IGLYO is an abbreviation for the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender, Queer Youth Student Organisation. It was created in 1984 and whilst serving as a vital network it is also an important meeting point for LGBTQ youth within the European region.
If you would like more information on IGLYO, what they do, events, getting involved, resources and perhaps importantly contact details than please go on to their website: http://www.iglyo.com
Last week I attended an IGLYO conference in Brussels, Belgium. The conference was titled ‘Keep the Faith’ with the objective of promoting inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue in the LGBTQ youth sector. As I have already mentioned the remit of this organisation is within the European region and because of this I had made the assumption that it would be Caucasian heavy with many of the delegates not identifying with a religion. To follow on from this I then made the assumption that it would be more pro-LGBT than it would be pro-religion and that there would not be much of a bridge between the two. However, when I received my welcome pack and reading the agenda I was pleasantly surprised to realise that this would not be the case at all.
The agenda was full to the brim of all things cultural, diverse and religious which not only included space for discussion on this area but also workshops as well which was an integral part of this conference. It was brilliant to see such an array of subject/discussion areas. In short, before I had even attended the conference it was already boundaries-stretching and ideas challenging.
The most intriguing part which I was looking forward to was the methodology of the conference. In the welcome pack, it states that IGLYO prefers to use ‘non-formal education methods’ which means that the conference would not consist of sitting at a table listening to people for hours ‘telling you the “the right way” of doing things.’ It goes on to highlight their importance and indeed emphasis being places on sharing ideas, experience and indeed best practice as being the most effective way of being able to learn more, concluding with ‘after all you are the experts of you realities.’ It was this part in particular that got my activism and excited juices flowing for the conference as I have never participated in a conference which uses this particular type of working method.
Considering the fully packed agenda of the conference and the vast amount that I can include particularly from all of the things I found really useful and inspiring it will probably be best if I walk you through the main parts of the conference which I felt I learnt the most from, day by day.
Given where that the delegates were coming from all over Europe and America, it made sense for everyone to arrive the day before. This was a great opportunity to get the ice-breakers out of the way and begin to settle into our surroundings and the ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) team, the prep. team and of course the other delegates before the start of the conference.
As with any conference there was a welcome and introduction section which is standard but the special part of this conference was that it was up to the delegates to negotiate with one another to decide on the ground rules for the entirety of the conference. This was a great exercise in being able to clearly and coherently outline our expectations of one another’s behaviour and conduct which is particularly important for safe space reasons as with any conference.
Discussing IGLYO Position Paper on ICIRD
We then moved on to discussing IGLYO’s Position Paper on ICIRD (Inter-Cultural and Inter-Religious Dialogue) which was important in terms of enhancing our own understanding of IGLYO itself and of course their recent inclusion of ICIRD within organisation and indeed work. In a nutshell the paper covers background information about IGLYO’s work within ICIRD, defining various terminology, inter-cultural dialogue and sections within this, inter-religious dialogue and looking particularly at the Abrahamic religions, LGBTQ friendly religious organisations and fellowships and rounding the paper up with IGLYO’s recommendations. With respect to the section ‘Islam and LGBTQ’ I was taken aback at just how much this essentially explained my life in terms the continuous struggle that many Muslims face in ‘finding a balance in living as a good Muslim and experience their personal freedom and self-realisation’ among many other things in this section.
This overview session outlined the importance of IGLYO’s use of the framework of multiple-discrimination to push forward ICIRD. The part which I found particularly warming was when Jordan (Programmes and Policy Officer at IGLYO) underlined the importance of not imposing the European model of democracy and human rights and rather using this position paper as an important framework for ICIRD at a grassroots and indeed a national level through supporting local groups and organisations. This reminded me of the concept of localising the global and globalising the local.
Expert Session: Understanding Religious Diversity: From Theory to Practice Part 1 & 2
These sessions concentrated on not only religious diversity in terms of religious belief but also the diversity among followers of religion particularly the diversity with respect to sexual orientation and how many reconcile this within religion specifically looking at passages from the Bible. The first speaker, Angel, concentrated on trans issues and spoke from a personal as well as a Biblical perspective which was really important as it is not often we hear of LGB (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual) voices within the context of religion let alone T (Transgender) voices.
