Much of the focus during WorldPride last month may have been on the parties and parades, but among the many events produced was the Human Rights Conference. It was the second time New York has hosted the conference, with last year’s being essentially a trial run for Heritage of Pride, the organizer of Manhattan’s Pride events, in anticipation of it hosting WorldPride in 2019. InterPride, the group that licenses World Pride, requires host cities to sponsor the conference.
The success was in the numbers. Last year, approximately 80 to 100 people participated. This year, on the two days the conference was held, June 24 and 25, that number was about 400, according to Eboni Munn, Heritage of Pride’s communications manager.
New York Law School hosted the conference, with events taking place at numerous venues across its Lower Manhattan campus.
Several keynote speeches opened the event, including one from Harnaam Kaur, a British woman with a condition known as heightened androgens, which in her case gives her facial hair typical of males. Sporting a full beard as part of her body positivity, Kaur said her condition exposed her to intense ridicule as a youth and she would look at herself in the mirror and say, “I hate you, and you look like this, and this is the reason you are getting bullied.” She added, “At my lowest point, I was ready to end it all. I was 16 years old.”
Among the goals of the conference was highlighting vulnerable LGBTQ communities while focusing on themes of resilience and accepting one’s identity. A panel on transgender women of color featured Raquel Willis of Out magazine, who moderated, along with Janet Mock, writer, activist, and producer of “Pose,” and Tracey Africa Norman, the first transgender model.
“I would absolutely love if the world could wake up and realize we are not a threat to anyone, and to stop the killings, stop the harassment, and stop the beatings,” Norman told the audience.
Mock said, “My vision is just so basic, it’s just that black trans folk are offered the same resources and care and nourishing that most people are often given: shelter and a loving family.” She added that her hope for the future is that “underground economies won’t be our only options to take care of ourselves.”
Later, in speaking with Gay City News, Willis contrasted the glamorous images some trans women of color have achieved in the media with the increasing violence against their community as a whole.
“It is beautiful, right, that we see so many black trans women just killing the game in media and out there more than ever before, but we can’t ignore the target that puts on our backs,” she said. “When there is the heightened visibility but there haven’t been the material changes in our community, yes, we become more visible, but at what expense? There are still trans women who are getting attacked everyday, or trying to find work, or trying to find acceptance from their communities, from their families. So it has to go hand in hand.” Among the wider LGBTQ community and its allies, Willis said, “there isn’t this kind of pouring of the resources into black trans women who are on the ground. Our lives matter. We shouldn’t have to be public figures, we shouldn’t have to be actresses and models to be respected. We should be able to just navigate the world in any given way.”
By bringing activists from across the globe to New York, the conference emphasized both the work that needs to be done on LGBTQ rights internationally and the progress that has occurred. Appropriately, there was, at the conference and in the WorldPride March, a large contingent from Taiwan, where marriage equality staked out its first win in Asia.
Jay Lin, the CEO of Portico Media, an LGBTQ publishing concern, told Gay City News that he was part of a delegation of 20 Taiwanese activists in New York to learn more from others.
“Marriage is one step and there is a lot of other things we need to improve on, in terms of human rights such as transgender rights, equality in the work force,” Lin said. “These are all things that the US seems to be or is one of the leading sort of countries.”
Acknowledging his surprise at learning about the violence facing transgender women in the US, Lin said, “However, because of this brutal violence, there are a lot of role models” fighting to change things. “In Taiwan, we don’t have a lot of transgender role models at this stage, so it is good to come and learn what other parts of the world are talking about.”
Newly launched international organizations used the conference as a networking opportunity. Alan Wardle, a Brit who is director of the Global Equality Caucus, explained that his group, formally launched at the United Nations a day before the conference, includes LGBTQ politicians and allies pressing the equal rights cause globally.
“Politics has the power to change people’s lives,” said Wardle.
Other panels included one on LGBTQ historic sites, where Pulse nightclub owner Barbara Poma discussed the plans for memorializing the 2016 tragedy in Orlando. Antoine Craigwell, who heads DBGM, which is focused on the mental health needs of LGBTQ African-Americans, moderated a panel on building allies for such efforts and discussed her group’s plans for an October conference in New York. Bess Hepworth of the Asia-based Planet Ally hosted a panel on LGBTQ families, and ORAM, the Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration, led a session on LGBTQ refugees around the world. The conference’s impressive diversity ranged from military service to queer theater, and after two years, its organizers said it is likely to remain a fixture of Pride Week in New York going forward.