ILGA – Annual Conference in Athens: “Many voices, One movement – Mobilising together for a just society”

                         Painting by Nikolaos Voulgarelis Painting by Nikolaos Voulgarelis
Interview with Konstantina Kosmidou
 
The 19th Annual Conference of the ‘International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association’ (ILGA) took place in Athens, 28-31 October 2015. The theme “Many voices, One movement – Mobilising together for a just society” brought together activists and policy makers from 53 countries. ILGA is an international non-governmental umbrella organisation comprising over 400 organisations from 45 European countries.
On the occasion of the Annual Conference, AnalyzeGreece interviewed Konstantina Kosmidou, Board Member of OLKE (Lesbian & Gay Community of Greece) since 2005, President for two years (2011-2013) and currently International Relations Officer.
ANALYZEGREECE!

What were the goals and the main theme of the 19th ILGA conference “Many voices, One movement” held in Athens this past week?
The ILGA-Europe 2014 conference dealt with the question of how to lead sustainable change for our communities, under the theme ‘MOVEment: leading sustainable change.’ The event triggered some great discussions:
–the need to develop a ‘shared grammar of values’ with mainstream society and make them part of popular culture,
–the need to build alliances with other (social) movements, including those working on gender issues,
–the need to rethink sustainability, especially where hostile, conservative and reactionary forces operate to undermine our work for greater legal and social recognition, or even chip away at successes already won.
We concluded that, for better or worse, the LGBTI cause has unintentionally become a symbol representing the kind of society we all want to live in. This fact has confirmed our belief that sustainable change can only be achieved by tackling hierarchies and asymmetries within our own movement. We must become the frontrunners of a much broader social justice movement.
Context:
The ground-breaking Maltese gender identity law. The lobbying efforts of marriage equality campaigners in Slovenia. Year after year, we have been fortunate enough to be encouraged by legal as well as political wins, and most importantly: social change. Such campaigns are exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure – we all know that. These gains should only strengthen our resolve to keep going and not cause us to ease off.
LGBTI activists are the driving force behind such impressive standard-setting developments. We must continue to support them in countries where equality battles still loom on the horizon. There are still many laws to change, many policies to be adopted, many hearts and minds to win over. Everyone has a role to play to maintain the momentum we have all built up together. This must happen on a proactive country-by-country basis and involve the entire LGBTI community.
 
Please, give us some more details.
In several parts of Europe, there is actually a growing sense of urgency to take action. More and more LGBTI human rights defenders are at risk on a daily basis. The legal and political gains of the past decade are under threat. The promise of LGBTI equality is fiercely threatened by the reaction of opposition groups. Action is needed because when negative public sentiment is allowed to expand it can set progress backwards, significantly backwards.
While we celebrate the progress made so far, we cannot and must not forget those within the LGBTI communities whose could be at risk of being “left behind”. We need to work to ensure that the legal, political and social change brought about by our actions is not change for some of us, but for all of us.
In short, now more than ever, we need more people to act strategically and effectively towards achieving our ultimate goal of equality for all LGBTI people.
Learning from our conversations in Riga, we plan to ask ourselves some challenging questions this year. Athens will provide the backdrop for discussions on how we can consolidate our victories and engage the entire movement. Our workshops and events will address the following topics:

 
· How can we make use of the European LGBTI movement’s emerging position as a flag bearer of human rights and democratic values to leverage positive change and rally new allies?
· How do we broaden the movement of supporters of equality, especially in the face of opposition groups?
· How can we find new allies to help respond to new threats and challenges?
· How can we reach out to rally new supporters of equality?
· How do we leverage growing public support for LGBTI equality to bring about lasting societal changes?
 
Unpack so we can repack – During this conference we will unpack the concept of mobilisation starting with advocacy work in our own communities all the way to changing public attitudes and involving our allies effectively. We want to explore what the key conditions for effective engagement are. We will be looking at what mobilisation means in different contexts and strengthen our movement’s ability to lead this work. This will lead us to reconsider some of our traditional methods of work, to take a critical look at the messages and narratives we use, to look into new strategies and update our “activist toolbox”.
 
Which are the main questions, according to your opinion?
We will be asking ourselves –the movement, allies and supporters– many questions, such as:
· How can wider mobilisation in our societies be a key factor in achieving the change we desire?
· How do we engage effectively in public and political debates when the landscape of the battlefield has changed?
· How do we strengthen our movement’s ability to mobilise, keeping in mind the many challenges that we all face at the same time?
· When we talk of mobilisation, how can we make sure that our work truly benefits from the rich diversity of our communities, and gives back to them? If we truly want to bring about successful change, we need to make sure that all people are included and all our needs are addressed.
· What are the best ways to engage with our new allies in this context? What are our commonalities? And what are the challenges we face with them?
 
Can you provide us with a brief “profile” of the conference (Participants, organizations, countries, speakers etc)?
The participants were 500 in total from all over Europe and other continents, including Africa, America and Asia. Speakers like: Mrs Elke Ferner, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, Mr Randy W. Berry, U.S. State Department’s Special Envoy for Human Rights of LGBTI Persons, Mr Yiorgos Kaminis, Mayor of Athens, the minister of Justice of the Greek government, Members of all the political parties, the party leader of Enosi Kentroon Mr Leventis, and many members of the European parliament, were some of the fantastic speakers of the conference.
 
What were the issues that emerged from the conference?
What the local hosts contributed to the conference was the diversity in all matters. For the first time in an ILGA-Europe conference, there was a silent room for religious LGBTI people, disabled LGBTI groups, sign language interpreters, a large trans community, all kinds of diversity. This was the message that we wanted to pass on, of a diverse but strong united voice for our rights, especially the freedom of expression among our community.
 
Have any demands/course of action been defined for the time to come?
Diversity and the role of politicians for the LGBTI agenda, and, also, establishing relations and lobbying with the state.
 
As far as Greece is concerned, we would like a comment on the debate that took place in the conference among the representatives of the political parties (SYRIZA, ND, PASOK, DIMAR, To Potami, Center Party).
It was a difficult but promising debate. It was the first time parties of the Parliament were together in a debate over LGBTI issues, with the minister of Justice Mr Paraskevopoulos present. They all signed a pledge where they promise to vote in favour of civil partnership and law changes on issues like parenting rights, transgender recognition etc. It was the first time that so many parties agreed to the LGBTI agenda. Also, the minister of Justice promised to introduce the new law for civil partnership, which includes recognition of same-sex couples, for public deliberation at the beginning of November, which he did.
 
In the context of the current situation in Greece, what are the goals for the Greek division of ILGA in the near future?
Push the LGBTI agenda to law and policy makers, lobby politicians, open the floor to every diverse LGBTI group, and ensure a new law for civil partnership and a new law against hate crimes and hate speech.
 
Κonstantina Kosmidou is a board member (since 2005) and currently International Relations Officer of OLKE. From 2011 to 2013 she was the president of OLKE.
 
More details on ILGA-Greece: http://www.ilga-europe.org/tags/greece
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  • The original text was first published on: Written for AnalyzeGreece!