About 100 GLBT leaders from 40 countries converged on
Oakland California over the weekend for the 21st world
conference of the International Lesbian and Gay
Association - almost a gay United Nations, reports our correspondent Rex Wockner.|
| Delegates came from Argentina, Australia, Chile,
China, Costa Rica, Estonia, Ecuador, Guatemala, India,
Jamaica, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mexico, Nepal, New
Zealand, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Romania, Russia,
the Philippines, Poland, Slovakia, South Africa, Sri
Lanka, Venezuela and Zimbabwe -- as well as from
several Western European nations, Canada and the USA.
Moscow gay leader Nikita Ivanov
|ILGA used to be very Eurocentric," said Secretary
General Kursad Kahramanoglu. "There are as many
non-Europeans as Europeans here this year. In the
past, even when ILGA world conferences were outside of
Europe, we only had European [attendees]. This year
they're not overwhelming the conference."|
Held at Oakland's Federal Building, State Building and
City Hall, the conference was greeted by Mayor Jerry
Brown, the former California governor and U.S.
presidential candidate. "I really appreciate your work," Brown said at a gala
reception in the City Hall rotunda. "I join in
solidarity with you for those that are not here but
are suffering the ravages and the prejudice of
homophobia and discrimination in violation of human
rights in this country and often, even more so, in
different places -- [in hopes] that this gathering and
our collective power will turn the tide till someday
justice rules for everyone whether it's gay, lesbian,
transgender, bisexual, black, Latino, Asian, whatever.
Ultimately the human family has to come together."
ILGA conferences draw "the cream of the crop" of GLBT
activists, said delegate Cynthia Rothschild, a board
member and GLBT activist at Amnesty International USA.
"ILGA provides a site that doesn't exist elsewhere for
the people who are the heart of the movement.
"I come away with heightened sensitivity toward
struggles beyond my own in this nation, beyond my
chosen organizations," Rothschild said. "I come away
with political partnerships. It's rejuvenating. It
strengthens our work when we go back home. We build
teams of advocates for different kinds of work, and
that feels particularly compelling."
Which is not to say ILGA has not always been
disorganized, poor and rife with political
"ILGA is so anarchic and chaotic," said Ashok Row
Kavi, India's most well-known and outspoken gay
activist. "The Europeans are too wary of handing too
much power to the Latin Americans and the Asians. In
India, we've been working on a rather large network,
just like ILGA, and it's about as bad as ILGA --
organizing Indians. Get three Indians and you have
three political parties."
The conference reflected ILGA's disorganization.
Attendance was down, some scheduled workshops did not
take place, delegates had trouble finding meeting
rooms, some sessions degenerated into bickering, and
security guards at the Federal Building, where the
bulk of the sessions took place, claimed to be unaware
of the gathering and confiscated journalists' cameras
as a threat to national security.
"ILGA has a big challenge in the future because other
international organizations are growing," said Jordi
Petit of Spain, a former ILGA secretary general. "The
only way to go is to join with these other
international networks. We need to work together to
fight for our rights, for example against the Islamic
opposition. We also need the support of pink business.
The gay and lesbian volunteer movement cannot do it
alone in the future for ILGA."
Given that its primary function has been as a
networking tool for far-flung GLBT activists, ILGA
faces competition from the Internet as well.
"We can do in one second things that some years ago
took weeks or months, like, for example, the case of
the 52 men jailed in Egypt for being in a gay bar,"
Petit said. "The Egyptian government had to shut down
its e-mail system because of the thousands and
thousands of messages of protest and solidarity from
gay and lesbian activists around the world."
Oscar Atadero, president of ProGay, the Progressive
Organization of Gays in The Philippines, believes ILGA
could regain some of its former "lustre" by reaching
out even more to Third World GLBTs.
"As an organization, ILGA is a mess," Atadero said.
"But, for me, it's very empowering to see lots more
delegates from the Third World. We're making our
voices heard. I think ILGA has lost a little lustre
over the years."
"My unsolicited advice is that if it
really wants to reinvigorate or reinvent its
importance, there should be more ILGA conferences
outside the developed world. ILGA can make huge waves
in developing country capitals. These are where the
reaction, the conservatism, the violence against gays
are on-going and still not addressed. Putting the
conferences outside the developed world would inject
new blood and a new mission for ILGA."||
Oscar Atadero, president of the Progressive Organization of Gays in The
Delegate Tariq, from Pakistan, hardly knew what to
think. He'd never before been outside of Pakistan, an
Islamic nation where gay life is limited to extremely
cautious cruising in parks and hotel lobbies. He found
ILGA on the Web and they invited him to the
To have any kind of gay organization in Pakistan --
political or social -- would be "dangerous and
impossible," he said, "due to tradition and religious
and legal systems."
Do he and what he described as his "little number of"
gay friends have private parties? "Impossible," he
said. "Legally, it is sanctioned."
When a reporter offered to take Tariq across the bay
and show him San Francisco's gay Castro neighborhood,
he seemed troubled at the suggestion unless the
reporter had some "contacts" there.
Although attendance was down significantly at this
year's ILGA conference compared with the group's large
European confabs in the late 80s and early 90s, a 2003
gathering is scheduled for Manila, in the Philippines.
That gathering could draw greater numbers if, as some
European delegates suggested, the low turnout this
year can be blamed primarily on the bad exchange rate
on the U.S. dollar for Western Europeans. Delegates
from Third World and former communist nations usually
attend ILGA conferences on scholarships while
delegates from the developed world tend to pay their
For more information on the Manila conference or other
ILGA activities, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org