Imagining the Future of LGBTQ Human Rights, a two-day conference held on Oct. 6 and 7 at Concordia University, sought to analyze a wide range of human rights issues and to discuss the future of the movement. The seminar addressed a multitude of critical global concerns, with a total of seven discussions on topics including the criminalization of LGBTQ communities, the LGBTQ refugee crisis, realities faced by transgenedered people, and youth activism. About a hundred experts in the fields of law, psychology, anthropology, and sociology, as well as activists from Montreal and around the world, attended.
Organized by the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation in collaboration with Le Centre Jacques Cartier, the conference featured several notable panelists such as Rosemary Thompson, a former CTV and CBC journalist; Louise Charron, former judge of the Supreme Court of Canada; and Danielle Peers, renowned wheelchair athlete and disability studies scholar.
Bruno Selun, an activist and analyst who has been managing the European Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBT Rights, spoke to the difficulties faced by activists in the movement.
“The role of rights is limited,” Selun pointed out. “We can advocate for rights all we want, but that doesn’t mean reality is going to change in and of itself.”
He emphasized that the focus had to change from just rights to ensuring equality before the law, access to resources and important services, and social equity, which are often denied to members of the LGBTQ community.
“Having said that, such discourse on rights is extremely important in the international relations context because it at least brings distinctly opposed countries to the same table,” Selun added. “We have to recognize the value of having a set of ideas that we can all relate to. Whether we agree or disagree with them, at least we’re on the same table with the global South, the Middle East and others that do not share the same point of view.”
Peers further commented on Canada and the West’s role in promoting LGBTQ rights in other countries.
“We don’t realize the ways in which we are exacerbating the problem by a lot of decisions that we make, often locally in our own homes,” Peers said. “Collaborating with the local population in the areas affected is a much more sustainable alternative than imposing uninformed ideas and policies upon people whose culture and beliefs, and thus requirements are substantially different from the West’s.”
“We should work across movements [as] we got where we are because movements and fights found some commonality in what was oppressing them,” Selun advised.
Panelists also discussed the idea of broadening the LGBTQ movement to widen its impact. Extending the realms of the movement to similar struggles, such as the feminist movement and the movement for the rights of people with disabilities, will add momentum and expand its base, according to the panelists.
Selun also voiced his opinion on the roles of institutions such as governmental organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and universities in the LGBTQ movement.
“For the future, my advice for institutions is threefold,” Selun said. “To NGOs—think more critically about what we do, to governments—listen to people on the ground, and to academics—enable through research and criticism.”
Though the event was hosted by Concordia, McGill helped with the publicization of the event, according to Wilson Blakley, the Director of Communications at the McGill Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies (IGSF), a participating organizer of the event.
“IGSF is a research institute and our mandate is to support research and teaching activities in gender, sexuality, and feminist studies,” Blakley said. “We organize a number of symposiums […] and we do as much as we can in collaborating in outreach work with other local associations.”
According to Blakley, students participating in such conferences would increase their sense of theoretical and participatory activism.
“I think it is important that students themselves determine what their role could be,” Blakley said. “The programming that we offer—the educational programs in gender and sexuality studies—give tools to students to chalk out their own mandates.”