In layman's terms, the conference was held to advocate interaction of religion, race and sexuality. Over 40 people attended this conference, representing over 40 different organisations from 24 countries. As such, there was a huge gathering of various cultures, religions and sexuality which is exactly what we needed: Diversity. I must say, it was an invaluable experience. As well as learning about diversity and all that comes with that, I made some wonderful friends in those few days. It was amazing to meet so many activists and see how we all have a common goal even though we work for different organisations in different countries. That common goal is to promote ethnic, religious and sexual diversity.
Every day of the conference, we started at 9.30am and finished around 7.30pm at night, so it was a tiring 4 days. We covered topics such as resolving conflict and campaign planning to multiculturalism and ethnic, linguistic and social challenges within LGBTQ communities. But it wasn't all lectures and talks with a speaker telling us what’s right and what’s wrong. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Every session was interactive. It ranged from small one-on-one discussions to big group debates.
|Some Of Our Teamwork|
Outside of talks and debates (which often became very heated), I took part in the numerous practical sessions. One of which was a World Café. Splitting into 8 groups, we talked about the current situation with regards to LGBT issues. After 5 minutes of a discussion in our groups, we mixed up and formed new groups. From then, we went through the general view of LGBT issues. Finally, after another swap, we brought up what we could do as individuals to help make the situation better. It was very interesting to see how even though I conversed with different people each time, the same issues and solutions came up.
Despite the seriousness of some arising topics, the conference was so much more than a 4-day long discussion. On the first night, we attended a forum on ‘Conversations about Culture, Religion and LGBT’. This was where we saw a panel of activists speaking about their organisations and how they promote ICIRD, followed by a controversial Q&A session. The night ended with a wine reception and nibbles!
Our second day ended with an extremely impromptu intercultural dancing party. It started off with one girl asking me about Irish dancing, and from there we had a Siege of Ennis going in no time! From being involved in my short Irish dance, others taught us dances from their countries. In no time we were dancing to Greek music, Israeli music and Portuguese music. Once the list of countries was exhausted, we finished the night with the Macarena. Of course, nobody needed to be taught the steps to that!
|Group Photo Just Before Our Tour Of Brussels|
The closing ceremony was perhaps the most emotional event I've experienced in a while. Each attendee, armed with a special tealight in hand, stood together to form a circle. One of the prep team lit their candle and started off with their words of thanks. The flame was passed to the next person and they said their few words. Each speech was as moving as the last. By the time the last person spoke, tears of joy and sadness were flowing. It was our final night together.
|Our Last Night Out Together|
Not only had we become great friends over the 4 days, we had become family. As one girl mentioned to me before leaving the following day, ‘now you have to go couch-surfing across Europe to visit everyone!’. Truer words have never been spoken.