NXT2015 LGBTIQ Young Leaders Conference

I was participating in the NXT:15 Young Leaders Conference organized from the 19th of March to the 22nd, through the partnership of the Embassy of the United States of America and the Auckland Pride Festival Inc., together with Unitec Institute of Technology.

The 3-day conference was a learning curve for me and the experience was incredibly amazing. Day one saw the awesome and inspirational award winning designer, filmmaker and playwright, Mr. Welby Ings, facilitating a session on the importance of reviving the use of queer language and terminologies.

This session also shared Mr. Ings’ 2006 Academy Award shortlisted Film “BOY”, which was a very moving story on the culture of silence, which we from Pasifika Island countries can totally relate to. He spoke about the Yogyakarta Principles, and shared his personal story of coming out, the struggles that he went through, and the outcome victories that resulted from his push to get equality for the rainbow community.

The second day saw a vibrancy of influential keynote speakers like David Kilmnick, founder of Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youths, from the United States of America, and Andrew Hogenboom, who was a Management Counselor at the US Embassy to New Zealand and who also identifies as gay.

Their personal stories were very liberating and the topics were crucial and inspirational, with the provision of different ideas of countering the issue of homophobia and transphobia in the context of religion and culture, which we are always reluctant to address, and also on how we should all embrace the diversity of gender and sexuality.
NXT 2015 aTamani Rarama ( on the left) at the NXT:2015 LGBTIQ Young Leaders Conference held from 19th 22nd March 2015 in Auckland

Tamani Rarama ( on the left) at the NXT:2015 LGBTIQ Young Leaders Conference held from 19th 22nd March 2015 in Auckland

I represented Fiji LGBTIQ community in a panel on the last day, sharing the experiences from my country, our progress, and how our advocacy and activism differ from Western countries.

The conference ended with a pride parade march on Ponsonby Road in Auckland, which stood out as the highlight of my trip. Unlike in Fiji, we didn’t have to worry about security. It makes me want to work for it, to make it happen in my country, to tackle the hierarchy of the religion and culture, and at the same time to conform to the existing policies.

The conference motivated me to formally register the Rainbow Students Association at the regional university that I currently attend, University of the South Pacific – USP. This would help us mobilize young LGBTIQA USP students together with the support of our ally friends and families who also fight for our cause.

The conference also boosted my confidence level in terms of asking and responding to critical issues and at the same time, helped me advocate in a more proactive and sustainable way while treading over the fine lines of culture and religion.

There is also a need for Fiji to have a support services organization that is specifically rendered to the LGBTIQA community, a safe space for those who still hide their sexuality, to open up and get medical and therapeutic assistance.

I would like to recommend the US Embassy in Fiji, together with LGBTIQ organizations to push forward the agenda of having a similar kind of conference here in Fiji. I also recommend them to fund programs to strengthen capacity of our young activists and advocates.


Tamani Rarama – Youth Voices Count Member – Fiji

A Blue Print for trans people in Asia and the Pacific and a free Space for our stories to be shared

South Asia Transgender and Hijra Consultation and Regional Dialogue on LGBTI Health and Rights in Asia and the Pacific

Nepal hosted the first South Asia Transgender and Hijra Consultation: Advancing Trans/Hijras’ Rights & Health in South Asia on 3-5 February 2015,  that brought together over 70 participants from South Asia and Asia Pacific region to discuss common issues, exchange experiences and extract recommendations for future action. The consultation was co-organized by the Blue Diamond Society (BDS) and UNDP under Multi-Country South Asia (MSA) Global Fund HIV Programme (Phase 2).

It was a huge learning and networking opportunity for me at a personal level. I met and interacted with many transgender men and women, hijra activists, civil society groups, government officials from various countries, officials from national human rights institutions, development partners and HIV and health experts. It was very fascinating to interact with young activist like myself from the region, where we had many differences and similarities.

The consultation was successful in addressing specific issues related to health and rights of transgender people in the region, including the following:

  • Appropriate age of consent and parental consent for young transgender people (below age 18 years) to undergo sex reassignment surgery or hormonal therapy, or to access HIV services (including testing services);
  • Need of addressing specific issues of young transgender people such as bullying at school, physical and sexual harassment; and
  • Wider engagement of other stakeholders such as UNICEF (for young transgender people’s rights and protection), UNESCO (for young transgender people’s education), etc.

