Asia Catalyst

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In 2003, Trim was volunteering as a moderator of online groups that discuss lesbian and domestic violence issues in China. While sorting through QQ--a popular Chinese messaging service-- she found an influx of posts from "lesbians wanting to kill themselves" due to the stigma and discrimination they experienced. Realizing that China needed an organization that focused on issues faced by the lesbian community, she met Xian, a lesbian activist with the goal of establishing such an organization, and Trim joined the founding team.

Established in 2005, Common Language is now China's leading lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LBT) rights organization. Through community mobilization, public education, and law and policy advocacy, Common Language focuses on Chinese communities suffering from oppression based on sexual orientation and gender identity and endeavors to educate the general public on sexual diversity issues.

 "Common Language is about having the strength to solve issues on a larger level," says Trim. "If you can change society's perception of the issues, then you can generate systemic change." Among the systemic change already generated is increased lesbian activism in China; for example, the total number of lesbian organizations in the Chinese Lala Alliance, a network of lesbian community-based organizations, has grown from zero at the time of Common Language's inception to over 30 today.

After participating in a one-day workshop with Asia Catalyst in May 2013, Common Language realized the benefits of a strong strategic plan and capacity building, and joined Asia Catalyst's one-year capacity building program. After each workshop in the series, Trim facilitated internal meetings for Common Language to disseminate lessons learned, and now several of her team members have increased project management and advocacy skills. One of the motivating factors for joining the program was to learn the skills to pass on to other lesbian organizations and, today, Common Language is applying these skills and delivering community trainings of its own.  

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In August 2014, Common Language conducted a Youth Action Camp. The Youth Action Camp was developed through experience with Asia Catalyst training, and Common Language's history of holding "Lala Camps" in collaboration with the Lala Alliance, which brought together LBT organizations and individuals from across the country for networking, information sharing, and training. Lala Camps were normally a large and expansive affair, but this year's Youth Action Camp was re-structured as a smaller seven-day workshop training series for LBT CBOs using AC training methods.  14 people from 4 cities in China attended, with organizers from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan as facilitators and trainers.

Using Asia Catalyst's curriculum and training methods,  Common Language staff facilitated the week long workshop, with an Asia Catalyst staff member also assisting with several trainings on-site and serving as a mentor for some of the Common Language facilitators. By the end of the week, Common Language cleanly transitioned from student organization in Asia Catalyst's programs, to independent innovator and implementer of Asia Catalyst's community-centered curriculum.

As with many of Asia Catalyst's programs, none of the Youth Action Camp participants had previously done strategic planning as an organization; most did not have government contacts and very few had media and foundation contacts. After the 7-day training, 86% of participants reported being able to make strategic plans, 93% learned the three aspects of organizational vision, and 100% reported that they would be able to use the new skills learned during the training in their work. As one participant put it, "I have never been a meeting facilitator before but I am sure I know how to be one with all the skills I've learned."

This bodes well for the future of China's LBT community. As a representative from Common Language puts it, Asia Catalyst's contribution of strategic planning to the Youth Action Camp agenda "really took these organizations from community support groups to bona fide CBOs. Now they are devising projects with their strategic plans in mind, and working towards a clear vision."

Based on feedback from participants, Common Language now aims to develop a version of Asia Catalyst's curriculum Know It with case studies and examples specific to the LBQ community. In the grand scheme of things, the organization wants to generate a ripple effect alongside Asia Catalyst, with participant LBT organizations providing support and capacity building to younger and less experienced groups in the region. Following the Youth Leadership Camp, this ripple is beginning, with some participants loosely mentoring organizations in Lanzhou and Hohot. In the meantime, Common Language continues to strengthen its own skills in capacity building training, to provide more in-depth training and skills to the "ripple" organizations, and help them to pass their skills on even further.

Most Significant Changes
By Eli Binder 

Eli Binder was an intern with Asia Catalyst for the summer of 2014. He is now in his second year of the College Program at Bard High School Early College.

Asia Catalyst brings together representatives from Chinese community-based organizations (CBOs) in its year-long peer-driven capacity building program. These CBOs represent marginalized groups who experience unique challenges in obtaining the highest attainable standard of health, including people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV), LGBT groups, people who use drugs (PWUD) and sex workers. Over the course of a year, the representatives of these CBOs learn how to effectively run an organization and conduct rights-based advocacy. In July, an external evaluator collected testimonials from alumni organizations about the most significant changes that were sparked by Asia Catalyst's training. 

