My learning experience – 36th International Human Rights Training Program organized by Equitas

The 36th International Human Rights Training Program was organized by Equitas, an international human rights-based organization, aiming at empowering human rights educators and activists to better carry out human rights education and advocacy in local, national and global level with more participatory approaches. In this year’s training program, there were more than 100 participants from different fields of human rights education and advocacy in everywhere of the world. Throughout the 3 weeks study we have discussed 6 main topics in relation to human rights education (HRE), namely Building a Culture of Human Rights, Seeking Common Ground, Applying a Human Rights-based Approach, Educational Evaluation in HRE, Actions for Social Change, as well as Providing Open Space Technology. The whole course was also a human rights education-based training involving diverse participatory approaches like small group discussions, large group discussion, commenting between groups, role-play, energizers, debates and case studies, which could serve as a perfect paradigm for human rights educators and activists to conduct further diverse HRE in the future.

The quite apparent conflicts between different cultures, religions and working areas surprised me during this training. On the last day of the first week’s study, we had a group discussion on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). During this discussion, a number of misconceptions and clichés showed up, such as “If same-sex people could get married, then I could get married with my dog, my parents and my children…” I never imagined that even in this high-leveled training full of human right activists, these narrow-minded attitudes could dominate the discussion in several groups. It is understandable to own misconceptions or discrimination on LGBT people, for some of the participants who were coming from countries where LGBT or same-sex behaviors are strongly illegalized by the government with death penalty or imprisonment.

However it is still promising as LGBT issues were followed up at different sessions in the following two weeks. I was so satisfied by witnessing a lot of positive attitude changes from different participants. Human rights advocacy is a long-term goal, especially for the equal rights of LGBT people. Even in developed countries such as the USA and Canada, the living condition of young LGBT people is not always as good as we imagine.

The second concept that shocked me a lot is the permanent prejudice inside our brains. We were born with prejudices and grow up in a specific environment where we could not meet every person and cover every issue in our life. There are thousands more issues and attitudes beyond our conceptions and experiences. Prejudice is born with ignorance and incomprehension, and it requires tolerance and critical reflections to eliminate by active human beings.

It is not exaggerating to state that IHRTP is a life-changing experience as many of our experience and conceptions have been challenged by multi-cultural communication. Not only the topics we are not familiar with, but also the fields we have already known or professionalized. In the past I always regarded it difficult to utilize international treaties, since they seemed extremely obscure to understand. However, in reality if we spend several hours in reading and discussing each of the treaty, it is no longer that difficult to understand the importance of these treaties in our work. These off-line readings inspired my passion on human rights issues in a totally different angle, and I found it very worthwhile to master these basic tools as comprehensive human rights advocators.

Another positive change is that I am more self-confident to carry out rights-based participatory trainings in the future. For instance, how to utilize diverse participatory approaches such as small group discussions, large group discussions, role-play, case studies, and Open Space Technology, how to develop right-based schedule with multi-cultural aspect taken into consideration, how to carry out effective evaluation and monitoring, and how to serve as a more considerate and skillful facilitator in different right-based trainings.

Equitas could apply a more positive strategy, say, involving more LGBT identified people in the IHRTP in order to better advocate equal human rights for LGBT people during the training course in Canada. On one hand, with their positive participation, homophobia and transphobia dominating conversations could be avoided during the discussion. On the other hand, these LGBT identified people could help to popularize basic information and knowledge in relation to LGBT issues as well as gender equality and gender diversity, so that Equitas could save more time as well as human resources. Another effective approach is to add some simple questions in the application form or in the pre-trainings questionnaires, like what is your attitude toward homosexual or transgender people? With these answers they could be aware of the attitudes of participants, and avoid the unnecessary conflicts beforehand.

Michael (Yan Liu) – Youth Voices Count member/ Core Working Group members- China

Michael Liu is a 28 years old a community-based researcher and a human rights activists in China. In the year of 2011, he began to work at a local community-based organization in north-east China, Consultation Centre of AIDS Aid and Health Service, focusing on the issues of sexual marginalized populations, including LGBT, people living with HIV and sexual minority-oriented sex workers in northeast China. In 2012, he became a core member of Youth Voices Count. After receiving a number of training and internships outside of China, he began to carry out human rights-based training and workshops in China, such as Youth Sexuality Education Training, Anti-blackmailing Training for Youth LGBT, and CBO Capacity Building Training, etc.

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.

Vinaka!

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