By Yi Whan-woo
|New Zealand Ambassador to Korea Philip Turner, second from left, Australian Ambassador to Korea James Choi, right, pose with the co-chairpeople of the LGBTI advocacy group ILGA Asia ― Candy Yu, second from right, and Shadi Amin, left ― during a reception at Turner's residence Aug. 23 to celebrate Korea's first hosting of the ILGA Asia Conference. The rainbow colors inside the image of the New Zealand silver fern were made as a welcoming sign for the LGBTI guests. / Korea Times photo by Yi Whan-woo|
Amin fled her homeland because homosexuality is punishable by death in Iran, along with Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.
A co-chairperson of LGBTI advocacy group ILGA Asia, Amin's account concerning life and death poses a challenge for those who have conflicting views on the rights of LGBTI, an abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex.
Amin, also coordinator of Iranian Lesbian and Transgender Network, was among at least three Iranian lesbians attending a reception for sexual minorities in Seoul last week.
All three — including Mehrnoush Ahmadi and Melika Zarr who now live in Canada and Germany respectively — left their home country because otherwise their lives would be in jeopardy.
And Amin's account also suggests that, despite a global advance for LGBTI movements, they still have a long way to go.
The evening reception at New Zealand Ambassador to Korea Philip Turner's residence in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, Aug. 23, was to commemorate Korea's first hosting of ILGA Asia Conference from Aug. 19 to 23.
Held every two years, the conference attracted 330 participants from around the world, including members of ILGA Asia, its governing body ILGA World and other international LGBTI organizations such as Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C.
They discussed the latest developments concerning LGBTI under the theme "Building Alliances to Strengthen the Movement."
The reception, jointly hosted by Turner and Australian Ambassador to Korea James Choi, also came on the occasion of ILGA World's 40th anniversary celebrated in the New Zealand capital of Wellington in March.
The challenges for LGBTI range from denial of civil and human rights to social stigma, discrimination at workplaces, healthcare disparities, religious faith and matters of life and death.
For instance, in China being homosexual is not criminalized but discrimination still persists against LGBTI individuals, according to activist Bin Xu from Beijing.
She noted that LGBTI people had only recently won legal suits on employment discrimination and conversion therapy.
|New Zealand Ambassador to Korea Philip Turner, left, Australian Ambassador to Korea James Choi, right, pose before a New Zealand flag with the co-chairpeople of the LGBTI advocacy group ILGA Asia ― Candy Yu, second from left, and Shadi Amin, second from right ― during a reception to celebrate Korea's first hosting of the ILGA Asia Conference. / Korea Times photo by Yi Whan-woo|
In an expression for the welcoming support, the LGBTI guests hailed and applauded when Ambassador Turner explained New Zealand's progress in LGBTI rights, how the country embraced same-sex marriage in 2013 and that he, as a homosexual, could legally get married.
"It's been tough but thanks to that, I'm honored to be here tonight with Hiroshi," he told the audience, referring to his spouse Hiroshi Ikeda who joined him.
"As far as I know, I become the first openly gay ambassador in Korea and the first legally married gay ambassador to be recognized in Korea," he said. "So we're delighted to have a chance to have you tonight."
Citing New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Turner said the country represents "diversity, kindness, compassion, a home for those that share our values, a refuge for those who need it."
A Korean-born diplomat, Ambassador Choi underscored Australia as a diverse and multicultural society and that the country played a key role in advocating, promoting and protecting the rights of all people with an LGBT background.
"I want to reassure you that Australia, along with New Zealand, are firm supporters of LGBT rights, not just in Australia but globally," he said.
Turner and Choi were joined by Irish Ambassador to Korea Julian Clare and other members of the diplomatic corps from more than 10 countries, including Finland, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, the U.K. plus the European Union.
Candy Yu, a co-chairperson of ILGA Asia, thanked the embassies of New Zealand and Australia for being "very strong allies" in organizing the ILGA Asia Conference 2019.
Amin highlighted that LGBTI people have been "risking lives and personal relations" to make their sexual orientation public and to fight for their rights.
She said she also appreciated the embassies of New Zealand and Australia for co-hosting the reception, adding, "This is really a clear signal to support the LGBT organization here in Korea."
Julia Ehrt, an ILGA World director of programs, said Korea has "made a large stride in terms of being more welcoming and more open to LGBT issues" although it still has a long way to go.
ILGA World headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland. It has more than 1,200 members in 131 countries, with regional offices in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America and Oceania.
ILGA Asia has about 160 members. It has held eight conferences, including the one in Seoul.
The first ILGA Asia Conference was held in Mumbai, India in 2002, the year the organization was formed.
Australia and New Zealand are among 28 countries that have legalized same-sex marriage.