber demonstration against Lee Mubarak, who's currently the president of South Korea. At the time, he was the presidential candidate, and he made some public comments that LGBT people are abnormal. In 2009, the International gay lesbian Human Rights Commission mobilized an online letter writing campaign to the pro to protest the Philippines Election Commission. The decision to deny under glad, which is an LGBT I party, the right to participate in national elections. And the Election Commission said that LGBT people offend religious beliefs, and they are an immoral influence on the country's youth. And therefore they should not be allowed to run for the national elections. hundreds of letters were sent to the Philippines commission from all over from Latin America, mecca for North America, Asia, Europe, to the Philippines commission. And the feedback that we got is the local activists for really bolstered by getting these kinds of letters. And it made a difference, it did make a difference to them. And it sent also a message to the violators meaning the Philippines commission that the world is watching. On the downside of new technology. People who promote hate, and violence against LGBT people also use new technology. They monitor our websites, they use the same things that we use, and they can use it to distort, they can use it to mobilize. They can seriously endanger people's lives. One recent example is a virulent hate speech and death threats made by a blogger who saw a video post by gay men in Malaysia, who making a positive statement about his identity. Now, while he received many, many supportive responses, the cyber attacks against them were frightening. And these raise important questions for us. What is the role of law enforcement in these kinds of situations? When these kinds of death threats are done? How do they protect vulnerable citizens from such terror? And I think the Human Rights Commission's need to sort of get on the ball and also catch up with technology and see how what kinds of things they can do. And how does this come under the work that they do? I mean, I've talked about some of the good things that have happened in the three countries and give a sense that things are moving. Sunil talked about, you know, looking forward, and you know, not holding on to the grievances of the past. But I do feel like I need to end on this note 10 countries in Asia, nine countries in the Pacific Islands, criminalize consensual same sex relations. And even in countries where there are no sodomy laws, there is little or no political will in many of the countries in Asia, on the part of the government to remove a whole bunch of other laws that target LGBT people. Everything from public nuisance laws, pornography laws, adultery, laws, morality laws, obscenity laws, respect of religion laws. And this lack of political will, is influenced by the presence of dominant religious ideology and cultural conservatives. And these religious leadership, they function as gatekeepers, and in many instances, they encourage policymakers to reject efforts to decriminalize sexual orientation and gender identity, and to shut down efforts to introduce non discrimination provisions in the Constitution. This has happened in South Korea, which has a small population of Christian this has happened in Singapore, which is a very small population of 2%. of Christians. This is happening in Hong Kong. This is now starting to happen in China. This is starting to happen in many other countries as well. [00:22:13] They're the rise of ultra conservative religious groups, and their influence and policymakers is also evident in Indonesia, Malaysia, using homegrown expressions of important religious homophobia. Christian groups, and hardline Islamic groups are actually a trend that I think that we need to pay attention to. They don't only affect LGBT rights, they affect women's rights. There's a lot of overlap that takes place. They incite public vigilantism. They promote homophobic backlash in the media. And they often they are endorsed by silent collusion of the governments in the countries that they operate in. So I think that these are things that we should pay attention to

This page features computer generated text of the source audio - it is not a transcript. The Artificial Intelligence Text is provided to help users when searching for keywords or phrases. The text has not been manually checked for accuracy against the original audio and will contain many errors.