The Regional Dialogue on LGBTI Human Rights and Health in Asia-Pacific took place from 25-27 February 2015 at Bangkok, Thailand. The dialogue was attended by almost 200 delegates (mostly LGBTI individuals) from across the Asia-Pacific region.

I was particularly fascinated to see many people sharing their personal stories, and majority being young people (some of them were openly speaking for the first time), and people from every corner: from Fiji, Tonga in the Pacific to Iraq, Afghanistan in the west. We were all diverse in our nationality, culture, and socio-political and economic background, yet we were all connected with one similar trait: our sexuality or our gender identity.

We all were comfortable talking about our issues, which we usually find difficult to talk back home. The sessions included every aspect of LGBTI lives: from rights and health needs to access to education and legal environment. All the stories were a narrative of pain, struggle, courage, and ultimate victory. The dialogue provided safe space for everyone and especially for the new emerging young leaders (like the young gay men from Bhutan) where they could network and initiate activities in their respective countries. It provided hope and motivation. And more encouraging was to see active participation and commitment from government and NHRI officials, especially from Mongolia, Bangladesh and Indonesia.

I was particularly moved by the story of a mother and her son from Vietnam. I could just relate their story to my own. It was painful, but yet very inspiring. I could not hold tears at times. I personally feel that this kind of lived stories & experiences needs to come out so that people will see and feel what is hidden inside the closeted doors of LGBT lives and what it is like to be a LGBT person. I hope all these stories from the dialogue will come out as a book, someday soon, as requested by many other participants.

Bharat Shrestha – Youth Voices Count Member- Nepal

Young People are More than Infectious Diseases

 20 April 2015, Bangkok, Thailand – Today Youth Voices Count, a network of young men who have sex with men (MSM) and young transgender people in Asia and the Pacific, released its latest discussion paper titled Jumping Hurdles.  This discussion paper reflects on the barriers young MSM and young transgender people face when trying to access HIV health services.

This is the result of our extensive consultation with 26 young MSM and young transgender people from 14 countries throughout Asia and the Pacific.

“At the clinic, the public health inspector laughed at me because of my appearance before sending me to the doctor, who then insulted me for trying to become a woman and having sex with men,” said our transgender member from Sri Lanka. “I was very disappointed with their treatment and regretted that I had come, telling myself that would be the last time.”

Sadly having HIV or being even thought to being HIV positive is still a basis for discrimination in many countries. If you identify as gay, bisexual or transgender and also young that discrimination is doubled.

Our Jumping Hurdles categorizes the major barriers young MSM and young transgender people face in accessing health services in three key areas: availability of information, environment, and counseling.

We want healthcare providers to be friendlier towards young MSM and young transgender people. We want their staff to receive training on gender and sexuality. We want the waiting and consultation rooms to showcase symbols that would make us feel more comfortable.  Something as simple as having a rainbow flag or a pink triangle will help us to feel welcome.

“Being young and sexually marginalized puts MSM and transgender youth at much higher risks for HIV,” said Dr. Nittaya Phanuphak, Director of Thai Red Cross. “Healthcare providers need to tailor their services to the needs of these young people to increase their sexual health services uptake, which plays a big role in driving down new infections.”

We recommend policymakers to remove the need for parental consent when we access HIV services, decriminalize consensual sex between men and diverse gender expressions, and outlaw discrimination on the basis of gender and sexuality, among others.

We recommend programmers to ensure a holistic and inclusive health package for young MSM, young transgender people, and for those living with HIV.  This should include a sex positive approach to HIV prevention programs, including teaching techniques to enhance pleasure while using condoms and practices to minimize the risk of HIV transmission.

Youth Voices Count (YVC) is a youth initiative led by young men who have sex with men and transgender women. We bring together the most vibrant, diverse, and young community leaders in Asia and the Pacific, supported by Hivos and APCOM.

Media contact:

Niluka Perera

Project Officer

Youth Voices Count

Email: niluka@youthvoicescount.org