[RECAP] Reimagining Our Future – Trans and Gender Diverse Peoples Convening: Southeast Asia

Published October 11, 2022

From 19-23 September 2022, APTN held a regional convening in Bangkok, Thailand for trans human rights defenders and community-based organisations from South East Asia. The convening aimed to assess the state of the trans movement and advocacy, particularly in areas such as access to health, legal gender recognition, combating hate crimes and conversion therapy practices. Over the course of five days, APTN with the help of partners mapped out the threats and advocacy opportunities for the trans movement in the subregion. At the same time, the Southeast Asia convening informed APTN of the specific capacity needs, threats and advocacy opportunities identified by the communities.

After over 2 years, we are very delighted to have welcomed over 60 trans and gender-diverse guests from 10 countries in Southeast Asia. Over five days of convening, we shared amazing ideas, thoughts, information, memories and friendships. Here is our agenda over the 5 days of convening:

Day 1: Story of Me, Story of Us, Story of Now: Trans Realities in Southeast Asia
On the first day, we had introduction sessions such as agenda introductions, intention setting, and establishing ground rules together led by Madhura Chakraborty, APTN’s Human Rights and Advocacy Manager. The opening speech was made by APTN’s Executive Director, Joe Wong.

We also had an icebreaker “What Color Are You?” that was created so that participants can get to know the other participants from different countries. A guest speaker, Heather B. Davis, from USAID also came to deliver a speech about providing support to trans communities across the region through regional networks and answered questions given by the participants. A representative from FHI 360 added that there need to be more cross-regional lessons learnt and sharing best practices and that joint funding models need to be explored.

On this day, we also had an overview of APTN’s current work and setting the scene for getting feedback from community. This session was brought by Joe Wong, highlighting the main issues that APTN is working on, informed by our last regional convening and strategic plan. After his presentation, Joe invited Joe invited Khartini Slamah, one of APTN’s founding members to step forward and reflect upon the history of APTN.

The day ended by a plenary session about funding landscape and sustainability inviting Mitch from Malaysia SEED, Eda from the Philippines from CURLS and Lakanbini, Khanza from Indonesia Sanggar Swara supported by Agatha from Inti Muda Indonesia for translation. After the plenary session, participants had a breakout session to discuss Legal Gender Recognition, facilitated by Joe Wong, and Conversion Therapy and Hate Crimes, facilitated by Madhura Chakraborty and Nhuun Yodmuang. After one topic, both groups went to discuss Migration, Displacement and Asylum as a discussion topic.

Day 2: Understanding Our Rights
On day 2, the general objective is to create an understanding of holistic movement building. It started with a breakout session about “Engagement with International and National Policy” and “Health, Depathologisation, and Mental Health”. After the breakout session, we moved to a plenary session discussing “Preparedness for Emergencies and Future Crises” that invited Sulastri from Malaysia, Wahtun from Myanmar, and Rej Doricampo & Eda Catabas from Philippines. Each speakers presented their experience handling emergencies and crises such as COVID-19 and natural disasters that occurred in their countries.

On the afternoon, Madhura Chakraborty led a session to rethink goals and ways in which to rebuild and strengthen the movement. They shared the framework on movement building such as Theory of Change and the SMART framework. On the next session, participants practiced the framework and created an advocacy plan for their country based on discussion and application of the framework.

On the last session, participants filled in survey on trans human rights defenders. Maddie invites participants to form their respective country groups and discuss their capacity needs, threats and opportunities.

Day 3: Self Care and Well-being
On Day 3, participants were divided into 2 groups. Group 1 went to a session with Ouyporn Khuankaew, a Buddhist feminist activist. She facilitates workshops on feminist counseling, sexuality and anti-oppression, peacebuilding, and nonviolent direct action with Thai NGO and government workers, and regional and international participants. The session’s content were confidential as we discussed a lot of personal issues and inner work for peacebuilding.

Group 2 went to a session titled, “Speaking from the margins” that discusses disability, elderly and homeless trans issues. The speakers are Lenny from Indonesia, Khartini from Malaysia, Hua from Thailand, Mitch Yusof from Malaysia and Shane from Thailand. The discussion began with moderators asking the participants to think and identify the groups who are being left behind and think of ways on how to support and include them in the community, as well as creating a work plan for APTN and the country representatives.

In the evening, we bond over a solidarity dinner. All participants enjoyed the food and drinks served in the dinner with some performances by local trans performers.

Day 4: Towards Transformative Healthcare
On day 4, our general objective is to identify the best strategies to advocate for access to health, combating stigma and reducing harmful practice. It started with a health mapping session led by Nhuun Yodmuang, APTN’s Senior Human Rights and Advocacy Officer. Nhuun began the learning of the day with a history of mapping the state of transhealthcare and rights in Asia Pacific. It involved creating a baseline understanding of health models and interventions. This helped to obtain information on the gaps and potential areas for improving healthcare.

On the next session, Emily Rowe, APTN’s Consultant, and Cole Young, APTN’s Senior Program Officer presented Trans COMP CBM: Trans-Led Monitoring of Health Services. In order to capture the lived experiences of trans people in the region and feed into existing monitoring efforts, APTN developed a number of tools for the community. The Trans COMP CBM tool is designed to capture and track trans-competent and gender affirming health care in our region, including access to and availability of hormones, sexual and reproductive health services and barriers to health care.

We also launched our Towards Transcending Healthcare: Asia Pacific Trans Health & Rights Modules led by Cole young. TTH Module is a module to guide medical professionals to learn and conduct quality trans health care in Asia Pacific countries. There was a lot of enthusiasm surrounding the launch of modules. Lots of questions were asked, including a request for training of trainers sessions.

Day 5: Anger, Hope, Action
The main objective on our last day is to build strategic collaboration on advancing our rights within countries, between countries, and regionally with APTN. The first session in Day 5 was a power mapping session titled “Finding allies, Building Alliance”. Participants also had a mandala session to illustrate their anger, their hope, and what action can be done to reimagine the future.

After the mandala session, APTN had a closing remarks from Joe Wong. Joe stated that it was pleasing to see how people connected and the different ways they have connected over the last week. Joe thanked the support staff who helped the proceedings over the last week, including the translation team and rapporteurs. Instead of Joe making the final remark, he decided to invite the participants to share any thoughts.

Technology made it easier for us to connect, but no number of video calls beat the amazing connections that happened in person. After the convening, we would love to see more exchanges, conversations, and collaboration from around Southeast Asia!