Sara Butler | Contributing Editor
Pride World Forum features LGBT speakers from six countries
In the midst of last weekend’s Pride celebration, LGBTQ world leaders shared their perspectives of LGBTQ issues in their own countries at the San Diego History Center on Sunday, July 15. The six forum speakers, who are part of the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP), came from all over the world to San Diego Pride. This event was hosted by the History Center, San Diego Pride and the San Diego Diplomacy Council. This program brought 12 international LGBTQ leaders from: Bangladesh, Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, France, Israel, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Singapore, Turkey and Vietnam.
The six forum speakers were:
- Sevval Kilie of Turkey, founder of Istanbul LGBTI Solidarity Association
- Thanh Ha Chu of Vietnam, LGBTI / transgender activist
- Sélène Tonon of France, president of Association CGLBT Rennes
- Nina Halvey of Israel, transgender activist involved with Gila Project and Lewinski Clinic
- Massam Hussain Ansari of Pakistan, manager of Dostana Male Health
- Nikoleta Stanimirova Gabrovska of Bulgaria, executive director of Single Step Foundation
The panel discussion was moderated by Fernando Z. Lopez Jr., executive director of San Diego LGBT Pride.
“The IVLP program, the department of state, has all of you come here to learn from us. We created this platform that we could learn from all of you,” Lopez said.
“Doing this work over these last few years with San Diego Pride, it’s amazing how different our struggles are, how common our struggles are, and these connections — these global connections — only help to make us stronger,” he continued.
Joel Day, director and advisor to Mayor Kevin Faulconer, also attended on behalf of the city of San Diego.
“I am incredibly humbled and impressed at the long-suffering quest of justice in this community, and the activists who have paved the way here,” Day said. “In the spirit of friendship and love, San Diego as a city is proud to call of you all friends and is proud of each and every one of you.”
Day then presented each member of the delegation with a certificate of friendship.
“This is not only a celebration of friendship, but it is learning from friends,” he continued. “That is the key part of friendship – to organize for the fight ahead. … Thank you for your advice, council, best practices and encouragement.”
After introducing themselves and their work, Lopez asked the panelists questions about the LGBT movements in their respective countries, including struggles, victories and changes.
Q: In 77 countries around the world, it’s still illegal to be gay, and in seven countries, punishable by death. With not just the law and climate being different from country to country and province to province, state to state, what are your perspectives, either from an international law policy, the policy in your own countries or the U.S. around reform, around refugee asylee (asylum), embargo policies, that you would feel would be beneficial to the LGBT population in your respective countries?
“If you are a trans woman from an Arab family they can always — even if you move to Tel Aviv — they can always come look for you to harm you. I think having a program to help trans woman and other LGBTs to find asylum in other countries, people that I know really don’t have a future in Israel.” —Nina Halvey, Israel
“As far as I know in Bulgaria, you cannot seek asylum because you are an LGBT refugee, you can only seek asylum as a war refugee. So in any case, any reform would be welcome. I couldn’t be more specific, unfortunately because it’s just a blank page.” —Nikoleta Stanimirova Gabrovska, Bulgaria
“In France, there is such policy that you can seek asylum as an LGBT refugee, but you have to prove that you are LGBT. How can you do that? Many times we have court or lawyers asking us as an organization to [confirm] each one of them is gay or whatever. We can [certify] that he or she is a member of our organization, that’s right, but we can’t say “Hey, this person is gay!” —Sélène Tonon, France
Q: In this country, and in many countries around the world, faith has been used as a weapon against our community. It has also been used as a forefront of our movement. So in what ways does religion play to positively or negatively impact the LGBT movement in your countries?
“Religion is only harming the society. According to Islam and Islamic leaders, one who is homosexual … is actually [subject] to death, either by hanging or stoning to death. When it comes to religion in Islam, they are just taking us backwards 100 years or 200 years.” —Massam Hussain Ansari, Pakistan
“Actually, the religious leader in Vietnam plays an important role in terms of influence [on] family. The family will come to the Buddhist monastery or temple to ask for the monk to cure or convert their children.” —Thanh Ha Chu, Vietnam
“There are major political actors that are [in the] far right movement that have been acting very quietly, but very persistently, for the past five or six years, that are really closely related to evangelical churches and movements. Heavily sponsored, organized, very big network — and unfortunately they have been playing a very disruptive role in our community.” —Nikoleta Stanimirova Gabrovska, Bulgaria
Q: Pride is very different in each city, in each country — so what are some of the comparisons that you might show what Pride is like in your country versus ours?
“The last four years, the Prides in Istanbul were like Stonewall — actual Stonewall. We resist; we fight with the government. I envy people who march, who dance, who [enjoy] a festival. We will come there, but now we are at the stage of still fighting, answering back to government, resisting — actual resisting, they attack us with plastic bullets. We were peaceful protestors; we were demonstrating with our rainbow flag.” —Sevval Kilie, Turkey
“I am quite ambivalent about Pride in Tel Aviv because I think it’s a huge [public relations] and tourist event. It’s actually made use in Pink Washing Israel. I’d like to see more of a protest, more of a political demonstration. For example, the publicity budget for Pride events in Israel was 11 million shekels and the budget that our youth movement was given, which was the only budget any LGBT movement in Israel by the government, was 1 million shekels. So there you go. I think it portrays the picture [that things are] very pink and rosy, but actually the situation is not that good.” —Nina Halvey, Israel
“In Pakistan we never did Pride, but we are going to arrange the first Pride march in October 2018. … This is something from nothing.” —Massam Hussain Ansari, Pakistant