Despite heightened security concerns, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex (ILGA) World Conference went ahead with its 40th anniversary event last year, welcoming the LGBTIQ community to Wellington, New Zealand.
Held over five days, it was the first time the conference has been held in Oceania and was hailed an overall success.
What: International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex (ILGA) World Conference
When: 18-22 March 2019
Where: Wellington, New Zealand
Who: 500 delegates
A rainbow welcome
Visitors to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex (ILGA) World Conference received a rainbow welcome as soon as they hit the tarmac at Wellington Airport, in the form of a 3000-square-metre pride rainbow painted across the embankment at the end of the runway.
The rainbow flags continued into New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington, as it celebrated hosting the event and the first time in the ILGA’s 40-year history that the biennial conference has been held in Oceania.
Wellington had produced a strong bid for the event, drawing on New Zealand’s reputation as a welcoming country that values diversity, cultural factors, the breadth and strength of its LBGTIQ organisations, combined with quality facilities, activities and a vibrant social scene.
Hosting the conference – five days of plenaries, workshops and breakout sessions, dinner and social activities – was the result of three years of hard work by the Host Rōpū (host organisation): Intersex Trust Aotearoa New Zealand (ITANZ), Tīwhanawhana Trust and RainbowYOUTH.
Almost 500 registered delegates and 100 volunteers from 93 countries and territories attended, while content highlights included pre-conferences for the first time focusing on indigenous people and sex workers’ rights.
Local engagement was high, with the Mayor of the City of Wellington providing a welcome speech ahead of the Parliamentary welcome dinner hosted by Wellington Central MP and the Minister of Finance, the Hon. Grant Robertson. An open mic night at Te Auaha, The NZ Institute of Creativity, involved local community groups, with a focus on youth.
Social events included a conference dinner at TSB Arena and a concert celebrating the rainbow community, with entertainment by the Diamond Divas, national icons the Topp Twins and LGBTIQ choir The Glamaphones.
This conference gave us the chance to share with the world a very different way of working with the issues of our diverse queer communities in Aotearoa and the Pacific – how we look to create inclusive spaces for diversity,” said Frances Arns of RainbowYOUTH.
“In addition, we were able to highlight voices and issues notably absent from global LGBTI Human Rights’ conversations; that of indigenous, youth and the disabled.”
Challenge and solidarity
The terror attack on two mosques in Christchurch occurred just days before the start of the conference, representing a considerable challenge for the Host Rōpū, the ILGA World Board and the conference organising team.
This attack had implications on the conference’s security measures, as well as the responsibilities of the conference to acknowledge the attacks and support those impacted by it.
“Our global family was reunited at last, and yet our hearts were heavy,” said Mani Mitchell of ITANZ.
“This senseless act of hate affected us all and caused the cancellation of public community events – including Wednesday night’s programme on the Waterfront, and the Wellington Pride parade that we were getting ready to join.”
“After laying flowers at the city centre mosque, there was a significant attendance of conference delegates at the vigil held in Wellington. After joining thousands of people for a moving commemoration, we decided to go on with the conference as planned, with increased security.
“We established a prayer room at the Michael Fowler Centre, to say once more ‘They are us, and we are them’. This international show of solidarity with the Muslim community was a highlight in the difficult days after the attack.”
Championing Pacific participation
In bringing ILGA World to Wellington, the Host Rōpū provided the opportunity for increased participation by New Zealand, Australian and Pacific LGBTIQ+ groups at this international forum. It was also an opportunity for ILGA World to experience, witness and learn from New Zealand and Pacific experiences.
“As the national organisation advocating for takatāpui (Māori with diverse sexes, genders and sexualities), Tīwhanawhana took on the responsibility of ensuring the conference was imbued with Māori culture and values, as a normal part of practice each day,” said Elizabeth Kerekere, chair of the Tīwhanawhana Trust.
“One example was the welcoming each day with a prayer or words of thanks, before handing the podium over to ILGA for the daily programme. As a Pacific nation, and as is common with many cultures around the world, food is very important; quality, variety, dietary choices and bounty.
“For some people a simple treat such as fresh fruit being available at all times exceeded their experience. From the perspective of food, our caterers and sponsors provided magnificent service.”
A special Pacific and Indigenous of Oceania Human Rights Forum represented the largest ever gathering of LGBTIQ+ Pacific people and provided a rare opportunity to speak to the UN independent expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz.
Greater Pacific representation was also gained through a scholarship programme which enabled 16 participants from Oceania to attend the event.
A team effort
Wellington’s ILGA World win was supported by the Tourism New Zealand’s Conference Assistance Programme, which, together with WellingtonNZ, helped fund, design and deliver the conference bid. Additional funding was provided by government agencies, Wellington City Council, local and international corporate businesses, trusts and foundations.
Kevin Haunui, deputy chair of the Tīwhanawhana Trust, said the conference’s success was a team effort.
“The mentorship provided by Tourism New Zealand and WellingtonNZ to the Host Rōpū was of inestimable value,” he said.
“They stimulated solutions for Host Rōpū concerns about hosting a successful world conference organised from a distance and locally. Professional conference organiser Avenues was an integral part of the conference’s success, thanks to their on-the-ground management, and the deep trust built with the Host Rōpu.
“Wellington City, the former Mayor of Wellington Justin Lester, the Cross-Party NZ Parliamentary Rainbow Network through MP’s Jan Logie, Louisa Wall and Chris Bishop, and the New Zealand Rainbow community can justifiably be proud of the role they played in the success of this event.”
Attendee feedback was also positive, with one delegate calling the event a “transformative experience”.
“It has been a powerful reminder of how our movement can grow through dialogue and cooperation, and it has also laid the foundations of our years ahead,” they said.