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​​OutSummit 2023 Calls for Inclusion of LGBTIQ People in Democracy and Economies






Matuba Mahlatjie
Published Date

The recent OutSummit conference brought together activists and allies from across civil society, government, philanthropy, and business from 94 countries. This meeting comes in the wake of reports describing democracy as being in trouble, stagnant at best, and declining in many places.

While there are several instances of progress in expanding rights for LGBTIQ individuals in different countries,  the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance recently released a report showing declines in social group equality, including LGBTIQ rights, in some of the 173 countries sampled. With more than 2 billion people heading to the polls in 2024, Democracy came under scrutiny at the summit, focusing on the implications for human rights. The panelists and keynote speakers shared their powerful insights, highlighting the challenges faced by the global LGBTIQ movement. Each speaker's words resonated with a common theme: the urgent need to create capacity for better LGBTIQ lives everywhere. This article explores the key quotes from the conference, emphasizing the mandate for renewed efforts to advance the rights and well-being of LGBTIQ individuals worldwide.

maria sjodin standing at a podium

Inclusivity Will Ensure Human Rights For All

Maria Sjödin, Outright International Executive Director, said it was important to note that LGBTIQ organizations have evolved beyond being solely focused on sexual health. They added queer people faced adversity not only through repressive laws and religious attacks but also in various other aspects of their lives. Sjödin said while there was a need for financial support to advance human rights, it was equally important to convince more donors to invest in the LGBTIQ global movement to complement all the creativity, passion, and expertise within. “When I started as an activist, a lot of the framing of advancing human rights for LGBTQ people was framed around HIV and AIDS, which was our entry point. Then, we successfully introduced language that is more human rights-focused. All these things are significant, and they continue to be important. But we have to talk about inclusive development as a whole. We have to talk about how to make our economies more inclusive and our democracy more inclusive,” Sjödin said. They added that by broadening focus, LGBTIQ organizations can address the multiple challenges faced by the community, such as discrimination, social exclusion, mental health issues, and economic inequalities. 

Jessica Stern holding a mic

Rejecting Division and Embracing Change

Jessica Stern, the U.S. Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons, emphasized the rejection of hate and division. She stated, "Today was a rejection of the hate that tries to divide us. We reject the idea that human rights is a zero-sum game. We reject the belief that we cannot hope for change. We are not done." Stern's words highlight the importance of unity and the collective pursuit of change, emphasizing that the fight for LGBTIQ rights is far from over.

Rituparna Borah speaking at the podium

Chosen Family and Collective Care

Rituparna Borah, from Nazariya in India, spoke about the significance of the chosen family, stating, "A found family is every bit as beautiful as a born family. Chosen family is collective care." Borah's words underscore the importance of building supportive networks within the LGBTIQ movement, recognizing the value of chosen families in providing care, love, and acceptance.

panel- andrew park, roberto zapata and rachel burton

Inclusion and Representation

Andrew Park, Outright International’s Inclusive Development Senior Advisor, stressed the need for a vision that encompasses LGBTIQ people on a massive scale, particularly in low and middle-income countries. He stated, "We have to have a vision that encompasses LGBTIQ people on a massive scale, including and especially in low and middle-income countries." Park's words highlight the importance of inclusivity and representation, ensuring that the voices and experiences of LGBTIQ individuals from all backgrounds are heard and valued.

Celebrating Cultural Diversity

Aisha Mughal, an activist and researcher from Pakistan, shed light on the rich cultural heritage of gender diversity in her country. She said, "The right-wing extremist narratives in Pakistan are all from the West. We always co-existed and had a rich culture - gender diversity was celebrated and respected." Mughal's words remind us of the importance of recognizing and celebrating the diverse cultural perspectives on gender and sexuality, challenging the dominant narratives that seek to erase or marginalize LGBTIQ identities.

Supporting Trans Leaders

Leanne MacMillan from Stonewall UK emphasized the need to support trans leaders and spokespeople. She stated, "We need to support trans leaders and spokespeople because this work is exhausting, and we need to keep them safe and give them time to recover and to be together." Her words highlight the importance of protecting and uplifting trans voices, acknowledging the challenges they face, and noting the need for collective support. 

Amplifying African Voices

Tampose Mothopeng from The People's Matrix Association in Lesotho spoke about the power of African values in challenging societal norms, especially in African countries where religion has been weaponized against LGBTIQ individuals. Mothopeng stated, "There is a window opening around African values, which can allow for diversity and challenge how people think. We are more powerful than the government, but we need to document the voices of our community." Mothopeng's words emphasize the potential for change within African societies, urging the documentation and amplification of African LGBTIQ voices to challenge existing norms and promote acceptance.

Global Solidarity and Increased Support

Ezra Nepon from the Global Philanthropy Project highlighted the need for increased support for global LGBTIQ movements. They said, "Funding for LGBTIQ causes has increased, but globally, our movements are still completely underfunded, adding that 57% of all funding goes to the U.S., while the opposition is seriously resourced. We need more support from more supporters." Nepon draws attention to the persistent underfunding of global LGBTIQ movements and the need for increased support from a broader range of supporters.

Recognizing Intersex Rights

Outright International’s newly appointed Senior Advisor for Global Intersex Rights, Kimberly Mascott Zieselman, emphasized the importance of recognizing intersex rights and bodily autonomy: "Intersex people are often treated as something to be fixed or erased as soon as we enter the world…. We need to recognize our similarities and differences and a joint focus on bodily autonomy within and between our movements." Zieselman's words highlight the need to challenge harmful practices and promote the rights and autonomy of intersex individuals, emphasizing the importance of unity and collaboration within the broader LGBTIQ movement.

Protecting Rights through Democracy

Tamara Adrián, a Venezuelan politician, emphasized the link between democracy and the protection of rights. She said, "Elections and democracy don't automatically go together. Many political parties have been co-opted by dictatorship. Without democracy, you will not have rights. With democracy, you must work to protect and ensure them." Adrián's words underscore the importance of democratic systems in safeguarding the rights of LGBTIQ individuals, highlighting the ongoing work needed to protect and advance these rights within democratic frameworks.

Reassuring Allies and Building Hope

Birgitta Ohlsson from the National Democratic Institute expressed concern about the growing influence of the far right and the need to reassure allies. She stated, "The trend I fear right now is that our allies are stepping back a bit as the far right grows. We need to be hopeful, reassure our allies that they are on the right side of history, and ask them to speak out." Ohlsson emphasizes the importance of maintaining hope, fostering solidarity, and encouraging allies to support the LGBTIQ movement actively.

Renewed Capacity for Better LGBTIQ Lives Everywhere

Outright International’s Global State of LGBTIQ Organizing report released in September made an appeal for increased, flexible, and sustainable funding for LGBTIQ organizations, including those that are unregistered or unable to register, as well as those working in hostile legal contexts. This was echoed in the quotes from the conference panelists and keynote speakers, who also called for renewed efforts to create capacity for better LGBTIQ lives worldwide. The call for increased funding, global solidarity, and democratic systems further underscored the need for sustained advocacy and activism. Michael Heflin from Outright stated, "We are committed to expanding funding from new sources to under-resourced parts of our movement. The consequences of the backlash are dire, but there are many opportunities for progress and activists who know how to defend their rights." These words put emphasis on the September report recommendations that show the significance of funding in enabling the sustainability and growth of LGBTIQ organizations and movements, as well as their ability to advance equality and human rights for LGBTIQ people.

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