Asia: LGBT Activists Commemorate Human Rights Day

IGLHRC worked with local LGBT groups in Asia to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with a series of events, parades and a traveling banner. Partner groups in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines used artistic expression to make political statements, attract media attention and highlight the need to end violence and discrimination related to sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

A precedent-setting 200 people gathered in Yogyakarta, Indonesia on December 10, 2008, for an event commemorating Human Rights Day and the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The event involved two panel discussions on LGBT human rights—the first on violence against LGBT people in Indonesia and the second on sexual orientation as a human right. Those who attended the event came from the women's movement, human rights NGOs, LGBT movement, and HIV/AIDS and healthcare rights movements—setting another precedent, as rarely has an event on LGBT issues attracted an audience drawn from such diverse constituencies.

As part of IGLHRC’s observance of this day, Asia program staff worked with local activists in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines to create and launch the Yogyakarta Principles Banner celebrating the rights of sexual minority women. The banner was launched in an indoor ribbon-cutting ceremony in Yogyakarta. It includes panels of fabric with artwork and solidarity messages from LGBT groups based in China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailand. The center of the banner features a large, colorfully painted image of a dandelion dispersing seeds and the words, Our Sexualities, Our Genders, Our Bodies: Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender RIGHTS!

The events in Yogyakarta and banner activities kicked off IGLHRC’s contribution to the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign.1 Originally, organizers planned for the banner to travel from Thailand to the Philippines and finally to Indonesia where it would be launched as part of the Human Rights Day celebrations. However, two major airport shutdowns and anti-government clashes with police in Bangkok kept the banner from traveling to Thailand for the inaugural Human Rights Day for Sexual Diversity festivities in Bangkok. Fortunately, the celebration in Thailand went off without any problems and Thai activists report the event was attended by key figures in government and from the national human rights commission, and also by 100 marchers carrying rainbow-colored umbrellas.

In the Philippines, the banner was paraded through the streets for Manila Pride. Christian fundamentalist protesters greeted Pride participants and yelled homophobic insults even as LGBT activists confronted them. Some activists, including IGLHRC’s Asia Projects Coordinator, Ging Cristobal, infiltrated the line of fundamentalists and displayed LGBT-affirmative signs amidst placards calling for divine punishment of homosexuals. The peaceful confrontation drew press cameras and cheers from parade participants.

In Indonesia, anxiety over Islamist backlash particularly after the passage of the Pornography Law in November 2008, discouraged LBT women organizers from holding a street march. Instead, Indonesian lesbian and transgender activists held a small peace demonstration, which was also attended by activists from Thailand and the Philippines, and by IGLHRC staff. Demonstrators stood at the roadside with a banner calling for an end to violence against LGBT people. Some of the participants walked into stopped traffic at a busy intersection, handing out long-stemmed red roses with messages advocating an end to violence against LGBT people; drivers, motorcyclists, cyclists and scooterists seemed surprised and glad to receive them.

Yogyakarta is known for its religious and cultural tolerance and is governed by a sultan and princess who favor pluralism, including gender and sexual diversity. However, even the royal family was unable to guarantee protection to LGBT activists and advised a low-key public event.

The Yogyakarta Principles Banner and video footage of the Human Rights Day activities will be featured prominently in the documentary on Asian LBT struggles and activism that IGLHRC is co-producing with Lesbian Advocates Philippines. IGLHRC will keep you posted on this documentary that is slated for release later in 2009.


1- According to the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) website, the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is an international campaign that was started in 1991. The campaign runs from November 25, International Day Against Violence Against Women to December 10, International Human Rights Day to symbolically link violence against women and human rights and to emphasize that such violence is a violation of human rights. This 16-day period also highlights other significant dates including December 1, which is World AIDS Day, and December 6, which marks the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre in 1989, when 14 women students were massacred by a lone gunman opposed to the affirmative action policies promoted by feminists at the University of Montreal. For more information, visit: http://www.cwgl.rutgers.edu/.

By linking the activism and struggles of lesbians, bisexual women and transgender (LBT) communities to the 16 Days of Activism, IGLHRC emphasized that many social justice movements, including women’s movements, marginalize sexual minority women.