Our alert website manager drew my attention to a United Nations Development Programme article entitled, “Being LGBT in Asia”. The article describes a series of consultations being conducted and reports being compiled.
As is the case everywhere, not just in Asia, knowledge, understanding and concern for LGBT persons and their issues requires removing filters and lenses that color the truth and keep conclusions out of focus. Some filters tend to make certain populations invisible to outside observers, while other lenses distort them and make them grotesque. As I understand it, the UNDP and United States Aid for International Development joint project is all about removing those lenses and filters to find out what is really going on in terms of human rights and potential for LGBT persons.
There are well-known, influential religious and cultural entities determined to keep the distortions and blind-spots in place. The report does not say whether representatives of those positions were consulted, although their power and effects could not reasonably be ignored. Instead, the report emphasizes that eight consultations were held in the past two years that called upon a wide spectrum of academic, “civil society organizations”, and LGBT individuals to share their narratives and data.
Apparently and appropriately, the joint project is geared toward reducing stigma and discrimination “within every country in the region”. In other words, enhancement of protections and equalization of rights is the ideal eventual outcome of the project. However, it is about data gathering and providing information at this point.
The product of these consultations is nine country reports. It is hoped these will have an impact on such things as empowering LGBT youth and young leaders, getting LGBT rights in the mainstream of human rights discussions, and by-passing information gate-keepers to go straight to the public (using modern social media). It is hinted that international aid organizations will be interested in this information when they consider grants.
The report ties LGBT issues to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, saying that the data will expose how LGBT people may be impeded in education by discrimination, how gender inclusiveness needs to involve lesbians, and how promotion of LGBT access to health care is attended to.
I really want to see those reports. I think they will probably break out some valuable areas of dialogue. South, South-East and Eastern Asia may not be the areas of the world where LGBT people are in the most immediate danger this year, but even here there are few shining points of light to create optimism about equal rights and gender understanding. Small LGBT rights organizations such as SOGI-FOR and M+ in Thailand are beleaguered and belittled by the immensity of other civic and political issues. In most other countries in South East Asia the situation is apparently worse, but the reports may clarify this.
Meanwhile, I am able to keep my excitement under control when I hear that still another international entity is producing still another set of reports focusing on national circumstances. It is not my understanding that the etiology of suppressed rights and dignity for LGBT persons is the result of national laws and policies here in South, South East and East Asia. Rather, these are deeply rooted cultural biases, and by cultural I mean also biases expressed sometimes in religious terms.
Realistically, we cannot expect the UN or the USA to undertake a direct study of these roots. Hopefully, the academics being called on will identify these influences more explicitly. A large general report would probably not gain attention that country reports would get. It is not only news organizations that spend 95% of their reporting on in-country events and only 5% of international news. Thai leaders will only feel compelled to respond to specifically Thai conclusions and then if they are clearly and accurately generated by Thai informants. Strategically, if results are to be forthcoming from this UNDP-USAID project, they will be most visible if they are pieces of legislation and implementation that send a signal that LGBT rights are the right thing to espouse.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.