Second gay seminar: a leap forward
Two years of work went into making the IIRE's second International Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual (LGB) Strategy Seminar, in August 2000, more broadly representative and more intellectually challenging than the first one in August 1998. And the work paid off.
While the first seminar lasted only a weekend, the second was a week long (from Sunday to Saturday). In spite of the higher demands on participants' time and money, attendance increased: there were 23 participants from 13 countries (Belgium, Brazil, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Indonesia, Mexico, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Portugal, Turkey and the US) as compared with 20 participants from 9 countries last time. Whereas northwest Europeans were two thirds of the participants last time, they were in a minority this time. The higher representation from Asia was particularly important for us. Only the gender balance was a little worse this time, since three more men came while the number of women stayed constant at eight.
The greater participation from the Third World was made possible by the travel subsidies that most Third World participants received. These were almost entirely financed by grants from the Kimeta Society (Canada) and the Tom Gustafsson Memorial Fund (Sweden). At the same time it should be noted that all participants made substantial contributions themselves, often helped by their organizations.
A very high proportion of the participants also gave lectures during the course of the seminar. The programme began with a day devoted to theoretical social analysis, in which several lecturers looked at the consequences of capitalist development (particularly in the last quarter of the twentieth century) for changing family structures, gender roles, communities and sexual identities. Another day focused on overviews of lesbian/gay movements, with accounts of the different political landscapes of these movements in France and North America and of issues that arise in many of them, such as relations between female and male activists, bisexuality and transgenderism.
The rest of the programme was spent on specific issues in organizing: issues specific to the Third World (introduced by a long-time leader of the Indonesian lesbian/gay movement), trade union issues (introduced by a union activist who has recently become a fulltimer for lesbian/gay work for the British Trades Union Congress), domestic partnership (with introductions from France, where a domestic partnership law recently passed, and from Brazil, where this battle will clearly take longer), AIDS, working in left organizations and youth.
As in the first seminar, there were few if any major disagreements. One theme that participants grappled with repeatedly, though, was the tension between unity and diversity, convergence and divergence, in lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered (LGBT) communities. To what extent are people in the Third World joining the ranks of 'global gays' linked to a 'metropolitan subculture' - or stubbornly clinging to their own, culturally distinctive patterns? To what extent is growing social inequality polarizing LGBT communities along class, racial, gender, age and national lines - and to what extent can changes like same-sex marriage integrate them into existing family and social structures?
These debates will continue, in a multitude of ways. An email list and/or a page of the IIRE's future website will provide an electronic forum for continuing exchanges. Other events will offer opportunities, such as the annual Euromediterranean Summer University on Homosexualities which several French participants help organize. Seminar participants also insisted that a third seminar take place in 2002. We were particularly pleased from participants from the Brazilian Workers Party and Indonesian People's Democratic Party volunteered to join the organizing team along with people from the countries already represented on it (Belgium, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Portugal and Puerto Rico).