Father Brian who is an openly gay priest talked about his own experiences and indeed difficulties he encountered within his own journey. The part of his story which I found particularly interesting was the he firstly came out as a gay man and then he found religion. Father Brian’s talk consisted of whistle stop tour of history and discussing the deconstruction of LGBT within religion when challenging misconceptions about religious homophobia. The most crucial part which I personally took away from his talk was the idea that we must take God out of the box that people have defined her as. Angel and Brian’s baseline of their presentation and discussion is that God is love.
World Café: Religions and Cultures
This was a great chance to find out more about one another’s thinking, the organisations that we represented and indeed the current situation of LGBT+ people as well as ICIRD across Europe.
Essentially, each table had one question and we worked together in groups to put forward answers and with respect to some questions, practical solutions by sharing best practice, we then circulated the tables to give everyone a chance at answering each question.
Here are the questions:
- What is the current situation of LGBTQI people and ICIRD?
- What are the positive/negatives and the strengths and weaknesses of the above question?
- What can be done to make it better?
- What can you/your organisation do to better this situation?
After we completed this part of the session, we were then asked to place dot stickers next to the ideas we agreed with the most. We then had place the recommendations in order of which had the most dots. The top five which were on my table were: equality education starting as early as possible from nursery onwards, finding tolerant religious people, leaders etc to network, empower and support religious people who are LGBT friendly, identify role models who are religious and LGBTQI and cooperation between public and government authorities with various diverse groups (sexual orientation, cultural and religious).
Zara (prep. team member who was leading this session) explained that IGLYO would then take on board these recommendations for the IGLYO General Assembly.
Workshops: Ethnic, Linguistic, Social Challenges within LGBT Communities
The most shocking and disturbing aspect of this session was when Onur talked about military service in Turkey but more specifically, the homosexual opt-out clause. Military service is mandatory of all men in Turkey through conscription however, because of the laws around homosexuality, gay men are not allowed to serve within the military. This brings me to the homosexual opt-out clause. If one can prove that they are gay through photographic evidence they are exempt from serving in the military and it is written on their medical records that they have a mental illness. The photographic evidence is very graphic as it must consist of a man being anally penetrated by another man for it to be deemed valid. Due to conscription being the norm in Turkey, every employer looks for military service history on respective employees CV and if they have been exempt then it is more difficult to find a job.Onur (a member of the prep. team) and Shabby (a delegate) ran a discussion on ‘How Masculine Identities are Constructed within Muslim Societies.’ They both shared an Islamic background which was interesting to draw on throughout the session. Onur talked about the hegemony of masculinity and the influence of class even among gender. He also stressed the importance of research on masculinity and masculine identity as there is often less emphasis to do so. With respect to his background, Onur talked about what it means to be a ‘man’ in Turkey and how the structural model described it: Circumcision, marriage and military service with violence being in between all the points of the triangle.
Open Space – Space For Your Initiatives
During this session I ran my own workshop which I had developed for Black History Month. Essentially, the workshop is all about challenging perceptions and stereotypes about particular groups of people in this respect, Black, LGBT and women whilst also tackling multiple discrimination. In a nutshell, I put images of 40 women on the wall. I then handed out pieces of paper which consisted of names and their contribution to the world which they had to match to the faces. Some faces are more famous than others for example, Queen Latifah and Maya Angelou.
The question I would then ask is ‘What do they all have in common?’ The standard and indeed most obvious answers are that they are all Black or of ethnic origin etc and that they are all women. Very rarely do I hear the answer that they all identify as lesbian, bisexual or trans. When I ran the workshop at IGLYO many if not most people in the room were surprised to hear that these famous faces identified in such a way. This then moved me on to discuss multiple discrimination and indeed how we increase representation of Black and LGBT people within the student movement including universities and student unions.
The part that I love the most when running a workshop is the Q&A session at the end as it gives people a great opportunity to share ideas and indeed best practice on the topic of the workshop which in this case was on how they can tackle lack of representation within their organisations and communities. Ultimately, it’s about remembering that even though there are various glass ceilings, there are people who continuously smash them and we should be proud and do our bit too.
