By Vince Meehan
San Diego Pride, in partnership with The San Diego Diplomacy Council, held the fifth annual Pride World Forum at the San Diego History Center in Balboa Park, on Feb. 13.
With 25 human rights leaders from around the world, they met with local advocates for an exchange of stories and ideas as part of the International Visitors Leadership Program, a professional exchange event sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. This year, San Diego Pride hosted an open mixer after the formal meeting as a way to introduce San Diegans to the visiting leaders and also enable direct conversations.
Fernando Lopez, executive director of San Diego Pride, welcomed attendees and introduced four of the foreign leaders who took turns addressing attendees. Sunbu Kwon, from South Korea, told how the Korean military had arrested and prosecuted gay soldiers by stalking them on gay dating websites. Kwon was able to advocate for the soldiers and helped introduce a bill to stop the process, but that bill has not yet been ratified.
Kimberley McLeod, of Jamaica, is vice president of the advocacy group Generation 2000. She spoke of being inspired by some of the leaders she met here in San Diego and planned on taking that energy back home to Jamaica.
Mariya Dautartaite, coordinator of the National Campaign for a Safe Lithuania, serves as an advisor to the president of Lithuania and has raised awareness on bullying and drug and alcohol abuse. She stressed that silent witnesses who say nothing only add to those problems.
Vihaan Peethambar, of India, spoke of the hardships of being a trans man in his own country. Peethambar explained that in India, the population is familiar with male, female and trans women — but not trans men. This renders trans men virtually invisible in India, and that creates difficult and dangerous atmospheres for them to live in because they have no support system.
After speaking, leaders mingled among the attendees, answering questions and posing for pictures. Many took the opportunity to explore the “LGBTQ+ San Diego: Stories of Struggles and Triumphs” exhibit at the San Diego History Center, which has been on display since last year’s Pride Festival. The exhibit features photos, videos and displays documenting San Diego’s LGBTQ+ community and its fight against discrimination.
Jessica Frank, program associate of the San Diego Diplomacy Council, explained how they work to create a dialog between local leaders and emerging foreign leaders and activists.
“Today, we’ve worked with Pride as well as the International Visitors Leadership Program in an effort to connect local with the global,” Frank said. “As a nonprofit, that’s a part of what we do and we’re thrilled at the turnout today.”
— Vince Meehan can be reached at email@example.com.