Organizers of the WorldPride Human Rights Conference, June 25 to June 27, are hoping the growing visibility of LGBT rights will bring them a fresh audience.
“We are at this weird tipping point in terms of LGBT rights internationally,” says Brenda Cossman, co-chair of the conference. “The bizarre thing is in different places they are tipping in different directions. In the United States, they are tipping towards marriage equality, and trans rights seems to be having a moment.”
Hosted by the Mark S Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto, the three-day event will shine a spotlight on activists and advocates worldwide who are fighting for LGBT rights.
Cossman and her co-chair, Doug Kerr, looked across the world to find their speakers, eventually whittling down 400 workshop proposals to 180. The final schedule, they say, runs the gamut of LGBT rights work, including some issues that haven’t received much publicity, such as the growing transgender rights movement in southeast Asia.
Ten gay Ugandan delegates were denied visas to travel to Canada for the event over fears they would try to claim refugee status when they arrived.
“We are still cautiously optimistic that we will be able to get the Ugandans here,” Cossman says.
Organizers are so hopeful that they will be able to resolve the visa issue that they have not yet created a contingency plan to fill their panels — Cossman says they will cross that bridge if they get to it.
One Ugandan — Dr Frank Mugisha — will definitely be making the trip to Toronto. Mugisha, the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, an organization that advocates for LGBT rights, has made headlines for his vocal stance against Uganda’s anti-gay bill passed earlier this year.
Speaking with Daily Xtra last year, Mugisha said the law makes gay Ugandans fearful to leave their homes. “It’s about my life and the life of other Ugandan activists,” he said.
While there is currently a waiting list for conference passes, Mugisha and a number of other dignitaries, including HIV/AIDS activist Cleve Jones, Russian LGBT activist Masha Gessen and former Icelandic prime minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, will speak at a series of mid-afternoon plenaries open to the public.
By sharing these experiences, Cossman hopes activists in Toronto can make the connections that will help them build and grow the LGBT rights movement worldwide.
“I think it’s an incredible opportunity on different levels for folks from around the world to come together to share their stories of resistance and their stories of hope.”