June 14 – 19, 2018
Project: Strengthening the Capacity for LGBT Organizations
No. of Visitors: 5
The City of Louisville was chosen by the U.S Department of State International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) to be a stop for the visitors of Azerbaijan coming to the United States to learn about strengthening the capacity of LGBTQ organizations. Five leaders in the LGBTQ community of Azerbaijan were chosen by the U.S Embassy in Azerbaijan to visit Washington D.C, Louisville, San Francisco, Sacramento, Miami, and New York City. The objectives of the program were below:
- Examine the U.S. legislative framework to ensure LGBT rights in the U.S.;
- Explore U.S. and international initiatives to promote and protect the human rights of the LGBT community;
- Observe how organizations monitor, influence, and advocate for LGBT rights policy at the local, state, national, and international levels;
- Gain insight into approaches, experiences, and challenges of the LGBT community such as healthcare issues; the status of LGBT women; LGBT youth issues; and achieving economic equality;
- Learn about capacity building in the areas of managing LGBT NGOs; public outreach and communications; government relations; and networking and alliance building
In 2016, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), ranked Azerbaijan as the worst country in Europe(49 th) for LGBTQ rights. Just last year the police force of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, initiated raids targeting the LGBTQ community. Nearly 100 people were detained, many of whom identify as LGBTQ. Some of those who were arrested also claimed to have been tortured and beaten. The climate of Azerbaijan makes this U.S. State Department program much more imperative; the ultimate goal of this program is to help those who are trying to improve the lives of LGBTQ community members in Azerbaijan. The World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana was honored to have such courageous men and women come visit us, and hoped that they could learn something new from LGBTQ leaders in a historically conservative American state.
The participants from Azerbaijan had a quick but packed stay in Louisville. In addition to participating in the Kentuckiana Pride Festival and Parade, they met with a variety of organizations and leaders throughout Kentucky who advocate and support the LGBTQ community. These were organizations such as the Louisville Metro Police Department Safe Harbor program and LGBTQ Advisory Council, PFLAG of Central Kentucky, the Fairness Campaign, and the Mayor of Lexington, Jim Gray. These exchanges helped the Azerbaijanis learn about the LGBTQ culture in the United States as well as gain insights as to what they could
bring back home to help advocate for the LGBTQ community in Azerbaijan.
Having the chance to meet with an openly gay mayor, given the current administration in the United States, seemed to be a highlight of the trip for the participants. The mayor of Lexington, Jim Gray, and the Lexington LGBTQ Community Liaison, Kenny Bishop, took the time to meet with the group to discuss the mayor’s story as well as the political landscape in Kentucky. The general acceptance that Mayor Gray has received as well as the initiatives that he and his team have brought to fruition in Lexington and Kentucky politics were a source of inspiration for the participants. After the meeting, the group drove over to the rainbow cross walks in downtown
Lexington, an artistic as well as activist initiative the Mayor’s team brought to life. Although it was a short meeting, the participants, the interpreters, and myself felt very fortunate to have been able to sit down with such an inspirational and powerful figure in the LGBTQ community. Additionally, the local leaders that met with the group also learned a great deal about the restrictive political and social landscape in Azerbaijan. As an intern listening in on some of the meetings, I saw how intrigued local leaders were a country they did not know much about, as well as the difficulties these courageous people go through to advocate and support the LGBTQ community. I saw firsthand the value of a cultural exchange as well as the exchange of information and ideas so that the Azerbaijanis and Americans both walked with new knowledge and an awareness of a new perspective.
We hope that the Azerbaijanis had a great stay in Kentucky, and we wished them safe travels as they left to visit San Francisco. Thank you to everyone who helped made this program successful, and thank you for all that you do to support the LGBTQ community!