On its 20th anniversary, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) is dedicating its annual signature fundraiser - A Celebration of Courage - to marking the past two decades of activism for LGBT equality. As Cary Alan Johnson, Executive Director of IGLHRC noted, "We have come a long way from our beginnings as a small group of activists in San Francisco at a time when there were very few organizations dedicated to working on LGBT rights in an international way."
Many dedicated individuals and organizations have played a significant part in achieving progress in recognition of LGBT rights. This year's A Celebration of Courage galas - on March 15 in New York and March 18 in San Francisco - will honor Colombian LGBT organization Colombia Diversa, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé, and Representative Barney Frank for their important contributions.
"In this movement that offers so many challenges, it is important that we take the time to honor the progress that has been made," says Johnson. These events offer an opportunity to remember milestones for equality; to honor those who have made a significant impact on the lives of LGBT people worldwide; and to acknowledge the supporters who have passionately and consistently sustained IGLHRC's work. It is also an important moment to gather support - including much needed financial support - that will allow IGLHRC to continue its work and partnerships with global LGBT activists.
It is the dedication to support local activists that is perhaps the hallmark of IGLHRC's work as it moves into the next decade. One such group, the Bogotá based LGBT group Colombia Diversa, will be awarded IGLHRC's Felipa de Souza award for 2010; this award, which includes $5,000 to further the recipients' work, is given annually to an outstanding grassroots group or individual in recognition of their courage and activism for the promotion and protection of human rights for all people. "In a context where human rights documentation, reporting and responding can be difficult and dangerous, Colombia Diversa is on the frontlines. Their tireless work to bring about change has made critical inroads for LGBT Colombians and for the human rights of all people," said Johnson.
Formed in 2003 by a group of LGBT activists, Colombia Diversa's work in the political, social, cultural and academic spheres has achieved significant advances for LGBT Colombians. Notably, their work led to a landmark Constitutional Court ruling in 2009 that achieved the same rights for same-sex couples as those of unmarried heterosexual couples. Colombia Diversa has successfully lobbied for political and legal change and widely reported on rights violations against LGBT people and homophobia in places like schools and the media; these efforts are placing LGBT people firmly on the regional and international human rights agenda. As a part of a broad coalition, Colombia Diversa launched the first LGBT community center in Latin America, pairing national advocacy with attention to the needs of LGBT individuals and communities. The organization is now working to secure the rights of same-sex parents and families, including the recognition of adoption by same-sex couples.
"The Felipa de Souza Award gives strong voice and respect to activists in human rights arenas all over the world," said Marcela Sánchez Buitrago, Executive Director of Colombia Diversa. "It gives Colombia Diversa a platform, allowing us to be heard and to improve our capacity to impact human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in Colombia and in Latin America."
The work of such local organizations is amplified and supported when prominent individuals or organizations use the power of their voice to advance the rights and understanding of LGBT people. UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé has done exactly this and is being honored by IGLHRC with the Outspoken Award. This award recognizes the leadership of an ally of the global LGBT community and has been accepted in previous years by luminaries such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson. Mr. Sidibé has been a vocal supporter of LGBT rights, calling for inclusive HIV and AIDS programming and an end to criminalization and other discriminatory laws and practices. Since his appointment in 2009, Sidibé has used his position to stress the link between the AIDS response and global human rights. He has taken forward the message that ending the stigma and discrimination faced by LGBT people is absolutely essential to breaking the trajectory of the AIDS epidemic.
IGLHRC is also honored to present the Special Recognition Award to Representative Barney Frank, who has been a strong ally and supporter of the organization's work since its earliest days in San Francisco. Rep. Frank has been a powerful force for LGBT equality worldwide, from his trip to Russia to speak out against the country's sodomy law in 1992 to his three decades of sponsoring pro-LGBT legislation and policies as a member of the US Congress that is ongoing to this day.