A Conversation on LGBTI Rights

It is not often that we convene a gathering with such a degree of uncertainty about how it will received as we experienced yesterday (31 Jan 2012) when we organised a dialogue on LGBTI rights at the request of the Swedish Embassy.

As organisers we asked ourselves beforehand why should we convene it when there are organisations in the sector that could do so. How do we deal inevitable perceptions that ‘there they go again seeking to take over’? Ultimately, we agreed that we should go ahead because LGBTI rights are societal issues and should not be left to the affected people only. For us at Sonke, homophobia is also a gender issue and should be part of our work. Taking time to listen would not be such a bad thing.

And these questions were asked in even more stronger words in the very beginning. We did however have a mature audience and resources who, despite their reservations, were soon able to rise above this obstacle and engage in frank and often brutal exchanges.

Some key questions:

  • How do we manage the politics of engagement and participation with government and civil society?
  • Why should we elevate LGBTI/gender concerns above other social injustices. Have we not affirmed that human rights are indivisible and universal?
  • Are we vigilant against serving the agenda of others in what could easily be seen as part of the global ‘civilisation project’, who could be coming to us through donor funding, etc?
  • Are northern countries, such as Sweden, really taking these issues seriously in their own context before they become missionaries?

And some observations:

  • We need to do more listening before we jump into action.
  • The body of knowledge and strategies develop by LGBTI activitists must be acknowledged and considered in any work we may think of doing. It is not like we entering a virgin field.
  • Much of the work is about the right to be human, and not so much about being gay.
  • Activism requires of us to be less understanding. Otherwise they too soon understand the constraints of delivery and access to rights