Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Political Strategy before Misery Porn in London

22 October, 2015

Literally upon arriving at the Lodge, I had my first meeting with the a representative of GLAAD, Ross Murray who met me in a little restaurant around Vauxhall Lodge to talk about communication support in North America.  Yes, my face looked like how I felt which was tried, but we managed to get an hour long meeting in before he had to leave. This effort was coordinated by Kapil Gupta of Human Dignity Trust, an effort, I had no regrets making on time.



Belize was asked, as well, to make a short presentation at a cocktail in private home in London in 2015, regarding LGBT response in the Commonwealth  at the request of Kaleidoscope Trust. It was small, but important gathering for it set the stage for a week long engagement with the All Parliamentarian Party Group and builds on previous efforts through the Human Dignity Trust in 2014 as part of a panel.


 
Belize effort at raising international awareness and lessons learned have not been just about promoting misery porn, it has been about strategy, building political capacity, and sharing lessons about the various mechanism that is at our disposal. Whether social media, Universal Periodic Review or International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the OAS, conducting quiet engagements or community mobilization at the national level, the point is made that we need to be smart in action, language and in the leveraging of systems if change is to be trans formative and relevant. 

Of note, LGBT issues in commonwealth countries have not needed to be dealt with by most governments, because of social stigma and the assumed lack of protections that exists in various countries. However, we have come to learn, when speaking of Climate Change, the Sustainable Development goals or national constitutions, that LGBT citizens have rights that are implicit and explicit in many countries. Where the rights are written and does not directly say protection base on sexual orientation or gender identity, legal decisions in Kenya, Botswana, South Africa and Uganda points out that Fundamental rights apply to all citizens, that protection is implicit to all. In negotiations around Climate change, no government have argued for language that said, Climate Change affects only heterosexual citizens, present language speaks of all citizens. By default or omission, commonwealth countries have implicitly acknowledged the rights of its LGBT citizens. The point can be made as well that governments spend millions trying to protect the diversity of its environment, but the reluctance to officially invest in the diversity of its LGBT citizens, reflect a lack of understanding, that sustainable development goals apply to all.

The Commonwealth Equality Network (TCEN) provided a platform to deliver this message to allied diplomats working in the Commonwealth and acted as a facilitator of political engagement at Canada House in London. We had an opportunity to meet with diplomats to explore opportunities for engagement which made it clear that we needed to find non-confrontational, implicit language that  would be supported in political communication. We met with the A.P.P.G representative currently in Parliament as well to provide guidance on strategy at the regional level. TCEN's potential to become a mechanism to leverage Commonwealth Systems to gradually respond programmatically to LGBT issues on the ground remains limited only by its imagination in doing political engagement work with vision. It is not the end all or be all solution, but its certainly has the ability to leverage or complement work being done in the UK in other areas and amplify national work.






In engaging International Advocacy, this was the first time I saw, a conscious effort to promote political strategy and access rather than the use of misery porn as the center of an international approach. It must be noted that usual international media communication to the wider world uses misery porn as a model to garner international action, but fail or ignore communities on the ground need to be inspired to organize and defend themselves. Belize came to appreciate that misery porn does not inspire oppressed communities to organize in their concerns for rights protection and enforcement, but rather, discourages or ignores communities ability to build and recognize its history of social resistance while acknowledging that victimhood as part of the overall social, civil and political environment.

Leveraging international spaces, though, depends on vision, political position to engage and an organization perception about the value of international awareness building and engagement. The work of TCEN supported by the coordinated hands of Kaleidoscope Trust, offered activists working in Commonwealth countries an opportunity to leverage their national experience into international strategic political engagement at the next CHOGM (Head of Government Meeting) in Malta in November. Coming from Nigeria, Kenya, Sri Lanka Tonga and Belize we met between the 12th to 14th October in London to examine concerns about resistance, strategy and to define processes for engagement at CHOGM. For the first time,as well, the People's Forum has included two session that focuses on  LGBT policy, one geared towards policymakers and Civil society respectively.


The meeting entailed examining the structure of the CHOGM, examining its decision making processes and mapping allies. It offered Belize a chance to share its seven years of experience at the OAS General Assembly, which included coordinated social media communication, declarations, engagement with the Inter-American Commission, national diplomatic missions and sharing best practices of political engagement back home. The presentation shared that we can always be smart in our strategies despite resistance in any institution and that political engagement is a long-term process. As part of the process, accredited organizations at the Commonwealth were asked to shared their perception of the CHOGM process.

The engagement at the commonwealth foundation was valuable as well, for it laid out the the barriers to resource mobilization, but also offered opportunities for communication with persons working on Universal Periodic Process as well as on National Human Rights Institute. We did not have alot of time, but what we learned had application to how the Foundation is engaged on national issues and on how we comnunicated with allied governments in the future.



The Commonwealth Foundation meeting was complemented with a side panel discussion at Baker and Mckenzie, in London which offered academics, lawyers and representative from various charities insight into the need to access resources to sustain national movement, national and international strategic responses with activists, bi laterally and diplomatically. Our Sri Lankan, Kenyan, Tongan and Nigerian colleagues presented on points for resources support and legal history, but Belize focus on the value of strategy. We only had seven minutes in our presentation, but it was worth every minute. The time was also used to shoot a documentary on Belize present effort in its decriminalization process, supported by Susan Thompson. At the cocktail, afterwards, Joleen gave the audience a performance that grabbed every single person attention, that was the 2nd time I heard her, the first was at Wilton Park.






On the last day of running around, I met Lord Black and his boss of the Telegraph in London, we spoke of strategy and communication with some specific actions to be done behind the scenes. The value of the conversation was too fold 1). To gage political thinking and action around LGBT concerns in the UK  2). To express thanks for Lord Black statement in Parliament earlier this year on Belize and on LGBT issues in General.



Whether in Grenada, South Africa or at  Human Rights Campaign meeting in Washington, Belize must never forget that its experience, lessons and the state constructive reaction offers others a chance to learn about strategy refinement nationally and the use of a leverage approach in political engagement. What the future brings, only time will tell!

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