December is always an extraordinarily busy and exciting time at Outright International. We bring around 40 activists - or Envoys as we call them - to New York from across the world for several days of advocacy training, followed by a week of advocacy meetings with UN agencies, Member State Missions, and others. We also hold OutSummit, our annual one-day conference on LGBTIQ equality, with hundreds of participants from across government, civil society, academic and private sector boundaries.
We make the most of closed-door advocacy meetings at advocacy week, and public-facing discussions at OutSummit to push for LGBTIQ equality globally - thus ending the year on a high.
In addition to making advocacy week possible, our donors and supporters have played a key role at OutSummit since its inception, as participants, speakers, and moderators. This year we wanted to take that a step further and provide a more intimate space for discussions and meetings. For the first time, we invited our major donors and funders from New York, DC, Seattle, San Francisco, and London to a pre-conference on Friday, December 6th - the day before OutSummit - to spend the day learning about key issues and trends from leaders in our global movement.
We kicked off the program with a speed-dating style lunch, in which donors were able to circulate from table to table, speaking to Envoys from different regions, finding out about their concerns, priorities, issues. They were able to hear Envoys’ personal stories, and connect with them individually. It was wonderful to see - at one point I walked in, thinking which table I should join, and literally every person at each table was engaged in deep conversation with someone, or even a small group.
After lunch we took the opportunity to zoom in on two key areas of Outright's work - our UN program, and the recently released report “Harmful Treatment: the Global Reach of So-Called Conversion Therapy”, including highlights of our current work, and future follow up.
Alongside Envoys, the UN panel included officials from various UN bodies, including Victor Madrigal Borloz, the Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Fernando Marani, Minister Plenipotentiary of the Mission of Argentina to the UN, Vivek Rai, Head of Civil Society Engagement at UN Women, and OutRight’s UN Program Officer Sahar Moazami. In an energetic and positive discussion, the panelists recognized that LGBTIQ people are still largely unnamed and that we are fighting an uphill battle, but that significant progress has been achieved. Envoys highlighted the role of Outright in engaging with the UN year-round, as well as training Envoys in effective advocacy at the UN, while UN officials encouraged us to keep holding the UN and the states accountable.
In a heartwrenching panel about so-called conversion therapy, Outright’s research coordinator Amie Bishop shared the findings of our report “Harmful Treatment: the Global Reach of So-Called Conversion Therapy”. It felt like the entire room stopped breathing when a survivor of “conversion therapy”, Reverend Nokuthula Dhladhla from South Africa, shared her harrowing experience of being prayed for, beaten and sexually assaulted all in an effort to rid her of the “demon” of her same-sex attraction. Inspiringly, she told the room that as a result of Outright’s study she now has the language to define what happened to her and others, and the knowledge to do more not only to support survivors in her own congregation but also in encouraging other faith leaders to speak out against it. Outright’s Paul Jansen and Yvonne Wamari also introduced Outright’s new project with partners in South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria to tackle “conversion therapy.”
Our Executive Director Jessia Stern closed the day with inspiring remarks about the urgency and opportunity to accelerate change and eradicate violence against our communities. Jessica paid tribute to Jeudy Charlot, an LGBTIQ activist from Haiti who recently lost his life, reminding us of the high cost of being on the front lines of our movement and the privilege and responsibility we have to continue and support the push for human rights and equality everywhere.
It was encouraging to have such an engaged audience, to be able to connect Envoys and donors directly and to have donors hear and be part of in-depth conversations about our work. I hope the conversations were fruitful from both sides - informing activists about how donors work and make decisions, and building awareness about the specificity of LGBTIQ activism which often faces far more barriers and constraints than activism on other human rights topics.
Thank you to everyone who attended. We will most certainly be repeating this event next year!