Interactive Session: Play It Fair
- Theatre of the Oppressed sheet as an overview of what it was about and the aim of it
- Pros and cons
- Room for improvement
This was probably one of the most interesting and arguable most controversial session of the conference and certainly a first for me. ‘Play it Fair’ is based on the Theatre of the Oppressed which is all about using theatrical techniques to offer critiques of situations whilst also being able to offer solutions. It is largely based on dialogue and interaction between the audience and the performer.
It is all about role playing situations which we may have encountered around homophobia and finding ways we can offer solutions to it during the role play that we could use in real life if it is safe to. The controversial aspect of this sessions developed during the play as it almost seemed like people were jumping to become the voice/face of the oppressor and not many people were able to jump in and offer solutions. However, I held my own classroom protest by standing on my chair and holding a piece of paper which read ‘I am a queer Muslim woman’ with an arrow pointing down to me and encouraged others in the class to do the same to highlight the importance of visibility. A male delegate dressed as a woman to show visibility of transgender identities within the classroom. A group of girls stripped to their underwear and came barging into the room shouting ‘Free Pussy Riot’ which was another interesting form of protest.
The last few role plays were all about figures of authorities coming out and how it is important to challenge homophobia in this way. I continued this stream of thought by enacting a Muslim teaching and inviting the class to participate in a prayer session lead by a Muslim woman. There was of course some Islamophobia from some of the class members (within the role play) however, when the two Muslim men, and other non-Muslim’s and I started praying the room fell silent as a sign of respect.
As controversial and as uncomfortable some may have found this session, I found this exercise to be incredibly sobering to the reality that many of us do and will continue to face different types of oppression and prejudice but the most important thing to remember is that there is a global community of activists out there that are working towards the universality of human rights and making the world and our communities a better place for everyone.
Conflict Resolution: Definition of the Conflict, Understanding of the Constructive Ways to Move Forward
This photo explains the layout of the conflict resolution session. It was the first time I had ever attended a conflict resolution session or a session around this idea. The most important aspect that I took away from this session was optical illusion. The optical illusion essentially had two pictures within one. One was of a young woman looking into the distance and the other was of an old woman looking down. Some people could only see one or the other and some could see both. The point of this exercise was to demonstrate that there are often more than one truths in a conflict and that it is important that we only accept one another’s truths but also accept them as their truths.
Campaigning and Action Planning: Applying Concepts to Concrete Situations in Own Contexts
This was perhaps one of the best sessions of the conference because we were able to talk about issues that we face in our respective countries around homophobia and other types discrimination. We had a chance to come up with ideas in our regional groups of how we could tackle these prevailing issues. The regional group which I was placed in was of course Western Europe.
The issue that we felt came out on top was multiple discrimination. Most of us do not belong to just one community but actually several. We have multi-faceted identities. An example would be being Black and queer or disabled and trans*.
The different aspects of our identity are a source of pride and strength however, they can also make us the target of prejudice on more than one level. For example, a Black gay man might experience homophobia from some parts of the Black community, racism from some parts of the gay community, and racism and homophobia from everyone else! This is what is known as multiple discrimination.
As a group, we felt that the best way to tackle the issue of multiple discrimination was to encourage visibility of multi-identities. This would be done through a nationwide, region wide and indeed global poster campaign of real people displaying their multiple identities in pride.
The closing ceremony was quite possible one of the most moving ends to a conference I have ever been a part of. We all were given a candle which on the side read ‘Keep the Faith <3’, we stood in a circle as the candle went round and we lit our own we were given the chance put forward our thoughts of the whole conference. What moved me the most during the circle was hearing how others in the group found the week so touching that they were beginning to re-consider their faith or rather lack of faith irrespective of their sexuality. This was the single most instrumental part of the week that highlighted to me the great importance of visibility. It reminded me a quote which I absolutely adore:
‘And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.’
– Maryanne Williamson
One thing that I wholeheartedly agreed with was when a member of the group summed up his experience as meeting as strangers and leaving not just as friends but rather, a family. I really could not have put it any better.
- The part of the conference which I absolutely loved was just how much of an opportunity we had to talk with one another outside of the workshops. It seemed that we spent a lot of time doing this and remarkably we didn’t ever go off topic. All the conversations outside of the workshops were about getting to know one another, where we’re from (countries and organisations) and more important how we are working on ICIRD among youth both as individuals and of course through our respective organisations.