As an intern this summer, I had the privilege of translating many of these Most Significant Change stories from Chinese to English. Each document tells the tale of the changing status of these marginalized groups - and their organization's role in catalyzing these changes. They all thank Asia Catalyst's training for the knowledge and sense of empowerment and autonomy that made their changes possible.

The marginalized groups that Asia Catalyst works with in China face social stigma and institutional discrimination. For PLHIV, these issues manifest themselves in things like discriminatory hiring practices and the denial of medical services. LGBT groups face extreme stigma - in fact, homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder by the Ministry of Health until 2001. Sex workers and PWUD are also socially ostracized, and in addition, sex workers face up to two years of detention and forced labor under the extrajudicial "Custody and Education" system while PWUD face similar treatment in compulsory detoxification centers.

These issues faced by Asia Catalyst's partners are undoubtedly daunting. Reading the Most Significant Change stories by the organizations that have tasked themselves with combating rights violations, however, left me with an optimistic outlook on the future of these marginalized groups in China.

Most of the Most Significant Change stories begin in a similar manner: an individual or group of people witnessed or suffered a health-related injustice or human rights violation, and decided to do something about it. Each activist formed an organization tasked with righting the wrong they experienced - but most of them did not have a formal education in organizational management. A climate of mistrust of activists and stigma surrounding marginalized groups has left Chinese society with little framework for aiding activist with big ambitions and good intentions but without managerial experience.

Because of this, most of the alumni of Asia Catalyst's training began without the knowledge and capacity to run sustainable organizations. For example, one of Asia Catalyst's partner organizations was founded by four female sex workers who wanted to provide HIV prevention and medical services to other sex workers in their community. Lanlan, one of the founders, recalls that upon foundation, her and her colleagues' "understanding of what an NGO was was not very clear," and because of this, they were not able to make the difference in their community that they wanted to. 

Participating in Asia Catalyst's capacity building program seemed to change that. The CBOs cite a vast array of skills they took away from the training as having contributed to their most significant changes. 88% identify increased strategic planning capacity as key to their most significant change; 53% note an increase in their advocacy capacity as crucial; 29% identify an increased fundraising capacity as critical; and 24% cite an increased training and coaching capacity as important - the list goes on and on.

For Xishuangbanna Buddhist House, a CBO located in the scenic hills of Yunnan, the most significant change came from learning about risk management. Yan Han'en, a member of the organization wrote, "before I participated in Asia Catalyst's non-profit leadership training, I didn't know what risk management was... afterwards I did." Before working with Asia Catalyst, Yan's organization was always either without funding or stonewalled by the local authorities. With a risk management plan, however, they learned to cooperate with the local government and secure funding for projects. Recently, they gained state approval for their newest program, the Dazhou Village Dai People's Legal Literacy Project. With the help of Asia Catalyst, Xishuangbanna Buddhist House continues to carry out its mission of "filling the gaps in services that the government doesn't provide or provides poorly."

There is no clear trend concerning the social and legal status of these marginalized groups in China. On the one hand, there seems to be regression - Chinese prisons continue to build segregated wings for HIV positive prisoners, officials prevented prominent sex-worker activist Ye Haiyan from attending the AIDS 2014 conference, and recently, China's Spring Airlines has been preventing PLHIV from boarding flights. However, progress continues to occur on a large scale in society as well. In May of this year, a petition to abolish the "Custody and Education" system that accumulated 108 signatures, some from prominent lawyers and former politicians, was sent to the National People's Congress Standing Committee. And this July, a Chinese court heard a landmark lawsuit against a "gay conversion therapy" clinic, as well as Baidu, the Chinese equivalent of Google, for advertising the clinic. 

The stories of Asia Catalyst's partner CBOs show concrete changes on the community level. After advocacy and strategic planning training, one organization ran projects that resulted in solutions for some of the fundamental problems of PLHIV in their community. Another partner has established volunteer teams of LGBT parents and friends in twenty cities across China, creating a support network that was previously non-existent. And in Hebei and Henan, two partner CBOs have procured special government funding to support PLHIV. With the success of Asia Catalyst's partner organizations in mind, it's very hard to look at the futures of these marginalized Chinese groups with anything but optimism. 

