AVAC Marks International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia with Advocacy at the UN and in Washington at Center Stage

May 25, 2016

The International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (fondly and widely known as IDAHOT) was last week—May 17. AVAC marked the day with action on the frontlines of the fight to secure dignity and justice for all people. Here are some of the steps we and our partners took during a full week of action.

One major focus for AVAC and for many advocates was the ongoing campaign to ensure that the voices of key populations are heard as part of the UN High-Level Meeting (HLM) on Ending AIDS which will take place June 8 – 10, and is described as a time where “world leaders, government representatives, HIV program implementers and civil society organizations from across the world will gather at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, United States of America, to chart the way forward to ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

As many of our partners know, there has been an inexcusable move by some country delegations to block registration of NGOs representing key populations, including sexual minorities, from participation in the HLM. Since global health and justice depend on open, inclusive societies, this isn’t acceptable.

Last week, advocates working at the regional and national levels from HIV service organizations, networks of people living with HIV, women’s rights organizations, and advocates working with groups representing key populations, came together as a coalition to lobby member states and their missions. The “lobby week” brought together 38 advocates from 30 different civil society organizations in countries throughout North America, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, Asia and the Pacific, and the Middle East.

Members met with 26 different governments to inform governments on the coalition’s key priorities and to educate them further on how to address contentious issues throughout HLM negotiations. Among these key priorities are sex work, financing, TRIPS and access to medicine, gender-based violence, comprehensive sexuality education, and key populations including young key populations.

During the week, AVAC, with support from the Danish Mission in NY and the UN LGBT Core Group (a wide network of countries that aims to ensure a place for “SOGI” (sexual orientation and gender identity) at the UN), organized a ground-breaking event at the Danish Mission in New York. The event brought together over 10 country missions and over 22 activists from around the globe to dialogue on inclusion of issues related to gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM) in the HLM declaration. The meeting also addressed the exclusion of MSM-led organizations. The US government representative in the meeting said the US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power did write a letter to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon about the exclusion, and AVAC and other organizations are working to ensure that MSM and LGBT voices are heard during the HLM—through direct participation and high-impact side events.

In other IDAHOT activities, on May 14th, the UN Free & Equal campaign launched a new video, Why We Fight” which celebrates the contributions that LGBTI people make to families and local communities around the world.

OutRight Action International organized, Celebration of Courage, the first LGBTI event to take place inside the exclusive Delegates Dining Room of the United Nations. This event honored individuals and organizations, including UN Free & Equal Campaign, Arus Pelangi (national federation of LGBTI communities in Indonesia), US special envoy for LGBTI rights Randy Berry and Microsoft’s Dan Bross. Omar Sharif Jr. of Logo TV presented the Global Ally Project, where Egyptian-born Sharif helps share stories of LGBT people around the world. The project also includes a survey of 100,000 people in 65 countries on attitudes toward LGBTI people. The event’s host, actor Alan Cumming, congratulated the efforts of the activists and the Global Ally Project for bringing to light the real stories of LGBT people.

“Homophobia is a form of fear,” he told us. “All fear, when you’re exposed to it or understand it, goes away. You open your heart a little bit. It would be easy to be complacent and forgot what’s happening in the world.”

The week ended on yet another high note at the US Capitol. The Institute of Current World Affairs hosted a conference on the Geopolitics of LGBT Rights with an overview of rights in Africa, Asia, Europe and America. The conference had high-level keynote speakers, including Denmark’s Ambassador to the UN and the US special envoy Randy Barry, who in his remarks said, ‘’Tolerance is not our goal but it is often better that what we have now,” adding that if people are accepted for who they are the world will be a better place.