They’re coming from as far as Australia and Tonga and as near as Cuba and our own Florida International and Florida Atlantic universities. Beginning Friday May 26 through Sunday May 28, human rights activists, researchers, scholars and advocates from around the world will gather in Miami Beach for the fourth Global Human Rights Conference as part of the 2017 World OutGames.
The conference will be held in the Loews Hotel on Collins Avenue in Miami Beach, in the hotel’s Americana and Poinciana rooms from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. over the course of the three days. Guest speakers will cover a range of human rights issues including health and wellness education, sports inclusion and legal protections, and religious acceptance and tolerance in conversations as diverse as the people taking part in them.
Friday morning opens with a Memorial Day weekend welcome from retired, disabled military sergeant Shane Ortega, who will speak on “Embracing Strength in Intersectionality as LGBTQI People.”
Ortega is a member of the Cherokee Nation. He identifies as two-spirit, and served his first combat tour as a woman, and the following two as the man he is today. But because Ortega’s military status lists him as female, he is required to appear in women’s dress blues for official ceremonies, a story which was featured in the 2016 HBO documentary “The Trans List.”
“Administratively I shouldn’t exist,” Ortega told the Washington Post in 2015, “But I do exist, so that’s still the problem.”
Ortega served in the U.S. Marines from 2005 – 2009, and the U.S. Army from 2009 – 2016. He participated in combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He helped work on the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell,” and is a co-founder of the nonprofit military support group SPART*A -- Service members, Partners, & Allies for Respect and Tolerance for All.
“One thing my father always said was, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world,’” Ortega told the Post. “I definitely wanted to be that change.”
Friday afternoon will include a conversation with Tamara Adrian, “Sex, Gender and Sports: a remaining space for discrimination.” Adrian is a Venezuelan politician and lawmaker who was elected to the National Assembly of Venezuela in 2015 and is the first openly transgender person to be elected to office in the country. Prior to being elected, she was a lawyer.
“One of the main ways people are unified is through sports. Sport lets us look at the idea of equality among all human beings,” Adrian told the Miami New Times. “The thinking that because it’s in the Bible, it’s biological, has serious implications…The worst part is that it’s also pushing back women’s rights in general, because gender equality is based on men and women being equal. Women’s rights can also be set back.”
Coming from the UK, Surat-Shaan Knan is an interfaith and transgender activist and the founder and manager of the projects Rainbow Jews, and Twilight People. Knan will speak with guests on Friday afternoon on “The Rights and Passages of LGBTQI Migrants in Great Britain,” the history and hidden migration to the UK beginning in 1938, to present day. Knan is also scheduled to speak Saturday afternoon on “Intersecting Identities, Exploring Journeys of Faith, Race, Sexuality, and Gender, through Storytelling.”
Friday evening closes with conference’s opening reception at the National Hotel. Check-in is between 6:30 and 6:45 p.m. The reception will include an invocation from two-spirit Universalist Reverend Houston Cypress, of the Otter Clan, and Miccosukee Tribe followed by a welcome poem from Robert Pinsky, former Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. Florida Rep. David Richardson (D-113) will give the welcome remarks and the keynote address will be given by Fabrice Houdart, Human Rights Officer at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in New York.
Saturday morning Florida’s own will be leading the discussions on equality with a morning plenary hosted by Nadine Smith, Co-founder and Executive Director of Equality Florida. Among her many accomplishments, Smith is a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Florida Advisory Committee, she served on President Obama's National Finance Committee and she was one of four national co-chairs of the 1993 March on Washington. For the Saturday afternoon plenary, Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz will speak on “the History of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus.”
Deondre Moore, human rights & HIV/AIDS activist will be speaking from his experiences as a Greater than Aids Ambassador, a Youth Leader on the Minority Aids Council’s Youth Initiative and Health Chairman of Sam Houston’s NAACP when he speaks on Saturday afternoon about HIV and youth. Moore is a senior at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville Texas.
Moore told SFGN that the focus of his talk will be faith, family, and support.
“It is my hope that those persons in attendance walk away knowing how important it is to be supportive of others, whether it be family or friends, especially when dealing with HIV, or being an LGBTQ Youth,” Moore said. It was something which became even more important once he was diagnosed with HIV.
“I want people to get a firsthand look inside of what it’s like living my life. Being diagnosed at 19 with HIV and what challenges and emotional and mental challenges I have had to face since…I want those in the room to walk away knowing how important faith is, and what that looks like, because it’s different for everyone. Faith can be something you have in something or someone, but either way, having faith in something can take you a long way in life, and for me, my faith has helped me live a much better life, than I was living before I had faith.”
Saturdays panels will close out with an open room available for Muslim afternoon Asr prayer at 5:30 p.m. before the focus shifts over to the Fillmore, 1700 Washington Ave, Miami Beach for the opening ceremonies of the OutGames at 7:30 p.m.
Rainbow Christian prayer services will be offered along with various group meetings Sunday morning, followed by an 11 a.m. “I am what I am” brunch. The final plenary speaker of the conference, Olympic swimmer, gold medalist, and out athlete Mark Tewksbury, from Canada is scheduled to speak at 11:15 a.m.
Tewksbury is author of “Inside Out: Straight Talk from a Gay Jock,” was president of the first World Outgames held in Montreal, and was recognized as one of OUT Magazine’s top 100 people. He served as an ambassador for the Pride House at the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games in 2010, marking the first LGBT representation at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. He is currently the Vice Chair of Special Olympics Canada.
Keynote closing remarks will be delivered Sunday at 5 p.m. by Professor Emeritus Vitit Muntarbhorn, when he discusses “Where do we go from Here?” Muntarbhorn comes from Thailand, was educated in the UK at Oxford, and in 2016 was the first appointed United Nations Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI).
The Loews will host the closing reception of the conference at 6 p.m. outdoors on the back lawn.
This year marks the fourth World Out Games, but the first time the games have come to the U.S., having previously been hosted in Montreal in 2006, Copenhagen in 2009 and Antwerp in 2013. The event as a whole spans 10 days, and in addition to the global human rights conference, includes arts and cultural events around Miami and a full schedule of athletic competitions. Although those who travel to compete are not required to be professional athletes, the focus of the games is a coming together, a celebration of diversity, and a show of inclusion.
View the full schedule for the 4th Global Human Rights Conference, part of the World OutGames Miami at outgames.org/human_rights/conference.
If You Go:
World OutGames, Human Rights Conference, May 26 – May 28, 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.
The Loews Hotel, 1601 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, FL 33139
Opening Reception, Friday, May 26, 7 p.m.
The National Hotel, 1677 Collins Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33139
Closing Reception, Sunday, May 28, 6 p.m.
The Loews Hotel, 1601 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, FL 33139