Reflections from AIDS 2014

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DSC00384.JPGZheng Huang (Tony) is the Founder and Secretary General of the Shanghai CSW (commercial sex worker)  & MSM (men who have sex with men)  Center (SCMC), which works with the sex worker and the LGBT communities. He has published several articles focusing on issues related to HIV, the LGBT community, and sex worker rights. He lives in Shanghai, China.  

Reflections from AIDS 2014
By Zheng Huang

The 20th International AIDS Conference, "AIDS 2014", was held in Melbourne from July 20th to 25th. 

The theme of the Melbourne Declaration, which was drafted by the organizers of the AIDS 2014 conference, was "Nobody left behind." The Declaration affirms that non-discrimination is fundamental to HIV response, and asks governments around the world to guarantee the equal rights of people at risk for HIV. 

With the support of Asia Catalyst, I attended the conference alongside Ziyang Guo from Beijing Zuoyou Information Center and Tingting Shen, the Advocacy and Research Director from Asia Catalyst. As the organization I represent, SCMC, focuses on health rights issues for sex workers and LGBT people, I attended the sex worker and LGBT related sessions at AIDS 2014. 

Attending this conference has been very meaningful and insightful for me in my intervention work among sex workers and the LGBT community in China. Here are a few of my biggest take-aways: 

Current Landscape: 

1. The MH17 Disaster 
The International AIDS Conference is an influential meeting place for people who work in this field, but the general public is not always familiar with it. AIDS 2014, 
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however, attracted significant attention due to the tragic events surrounding MH17, the Malaysian airliner that was lost over Ukraine. While the world's news paid attention to the incident, they also began to pay attention to AIDS 2014, because the conference was affected by the many colleagues who we all lost.  Those lost included friends and colleagues from international foundations, the World Health Organization, and the International AIDS Committee. In every AIDS 2014 meeting, including the opening, closing, and some smaller meetings, we had moments of silence for those lost.

2. The Response to the World Wide AIDS Epidemic has been Delayed 
The newest UN report shows that "Now we have the hope to end AIDS, more than ever; but if we just do what we are doing right/but if we don't increase our effort, we cannot end AIDS."  On the other hand, some related reports show that to end the AIDS epidemic before 2030 means the spread of the HIV virus must be under control or restrained. Earlier in June 2011, at the UN General Assembly Special Session meeting in New York, Ban Ki-moon said "Since 2011, new HIV cases have decreased 20%". He said our goal is to end AIDS before 2010. I see that the timeline has been pushed back for ten years, which indicates the severe challenges of worldwide prevention and a cure for HIV.

3. Lack of Voice from Chinese Grassroots 
The conference was held in Melbourne, an expensive destination. For most grassroots or community-based groups, there are a few ways to attend: 
First, is by procuring a scholarship from the conference itself. However, few grassroots NGOs received a scholarship. I believe the major reason is that China is not an English speaking country, and it was relatively difficult for grassroots groups to submit application forms in English, as was required. 

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Secondly, grassroots groups may receive support from foundations. In the past, many foundations supported Chinese grassroots groups. However, shifting ideas about China's wealth have caused many to believe that Chinese grassroots can support themselves financially. This is untrue. Most organizations which receive government support are health departments, scholarships, and government organs. The opportunities for Chinese grassroots are essentially zero. 

Compounding these problems, this year the Chinese grassroots activist, Ms. Haiyan Ye, was prevented from attending the conference due to restrictions of her personal freedom. With the help of the China Sex Worker Network, Asia Catalyst and Network of Sex Workers in Australia, Haiyan had planned to participate in AIDS 2014. Unfortunately, the Chinese government did not allow this, and instead seized her passport. 

4. Female Sex Workers, Women, and Transgender People are Marginalized: 
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"Politics are anywhere where there are people." I experienced this reality at AIDS 2014 time and time again. 

