Iranian and Chilean LGBT activists honoured

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A trans activist and an Iranian queer organisation will be honoured by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) at a special ceremony next month.

Andres Ignacio Rivera Duarte of Chile’s Organización de Transexuales por la Dignidad de la Diversidad and the Canada-based Iranian Queer Organisation (IRQO) will be awarded the 2008 Felipa de Souza Award.

Each award winner will receive a $5,000 (£2,516) stipend. The awards will be presented at a ceremony in New York on April 28th, 2008.

IGLHRC’s Felipa Award “recognises the courage and effectiveness of groups or leaders dedicated to improving the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI) and other individuals stigmatised and abused because of their sexuality or HIV status.”

Previous winners include the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, whose leader Brian Williamson was murdered in 2004 and the Blue Diamond Society (BDS) of Nepal.

“We are so honoured this year to be able present this award to two extraordinarily powerful voices for LGBTI human rights,” said Paula Ettelbrick, IGLHRC’s executive director.

“IRQO provides absolutely vital assistance for lesbian and gay Iranians fleeing the threat of death in their home country, literally helping to save and rebuild countless lives.

“Andres Rivera has been an enormously courageous pioneer for the rights of trans people in Chile.

“It is truly our pleasure to honour all that these remarkable activists have done to promote human rights and dignity for LGBTI people.”

In 2005 Andres Rivera, a trans man, founded Organizacion de Transexuales por la Dignidad de la Diversidad, the only NGO in Chile dedicated to fighting for trans people’s rights, which he currently heads.

He has worked with government and the local health system to facilitate the evaluation, treatment and surgery of trans people, and organised the first Rancagua debate on the Civil Union Pact.

Himself the victim of employment discrimination, he fought a landmark lawsuit, bringing issues of gender identity into the public view, finally winning the right for trans people to legally change their name and sex in 2007.

“I receive this award with humility and honour,” said Andres Rivera. “On behalf of murdered trans people, of those who fight to build a more egalitarian and fair world, and of those trans people who day-by-day live with the pain of not being considered human beings.”

IRQO serves as the representative of thousands of Iranian queers, giving visibility to a population the Iranian government is aggressively trying to silence.

Based in Toronto, Canada, with members working out of Europe and Iran, IRQO has played a key role in documenting LGBT rights violations in Iran and in mobilizing public opinion to pressure Iranian authorities to end the inhumane treatment of sexual minorities.

The organisation also helps gay and lesbian refugees around the world to fight deportation orders that would return them to Iran, where they could face torture or the death penalty-and helps them obtain asylum in friendly countries.

IRQO strives to increase the self-esteem of Iranian queers by offering phone counseling inside Iran and raising awareness of homosexuality in the Persian-speaking media.

Arsham Parsi, IRQO’s executive director, said:

“We are thrilled that the international community has come to acknowledge the LGBT rights struggle in Iran.”

“We can no longer claim that no one cares about our plight. This is not an award just for IRQO. We accept this award on behalf of all Iranian queers who have been long fighting for their basic human rights. The stipend will allow IRQO to continue its campaign for human rights and to challenge homophobia in Iran.”

Nominations for the Felipa Award are solicited each year from activists around the world. Nominees go through a rigorous review by the staff, board and the International Advisory Committee of IGLHRC. The award embodies the spirit of Felipa de Souza, who endured persecution and brutality after proudly declaring her intimacy with a woman during a 16th Century inquisition trial in Brazil.