Published on 25 July 2023
The ‘unprecedented’ success of the first international LGBTQIA+ conference has led to a collaboration of global experts joining forces to tackle crimes and address the rights of sexual and gender minorities.
With delegates coming from Kyrgyzstan, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, and from all over the UK, as well as speakers beaming in from Nigeria, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the event saw over 20+ nation states represented during the first ‘Safer To Be Me Symposium’, organised by human rights charity ReportOUT in partnership with the University of Sunderland.
Some of the most important issues facing international LGBTQIA+ human rights were explored and discussed on the University’s campus in Sunderland, an event which was launched with the unveiling of the world-famous Amsterdam Rainbow Dress, appearing in the UK for the first time.
Encouraging a call-to-action during Pride month (June), the Symposium has led to the launch of a Global LGBTQI+ Human Rights Research and Knowledge Exchange Group, working together on a joint project involving police forces, academics, LGBTQI+ activists and campaigners.
Conference organiser Drew Dalton, Chair of north-east based ReportOUT and Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University, says: “#SaferToBeMe was an unprecedented success. From our launch event, which hosted the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress, to our online satellite events and main Symposium Day, we reached over 100+ attendees in total.
“This was not just a day to sit and listen, it was an open opportunity to get involved, and has resulted in the launch of the Research and Knowledge Exchange Group where we will work together on a joint project involving police forces, academics, LGBTQI+ activists and campaigners, to share our skills and knowledge to tackle brutality against LGBTQI+ people worldwide, as it was a common theme emerging time and time again in many of our talks.
“We need to make nation states safer for LGBTQI+ people worldwide, and so this is a start. We look forward to launching this project in September.”
The keynote speaker was Mark Gevisser who is one of South Africa’s foremost writers, his books include: Lost and Found in Johannesburg: A Memoir (2014) and The Pink Line: The World’s Queer Frontiers (2020). His journalism has appeared in many publications, including The Guardian, The New York Times, Granta, and the New York Review of Books.
In Mark’s address, he said: “When it comes to LGBTQ+ rights globally, we need to understand that the motion is more one of a pendulum swinging than ’the long arc of the moral universe bending towards justice. Rights are asserted, space is claimed – and then there is backlash. This is especially the case in societies where the foundation texts of monotheistic religions can be abused to fuel moral panics against queer people for political purposes.”
He added: “I was honoured to be invited to participate in the conference, as I have deep respect for ReportOUT’s international approach, and the way the #Safertobeme situated British LGBTQ+ struggles within a global context.”
Also attending were representatives from the country’s leading LGBTQIA+ charities, including Stonewall, as well as academics, activists, and civil society leaders.
The Amsterdam Rainbow Dress, made of all the national flags from countries where being LGBTIQ+ is illegal, on penalty of imprisonment, torture or capital punishment, was on display at the National Glass Centre (NGC), for one night only.
Sunderland now joins a list of worldwide locations where it’s been photographed including Amsterdam, San Francisco, Madrid, Athens, Seoul, Antwerp, Johannesburg and Brussels, sharing its global message of inclusion and equal rights. When a country adopts LGBTIQ+ inclusive legislation, the respective flag is replaced with a rainbow flag.
Director at the Rainbow Dress Foundation, Arnout Van Krimpen, said: “It was great to bring the dress here for the first time in the UK.
“When ReportOUT contacted us to explain more about their conference during Pride Month, I thought ‘yes’ we need to be here. Sunderland just seemed like the natural choice for the Rainbow Dress to be shown for the first time to a UK audience.”