For example, during some meetings, transgender representatives said that they feel they should be independent from the LGBT group. Ultimately, Transgender (TG) does not have an independent status among AIDS prevention programs, which violates their basic rights. Instead, in AIDS prevention programs from UNAIDS or the WHO, TG is regarded as a part of Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) AIDS prevention or gay prevention programs. 
In a similar fashion, females who live with HIV/AIDS from England brought up that, while the UN paid attention to gender issues by establishing the UNWOMEN, there is not much female related support in the budget of programs for AIDS prevention and treatment. 

It was clear that these issues contributed to a structural marginalization of groups such as transgender people and women. 

Changing Landscapes: 

1. T&T, TasP, PrEP 
A lot of discussion during the conference focused on using treatment as prevention. 
There are currently two major ways to prevent HIV by taking medicine.
DSC00786.JPGThe first is the use of anti-virus medicine before intercourse, so that medicine levels increase to a certain amount to kill the HIV virus; 
the second is a daily medicine level that maintains the medicine level in a safe amount. 
In addition to these methods, condom use is highly promoted. Although these methods are promoted by international NGOS such as The Global Forum on MSM and HIV, and bodies like the WHO, some people believe that they are little more than fraudulent. In that light, debate remains heavy on whether or not these "breakthrough" prevention methods are beneficial or malevolent. 

2. Discussion of new cooperation between sex workers and the police: 
A training supported by the Open Society Foundation (OSF) in Viet Nam, Thailand, Kenya, and Ghana, invited local sex workers, related NGO workers, and police officers to discuss how sex workers can better cooperate with the police. After the launch of this program, relationships between sex workers and police greatly changed. 

Whereas before the program sex workers were afraid of the police, after the program sex workers feel comfortable contacting the police when they are in trouble or need help. Leaders of local sex worker groups spend time building up good relationships with the police, and if new officers come, the police invites them to attend OSF trainings. 

Remarkably, due to the enhanced sex worker-police relationship, clients of sex workers stopped treating sex workers with violence. At the same time, condom use among sex workers has increased. 

While sex work is still illegal in these countries, the trainings and their outcomes will help decrease the crime threat, and spotlighted the importance of condom use to the police and the dangers of using condoms as evidence of prostitution and grounds for arrest. 

3. Laws and the Human Rights of Sex Workers: 
AIDS 2014 provided me the opportunity to understand major legal frameworks for sex workers around the world and their implications. Legal frameworks such as those in Australia (state-led), New Zealand (legalization of sex work), and Sweden (sex work is legal but the purchasing of sexual service is criminalized) contributed to a wider understanding of what legal advocacy goals should be organized around in China.  
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Most of the countries in Southeast Asia, including China, criminalize sex work. However, there is no data that shows that the criminalization of sex work is helpful for HIV responses. On the contrary, there is a plethora of data, such as the reports released by Lancet during AIDS 2014, that decriminalization will be the best measure to prevent the spread of HIV among the key affected populations. 

Attending AIDS 2014 was a very rewarding experience for me. I had the chance to learn the most recent development in this field, and interacted with activists from all over the globe. The information I learnt and connections I built in Melbourne will help to strengthen my work in China. 

This week at the International Aids Conference (IAC), Asia Catalyst presents preliminary findings from a joint research project on transgender sex workers conducted with two Chinese organizations, Beijing Zuoyou Information Center and Shanghai CSW & MSM Center.

Shanghai CSW (commercial sex worker) & MSM (men who have sex with men) Center (SCMC) was established in 2004 to focus on the rights and wellbeing of vulnerable sexual minorities in China. SCMC works to improve sexual minorities' access to medical and legal services, and to improve the environment surrounding these vulnerable groups. As the secretariat of a sex workers network platform, SCMC also works in coalition with academic institutions, mass media, and other groups to improve public understanding of the discrimination faced by sex workers.

Respectively, the founding of the Beijing Zuoyou Information Center was prompted in 2004 by the rising threat of HIV/AIDS in China. The original goal of Beijing Zuoyou was to promote gay culture and advertise a healthy attitude towards sex. The center's founders began by organizing events for gay men in Beijing, speaking publically about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, and promoting safe sex. Through the activities held at the center, Beijing Zuoyou became a uniquely safe, open space for a demographic that is often ostracized in Chinese society.