- People not identifying as Black because of internalised racism and they don’t realise it even after having challenged them and discussed it with them. This really hit home for me and made me re-think of how to engage and indeed dialogue with people about the issue of race and identity.
- Before dinner, I particularly was honoured to be a part of the Shabbat ceremony by Daniella and Yoni. It was a beautiful blessing of the food and indeed was beautiful and the first time that I had ever had the honour of being a part of.
- Out of all these moments the most fundamentally important and indeed life changing and life-reaffirming was that I was asked by a Muslim brother (Yusef from Imaan) to lead prayers. At first I was hesitant because I had never even prayed with men (due to cultural reasons which have nothing to do with religion) before let alone lead prayers! In short, I ended up leading a mixed-sex, inter-cultural and inter-religious prayer sessions where the congregation identified as LGBT+. It was beautiful, empowering and literally took my breath away. I was honoured that the allowed me lead the prayers. It was very empowering not only as a woman but specifically as a Muslim woman.
Conclusion and Final Words
It is important to state that I attended the conference in my professional capacity representing NUS BSC as the LGBT Women’s Representative. However, as you can see after having read my report it is a mixture of professionalism and personal thoughts, opinions and experiences. This conference was unlike anything I have ever experienced. As one friend at the closing ceremony put it ‘We started the week as strangers but I feel like we’re leaving as a family.’ It could not have explained my sentiments more.
Okay, so that’s me done. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my fairly lengthy report. I would apologise for its length but this conference was brilliant to say the least and so I just wanted you to get a glimpse (because believe me there is so much I have left out!) of just what I experienced and more importantly what I learnt not only about ICIRD among LGBT youth and indeed wider society but also what I learnt about myself. If you have any questions or would like me to elaborate about anything within this report then please do contact me I’ll do my best to answer them for you. I have included my contact details at the end.
If you would like any of the information I have outlined in this report (welcome pack, IGLYO Position Paper on ICIRD, tools for my Black LGBT Women’s workshop) then please do contact me.
Just as an FYI (for your information) the complete list of resources, both pre-conference and during conference is pretty exhaustive. The following is a list of just the pre-conference information:
- Welcome Pack
- IGLYO Inter-Cultural and Inter-Religious Dialogue GA2011-15-ICIRD-PP-adopted
- UN – International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
- Yogyakarta Article – Human Rights Law Review
- The Council of Europe – White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue
- My workshop on challenging perceptions and stereotypes: Black LGBT Women
There were also recommended readings as further pre-conference preparation which I did not get round to reading:
- Craven, M. (1995) The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: A Perspective on its Development. Clarendon Press.
- Lorentzen, L.A., J.J. Gonzalez, K.M. Chun and H.D. Do (2009) Religion at the Corner
- of Bliss and Nirvana: Politics, Identity, and Faith in New Migrant Communities: Duke University Press Books.
- Wilk-Woś, Z. (2010) ‘The Role of Intercultural Dialogue in the EU Policy’, Journal of Intercultural Management 2(1): 78-88.
- Wimberley, J. (2003) ‘Education for Intercultural and Interfaith Dialogue: A New Initiative by the Council of Europe’, Prospects 33(2): 199-209.
Just before you go: I’d like to leave you with a quote that summed up the conference for me:
‘Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the recognition that some things are more important than fear.’
– Irshad Manji
This conference was instrumental in reminding me that no matter what obstacles are placed in our way, no matter what hate, prejudice and discrimination we encounter, there is a global movement for the universality of human rights for all people regardless of their background, gender, culture, religion and sexual orientation. It is for this reason that we must not lose hope and continue doing what we do in our various forms of activism no matter how big or small it may be for the cause of human dignity around the world.
Just before I finish, the following page consists of my contact details. Again, please do contact me if you have any questions either about this report, the conference or even just anything related to NUS or activism etc. I would love to hear from you and any feedback you may have as I am always looking for ways to enhance my own knowledge and participation in different and indeed new organisations and events.
One last thing, if you would like the original version of this report which has photographs in it, please just drop me an email. 🙂
NUS Black Student’s Campaign
LGBT Women’s Representative