This is Who We Are

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IGLYO’s “This is Who We Are” conference held this summer in Amsterdam allowed for 4 days of cross-cultural examination of the status of LGBTQ issues in the world. Youth from all continents joined together in what is called the “gay capital of the world” to discuss the situation of LGBTQ issues in their respective countries.b_thisis

The goal of this conference was to establish the present issues and accomplishments for LGBTQ people around the globe, seeing what works and what doesn’t and adapting a method that could help in our own countries. This was achieved by introducing the Yogyakarta Principles, their purpose, methods and usage. Informally, by group discussions and open dialogue, we began applying selected principles to our own country’s situations.

The venue for this conference was held in the COC house where themes such as “Right to Personal and Human Security” and “Rights of Participation in Cultural and Family Life” among 6 others were discussed in different rooms of the house. We moved around the house and had debates and discussions about our countries concerning the theme. By discussing the current situations in relation to the themes we were able to see very clearly how each country differed. If a country had achieved the theme, we discussed the methods it had done so with (media, outreach, safe houses…) and see how applicable it would be in countries that have difficulties in reaching the theme. Further, we discussed advantages and disadvantages of the method itself. Media campaigns, for example, are the fastest way to achieve LGBTQ awareness in a local community. You can design and address the campaign to your own advantage. A disadvantage, however, could be spreading homophobia. Since homosexuality has been “openly discussed” in the campaign, that means homophobia can be openly discussed as well. Logically, that would be a good thing, a discourse between LGBTQ activists and homophobic people who do not acknowledge gay rights as human rights. Sadly though, in our part of the world, activism and public speaking may cause more harm to us than good and may risk activists’ safety

Each country naturally has its own separate and unique problems concerning LGBTQ rights. Some countries are more tolerable than others. Some countries are yet to acknowledge the mere existence of LGBTQ persons.

It was definitely an experience for me as a Lebanese lesbian living in Jordan. I had the chance to debate the status of gay rights in two different countries. As a member of Meem in Lebanon, I’ve been exposed to the gay activist community where we have strength in numbers. We can obtain permits for a peaceful sit-in and we can hire a venue each year to celebrate IDAHO. We have a growing list of gay friendly spaces and doctors. At the House, we have weekly meetings and activities, retreats, affordable counseling and powerful support system. We are becoming recognized, especially after the launch of our book of collected queer women stories called “Bareed Mista3jil” earlier this year.

Leaving the support system in Lebanon and moving to Jordan brought to light how different LGBTQ issues are. In Jordan, the LGBTQ community spends more time and concern about their safety than about their rights. The community is very secretive and any attempt to form a support group is quickly rejected by most of the community itself for fear of recognition and persecution.

Interestingly enough, there is no law that criminalizes homosexuality in Jordan. The fear is actually from society and the law enforcement because they both link homosexuality to prostitution, drug abuse and – oddly – Satanism.

One of the themes discussed at the conference was “Rights of Human Rights Defenders”. This theme was derived from principle 27 of the Yogyakarta Principles “The Right to Promote Human Rights”. This posed a difficulty to discuss since we live in a region where gay rights are not recognized as human rights. Also, in Jordan, for example, we cannot begin defending our rights if homosexuality is viewed as Satanism (which is illegal and punishable by law). Defending it will then be seen as defending something illegal, which in turn makes defending it illegal!

IGLYO’s conference taught us many things. Mostly was how important it is to be an activist. Even though it is very difficult for the UN to utilize The Yogyakarta Principles in the Arab world, it is easy to see that the principles themselves are very logical and simple. The only major issue is recognizing LGBTQ rights as human rights too.

Contributed by Sarah


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