In 2007, Beijing Zuoyou began to provide services to transgender sex workers through outreach efforts. The organization aimed to improve professional safety by teaching violence avoidance; protecting legal rights; and decreasing risky behavior by offering HIV and syphilis testing, medical referral, and case management.

With these unique skills and backgrounds, Shanghai CSW & MSM Center and Beijing Zuoyou Information Center partnered with Asia Catalyst in late 2013 for a research, documentation and advocacy project. Although both groups initially planned to work with Asia Catalyst on separate advocacy projects, after discussion it became evident that a joint research project would be beneficial to both organizations, strengthen the content of the work and focus the advocacy strategy. . The topic selected was the situation of transgender sex workers in China.

For both groups, this research is an important tool in furthering their goal to end discrimination against transgender sex workers. They hope to better understand how discrimination affects transgender people by examining the experiences of individuals. As little is known about transgender sex workers, the research will help to identify community needs, what the best ways to provide intervention services are, and raise the profile of the kind of stigma the community faces. As SCMC explained,  "We normally are not able to adequately understand these problems. Through this kind of research, we can make different classes of people see their problems."

In the first half of 2014, Asia Catalyst conducted three workshops with key members of both organizations to solidify research and documentation skills. Proper training and preparation for this research was vital because, as SCMC puts it, "many transgender people's main work is sex work, they are nervous that, after participating in an interview, their identity will be exposed." The research methodology developed with Asia Catalyst is sensitive to these concerns, and does not divulge real names or video tape the interviews.

Beijing Zuoyou explained the importance of this research project: "In addition to sex work being illegal, which results in police harassment, [transgender sex workers] also face prejudice from the rest of the sexual minority community for both being transgender and being sex workers. These factors put them at greater risk for physical violence as well as sexually transmitted diseases. Our initial goals were to raise the visibility of this community, promote greater understanding thereby reduce the risks [sic]."As SCMC adds, "stopping all discrimination against all sex workers is very important."

During this year's IAC in Melbourne, Asia Catalyst, SCMC and Beijing Zuoyou will distribute preliminary findings of the joint research project to peer groups, policy makers, AIDS experts and other stakeholders at this international event. The full report will be released at the end of 2014. In the meantime, SCMC and Beijing Zuoyou remain optimistic that the AIDS community can reach a common understanding about how transgender people are discriminated against and the negative effects discrimination has on their right to health. Beijing Zuoyou hopes that this report will "create an environment where male and transgender sex workers will be free from discrimination and violence...and enjoy the rights of other citizens." 

Asia Catalyst presents our research at the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne this week. Our poster presentation outlines joint research on the Custody and Education system for female sex workers and clients in China, conducted alongside two of our community based partners.  

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We are excited to share with you the outline of this research. Too view the full poster, click here! 

Asia Catalyst today expresses deep sadness and profound sympathy over the tragic loss of all those on board Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, which crashed in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, July 17, 2014. 

Among those on the flight were colleagues, friends, and esteemed members of the international AIDS activism community, more than one hundred of whom were on their way to the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, set to begin this Sunday. 

Over the next week, and into the weeks, months, and years to come, these many familiar voices and guiding lights in the ongoing fight against the AIDS epidemic will be dearly missed. With all condolences in this sensitive time, Asia Catalyst stands in solidarity with the families, friends, and colleagues of all who have perished in this tragedy. 

Cheng Yuan's life changed completely when his girlfriend, Liu An, was effectively fired from her new job after testing positive for the Hepatitis B Virus (HBV). After watching her struggle against employment discrimination and becoming involved himself with the HBV community in China, Cheng Yuan decided to leave his then-flourishing career in finance and focus full-time on advocacy to end HBV-related discrimination in China. 

Of the 350 million people worldwide living with HBV, nearly one-third reside in China. Discrimination against people living with Hepatitis remains pervasive in the country. Children living with Hepatitis B are commonly rejected from kindergarten classes; high school graduates with HBV are rejected from university admissions; and, as in Liu An's case, qualified workers can be barred from employment if they test positive for the disease in pre-employment physicals.

At the onset of his advocacy work, Cheng Yuan got together with a group of like-minded volunteers in Nanjing, some of whom were living with Hepatitis, to protest in city squares and public places. They printed educational brochures at their own expense and handed them out to teach the public about the rights of people living with Hepatitis. They got creative, staging public performance art shows that highlighted the damaging effects of discrimination for the community.

