Human Rights Conference Highlights WorldPride in Copenhagen

Out gay former State Senator Thomas Duane at a human rights conference in August.
Donna Aceto

As a former New York State senator, I was both honored to be invited and happy to attend the 2021 LGBTQIA+ Human Rights Conference held in Copenhagen, Denmark. The conference, its forums, and international activist networking, etc., took place during the week of August 15 and was a highlight of Copenhagen 2021 World Pride.  

HRH Crown Princess Mary of Denmark gave the opening address for the Human Rights Conference. Crown Princess Mary’s speech was riveting. It was passionate, insightful, and inspiring. and reflected her profound understanding of issues facing the LGBTQIA+ communities internationally. Her remarks set the tone for the extremely challenging tasks facing human rights activists worldwide. At the same time, Crown Princess Mary, the intensely determined activist — in part because Her Royal Highness wanted to open the conference, but more importantly through her words and call to action — uplifted all in attendance with her optimism and vision that equality and human and civil rights are attainable for all worldwide, and in particular, LGBTQIA+ communities everywhere. 

Crown Princess Mary of Denmark delivers remarks at the conference.Donna Aceto

I was a speaker at The Interparliamentary Plenary Assembly, which provided an opportunity for elected officials to share their best practices and learn about methods to advance the rights of LGBTQIA+ communities nationally and internationally. The assembly connected elected officials and provided a platform for organizations around the world to build and strengthen networks that impact governments.

In my remarks, I strongly encouraged all in attendance to welcome and mentor activists to run for office and increase the ongoing under-representation of LGBTQIA+ elected and appointed officials throughout government worldwide. 

Delaware State Senator Sarah McBride greets former New York State Senator Thomas Duane.Donna Aceto

It was thrilling to meet, listen to and just be an attendee among LGBTQIA+ elected and appointed officials from every corner of the world. In addition, some of the speakers presented remarks via video because of the COVID-19 epidemic, current events in their countries, or because it was too dangerous for them to travel internationally. In some cases, speakers had to conceal their identities because of the life and death situations they could have experienced if their faces or names were revealed.

Some of the many panels convened for the conference included Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions and Reducing Inequality Within and Among Countries, etc., where speakers included Tarek Zeiden of Lebanon; Erinda Ballanca of Albania; Dr. Franka Cadée, president, International Confederation of Midwives; and Anbid Zaman, youth representative, ILGA World Youth Steering Committee (Bangladesh). Speaking via video were anonymous activists needing protection from Mexico and Nigeria, as well as many other established and/or brave LGBTQIA+ advocates and fighters for civil and human rights for queer and non-queer people locally and globally.

Queer elected officials from around the world and InterPride’s human rights staff pose on a stairwell at the Danish Parliament.Donna Aceto

There were elected officials from the US who attended the conference and also spoke. Among those elected officials included Congressmembers Mark Takano of California and David Cicilline of Rhode Island, and at least two inspiring transgender lawmakers, State Senator Sarah McBride of Delaware and State Representative Brianna Titone of Colorado. Titone is related to our own out gay former assemblymember and now Staten Island Surrogate Court Judge Matt Titone. There were other attendees from the US, including activist Bruce Pachter and our own wonderful photographer, Donna Aceto, among others. The US embassy also participated and offered support — a welcome change in attitude toward queer communities.  

Thomas Duane and activist Bruce Pachter stand with Congressmember David Cicilline of Rhode Island (right)Donna Aceto

While there are far too few LGBTQIA+ elected officials at every level of government and in every country, there were activists from all over the world who very well may go for and win elected offices. Difficult tasks, challenging and energizing exchanges of experience, and strategies were very much a part of the conference — and informal, yet inspiring, discussion and networking took place for all attendees. All of that, when combined with the awesome spirit of the conference generally and the amazing energy of Copenhagen 2021 World Pride happening all around, made this experience one that has inspired and energized me to fight for a better future — a better future here in the US and around the world. It is my strengthened and most important takeaway from the conference that there is truly an internationally supported belief that we must continue and accelerate the fight for global safety and equality. 

It was a great experience for me to be among people who truly believe that there is absolutely the possibility of greater human and civil rights for LGBTQIA+ , questioning, and allied people in every country.

Thomas Duane formerly represented District 29 in the New York State Senate and District 3 in the New York City Council. Duane and Antonio Pagán were the first out LGBTQ members of the New York City Council and Duane went on to become the first out LGBTQ person elected to the State Senate.

Out trans Colorado Congresswoman Brianna Titone with Terry Reintke, Terry Reintke, a member of the European Parliament from Germany.Donna Aceto
Drawing a standing ovation, an anonymous activist from Nigeria discusses the problematic issues of women’s sexual and reproductive health for people around the world.Donna Aceto
Thomas Duane meets Anbid Zaman, a youth representative of ILGA World Youth Steering Committee who hails from Bangladesh.Donna Aceti