A 10-member regional board has been elected for the first time by 26 Asia-based member organisations of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) on Sunday, 27 Jan 2008, at the third ILGA-Asia conference held in Chiangmai. Members of ILGA met separately after each day's conference proceedings to discuss the proposals related to self-organising within the organisation.
About 160 lesbian, gay and human rights activists from 12 Asian and non-Asian countries attended the conference which was held in the northern Thai city from Jan 24 to 27. The conference was hosted by the Committee on Lesbigay Rights in Burma (CLRB) and M-Plus, a local gay group which runs a drop-in centre.
Asia is currently represented on ILGA's world board by Mira Alexis P. Ofreneo of Manila-based lesbian activist group CLIC (Can't Live In the Closet) and Aung Myo Min of Committee for Lesbigay Rights in Burma which is based in Chiangmai. They were elected at ILGA's last regional conference held in 2005 in Cebu, the Philippines.
Following the appointment of the new ILGA-Asia board on Sunday, Poedjiati Tan of Gaya Nusantara, Indonesia's oldest gay rights advocacy group; and Sahran Abeysundara (Equal Ground, Sri Lanka) - best known to many as being a contestant on The Amazing Race Asia - will be the new female and male representatives to represent Asia on ILGA's world board.
The other eight members of the Asia board are Eva Lee (Common Language, China) and Ashley Wu (Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association) representing East Asia; Toen-King Oey (Arus Pelangi, Indonesia) and Tan, South East Asia; Abeysundara and Hasna Hena (Bangladesh), South Asia; Anna Kirey (Labrys, Kyrgyzstan) and Sukhragchaa (MSM Mongolia), Central Asia; Kamilia (Institut Pelangi Perempuan, Indonesia) and Frank Zhao (Trans China) were elected to fill the vacant seats in the West Asia region (Middle East) as it did not have any representation in the conference.
The 10 board members will serve a 2-year term until a new board gets elected at the next ILGA-Asia conference to be hosted by Nepal's Blue Diamond Society in 2010. The other contender Bali, which was proposed by potential host organisation Gaya Nusantara, lost by a hair's breath when a vote was taken on Sunday. Only member organisations have voting rights, while individual members are excluded from voting.
According to the ILGA website, the aim of a regional conference is to provide an "opportunity for Asian activists to reflect on ways to consolidate their movement and further progress in self-organising on a regional level."
Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, ILGA Female Co-Secretary-General, says that one of the main aims of establishing a regional board is to create opportunities for activists in Asia to network, pool their resources and benefit from the experiences of others who face the same challenges in their own countries.
"One of the short term objectives is to have a working constitution and eventually establish a secretariat in Asia - a registered NGO working for LGBTIQ rights. My vision is for Asia to form a cohesive and strong network to fight for our rights in this region which has long been neglected," the Sri Lanka-based activist told Fridae.
"Many of the countries in Asia also criminalise homosexuality so I think a concerted effort to decriminalise in many of the countries would be a primary objective of quite a few regions."
She added that the key to gaining LGBT rights is having a big voice, and making it "so much bigger so that people have to take notice" and recognise equal rights for gay, lesbian and transgendered people.
Prominent speakers at the 4-day conference include Dr Naiyana Supapueng from the National Human Rights Commission in Thailand and Vitit Muntarbhorn, Professor of Law at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University who also co-chaired the experts' meeting which drafted The Yogyakarta Principles, a set of principles on the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity. Prof Vitit is also a UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Attendees of the conference also heard from Aya Kamikawa, a Setagaya Ward Assembly Member in Tokyo who is the first transsexual person to seek elected office in Japan; and Kanako Otsuji, Japan's first openly lesbian politician who ran in a national election last year about mainstreaming LGBT issues at a national political level in Japan
A street parade was held in the city for the first time as over 200 conference attendees, observers and members of the local LGBT
community marched from the Buddhist Centre (Puttastan) to Pantip Plaza
on Saturday night. More photos and reports to follow.