In 2008, Cheng Yuan established the Ganzhilu Volunteer Center in Nanjing. The center started out as a small support group for people living with Hepatitis B, and has since evolved into an advocacy NGO working on a range of discrimination issues. After building a reputation for himself as an activist in Nanjing, Cheng Yuan was recruited by the renowned advocacy organization Yirenping to help launch Tianxiagong, a now-thriving and authoritative policy advocacy NGO in Nanjing. 

Like many activists, Cheng Yuan's strengths were in his compassion, drive, and experience, but he lacked the technical skills to build and sustain targeted, rights-based advocacy campaigns and affect change. So, in December 2011, Cheng Yuan participated in Asia Catalyst's one year NGO capacity building program t

o better hone his skills as an activist, organizer, and manager. For one year, he attended workshops by Asia Catalyst with nine other leaders from Chinese civil society, and honed his skills in strategic planning, budgeting, management practices, and advocacy strategy. After completing the one-year program, he reported that Asia Catalyst's trainings "lifted his confidence as an advocacy leader, and gave him unexpected rewards" as he has continued his work. 

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His experience with the capacity-building program was so positive that he continued working with Asia Catalyst in a training of trainers program in 2014. In Asia Catalyst's trainer program, Cheng Yuan learned to facilitate his own 

advocacy workshops. He became a certified expert on training techniques and human rights curriculum. According to Cheng Yuan, being a trainer offers "a practical opportunity" for engaging in advocacy, "because you have to look at workshop conversations from the other side of the discussion, to consider the ability of individual participants, the level of their knowledge, and other complicated factors." 

One purpose of Ganzhilu Volunteer Center is to empower people to understand their rights and take action on behalf of their community; learning the skills of a trainer has helped him develop the tools to be successful in Ganzhilu's mission. As a trainer, Cheng Yuan has also helped achieve Asia Catalyst's vision of a stable, independent civil society in East and Southeast Asia: he has used the knowledge gained through Asia Catalyst programs to train more than twenty other organizations in rights-based advocacy. 

The past few years have seen breakthroughs in anti-discrimination policies in China related to HBV, which Cheng Yuan attributes to constant efforts from community activists, including those that he has trained. Where there was once no legal basis on which to fight against employment discrimination against people living with Hepatitis, there is now concrete legislation protecting the employment rights of people living with Hepatitis in China. One of the most amazing things, according to Cheng Yuan, is how his organization's advocacy activities ultimately changed not just China's law, but also the attitudes of the Chinese HBV community itself. He says with a smile, "after being educated in their human rights...the community is now advocating for rights on its own behalf."

Cheng Yuan does not plan to leave his place in rights-based advocacy any time soon. When asked how he keeps faith in advocacy when civil society faces so many obstacles in the region, Cheng Yuan replied, "Drinking tea with some agencies every month can actually be a way of advocacy.  Changes are happening in small steps.  And I think I am quite suitable for this work."

 

bio-gisa-hartmann.jpgAsia Catalyst Capacity Building and Community Initiatives Director, Gisa Dang, was in Myanmar to mark the launch of Asia Catalyst's curriculum, Change It, into the Burmese language. Here she reflects on her experiences in the country, and the occasion of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, which took place on May 17.
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IDAHOT: A Reflection from Myanmar
By Gisa Dang 


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In Myanmar (Burma), community based organizations (CBOs) have begun to shine light on discrimination and sanctions against marginalized communities in the country. I made my first trip to Yangon in November 2013 as part of Asia Catalyst's assessment of what Burmese CBOs were asking for in terms of capacity, support and expertise. Our focus was on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, although discrimination is by no means limited to that group.

On my second trip last week, I met many of these individuals and organizations again, and increased exchanges with the LGBT community through our colleagues at human rights organization Equality Myanmar Yangon and Mandalay, and LGBT organizations Colors Rainbow, and the LGBT Rights Network (Network). I also witnessed the launch of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) week in Yangon at the first LGBT photo exhibition that the country has seen. The exhibit opened on Sunday May 11.

