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LGBT Asia in action

The Courage Unfolds campaign captures the struggles and triumphs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists in Asia and promotes the use of international human rights law – particularly the Yogyakarta Principles – as a tool for social change.

In 2011, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) launched Courage Unfolds, a video highlighting the struggles and triumphs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists in Asia and promoting the use of international human rights law – particularly the Yogyakarta Principles – as a tool for social change.

Co-produced by IGLHRC and Lesbian Advocates Philippines (LeAP!), the campaign actually “called for LGBT people to be protected by law, respected by society, and accepted by family. It was (and still is) a call for the use of the Yogyakarta Principles as a tool to ensure the respect, protection and promotion by governments of the human rights of all people – including LGBT people,” said Ging Cristobal of IGLHRC in the Philippines.

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Groups have used the video as an educational and community-building tool; and at present, it has been translated into Bahasa Indonesia, Bengali, Burmese, Chinese, Hindi, Khmer, Mongolian, Nepali, Thai and Vietnamese.

First released in May 2011 as part of the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), the video has its New York premiere on June 7, 2011. It was then distributed for free to all LGBT groups across the world, with particular priority given to LGBT groups in Asia. Groups have used the video as an educational and community-building tool; and at present, it has been translated into Bahasa Indonesia, Bengali, Burmese, Chinese, Hindi, Khmer, Mongolian, Nepali, Thai and Vietnamese.

Cristobal noted that a “major challenge we faced was in the distribution of the DVD to the different groups, particularly in countries where homosexuality is still criminalized, and where there are other laws that are used against LGBT people,” she said. “It was hard to send the DVD to group because the Department or Ministry of Customs in their country will either confiscate or question the groups why they are receiving a package that contains information that go against their religion/culture and/or laws.”

Advances in technology, fortunately offered a solution. IGLHRC made the film available through Vimeo, “where everyone can now download the contents of the video for free,” Cristobal said.

Aside from the 30-minute video, the DVD and the Vimeo contains extra clips, which includes the interviews of: members of Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP) discussing transgender life and the issues they faced in the Philippines; Arvind Narrain of the Alternative Law Forum (Alterlaw), discussing the experience the group had during the 377 court case (this refers to the scrapping of the anti-sodomy law in India – Ed.); Sumathy, Payana member and founder discussing post-377 situation in India; and lawyers Angie Umbac and Germaine Leonin, discussing about LGBT issues in the Philippines.

Courage Unfolds continues to make the rounds. During the Wellington OutGames 2011, the trailer of the video was presented and a discussion was spearheaded by Grace Poore, regional coordinator of IGLHRC for Asia & the Pacific as part of the IDAHO celebration in New Zealand. In Cambodia, numerous screenings and discussions were held during the Cambodia Pride, and the video is now being screened in universities. In Jakarta, Indonesia, it was shown to an international audience attending the People’s Forum of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). In the Philippines, the video was screened during the “29 Steps to LGBT Human Rights Festival”. The video is also be screened and is discussed in 29 venues as part of the Human Rights Caravan of the Lesbian Activism Project (LeAP!), done in partnership with Amnesty International – Philippines. Also, Rainbow Rights Inc. (R-Rights) also held screenings in the cities of Cebu and Davao.

Similarly, in China, screenings and discussions were held in eight cities – Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, Wuhan, Xiamen, Kunming, Chongqing, and Guangzhou – spearheaded by the Common Language, Queer Comrades, China Queer Independent Film and local LGBT groups in the different cities. In Hong Kong, a screening was held during the “29 Steps to an LGBT-friendly Hong Kong”, sponsored by the Women Coalition of HKSAR. In Mongolia, screening was held in a cinema and was attended by the Mongolian Human Right Commission by the Mongolia LGBT Center. In Malaysia, a screening and discussion was held at the Monash University, and during the IDAHO celebration sponsored by Seksualiti Merdeka and Pink Triangle (PT) Foundation. And in Burma, Courage Unfolds was screened during the country’s third IDAHO celebration.

The events taking place around the world continue, and may be tracked through the Courage Unfolds Map.

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“We will continue the effort and aim of the (Courage Unfolds) project, which is to mainstream the Yogyakarta Principles by making LGBT groups understand and apply Yogyakarta Principles in their advocacy work, and inspire groups to continue their LGBT rights work and encourage the formation of new ones,” Cristobal said.

IGLHRC now continues assisting groups how they can use the video in their local campaign in advocating LGBT rights in their country.

More information about Courage Unfolds may be found here.

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