On my first trip, I could already feel the excitement among organizations and national networks about initiatives to cultivate and engage policy makers and members of parliament on advocacy issues that their communities cared about. On a regional and international level, Equality Myanmar and Colors Rainbow together with the Network have been quite active over the past year, and I could see that their efforts are seeing first results. For example, the September 23, 2013 report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar to the UN Human Rights Council, highlighted punitive legislation targeting the LGBT community and a particularly egregious case of abuse against LGBT individuals in Mandalay. 

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Myanmar is also currently chairing ASEAN and the coalition was able to actively engage in advocacy planning for Myanmar's first ASEAN summit. Networking at the March 2014 ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People's Forum (ACSC/APF) held in Yangon resulted in LGBT, sexual orientat

ion, and gender identity issues being highlighted throughout the conference's final statement. Through their strategy of attending a variety of workshops, listening, and connecting their issues, they have been able to make themselves heard.

But how do the issues raised reflect locally? What is it like to be LGBT in Myanmar's larger cities and what daily realities do LGBT individuals have to face? In Myanmar last week for the launch of the Burmese edition of Asia Catalyst's advocacy curriculum for community based organizations, Change It, I had the opportunity to conduct a one day workshop with 22 staff and volunteers of LGBT organizations and their allies in Mandalay. A few of the participants are focal points for the LGBT Rights Network and had previously participated in trainings on LGBT rights. But, for most of the participants, it was their first experience discussing advocacy. 

However, the priorities were clear for everyone.  From the beginning, participants stressed equal marriage as their main goal, followed by the right to employment and establishing legal protection for LGBT rights. In hot and humid workshop conditions, participants described to me and each other their first hand experiences of homophobia and how it was at the root of much of the rights violations against LGBT people in the country. However, beyond the social and cultural environment, discrimination is also still entrenched in law with Section 377 of the Penal Code criminalizing unnatural sexual behavior and still being used against the LGBT community today. Human rights education is also very limited with the general public's knowledge of LGBT realities understandably lacking. 

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Hearing about their challenges, I was struck by the strong representation of transgender persons in the workshop - something very unusual, for example, in China. The trans peoples' stories of discrimination endured told of culture and tradition; of religious values that, for example, dub LGBT people as violators of women in a previous life. But most of all, the people whom I met struck me as proud. Proud to be who they are and where they were in their lives; with dreams of a meaningful life, a fulfilling profession, marrying, forming families, becoming Ms. Myanmar, and of families accepting of their choices.


The pride of the LGBT Community showed in every picture of the &PROUD exhibition in Yangon.

&PROUD is a currently ongoing LGBT photo exhibition at Witness Yangon Art Space based on submissions to a two month photo competition for local LGBT youth. I spoke with many visitors to the exhibition's opening event who were touched by the images full of life and diversity. The secret stars were the couple whose recent gay wedding was widely publicized in domestic Myanmar print media reports. The originally positive reports generated a lot of hate speech and attacks in the aftermath, but the photos on display at the exhibition depicted the moments of happiness and excitement that everyone should have the right to enjoy, should they so choose. 

Asia Catalyst celebrated the Burmese language launch of its expert curriculum, Change It: Ending Rights Abuses, with a series of workshops for community based organizations across Myanmar this week.

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Change It: Ending Rights Abuses, which teaches groups to design and implement a successful advocacy campaign at the local level, was launched in Myanmar this week through a series of capacity building workshops hosted by Asia Catalyst. The workshops in Mandalay and Yangon hosted community representatives from Myanmar's marginalized populations, who used the tool to plan focused advocacy projects to end stigma and discrimination against their communities in the country. 

Asia Catalyst developed the human rights training manual Know It, Prove It, Change It: A Rights Curriculum for Grassroots Groups in response to requests from community based organizations in the region. The curriculum collected and codified the advocacy experiences of Asia Catalyst and project partners Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group in Bangkok, Thailand, and Dongjen Center for Human Rights Education and Action in Beijing, China, through an innovative, participatory drafting process. The three-volume curriculum, developed in consultation with local groups and field tested over the course of two years, is designed specifically for community based organizations working at the intersection of human rights and HIV/AIDS. The whole curriculum is available in Chinese, English, and Thai, with Change It now also available in Burmese. 

For more information on Asia Catalyst and Know It, Prove It, Change It in Myanmar, please email info@asiacatalyst.org or see here for more tools and resources.