The Palais de Congres in Montreal lived up to its rainbow coloured windows on Wednesday, July 26th as approximately 1,500 LGBT activists from throughout the world massed for the first International LGBT Human Rights Conference held as the kick-off event for the First World Outgames.

“We’re bringing the world together,” said Outgames Co-President and Olympic gold medal swimmer Mark Tewksbury. “The city is starting to go Outgames. It’s really exciting not just for the gay community and the LGBT sports community but for the city as well.”

The International Human Rights Conference heard from United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights Louise Arbour who called for the decriminalization of homosexuality throughout the world. Addressing the crowd at Wednesday evening’s gala dinner, Arbour said “the right to privacy is often defined as the right to be left alone. Cast in a more positive light, it reflects not simply a dichotomy between the public and the private sphere, but a genuine public interest in preserving a space in which the state must not intrude.

“It protects the family and the home, but most importantly those special and unique characteristics that define our existence, including our sexual identity. As such, this right is closely related to the protection of life, human dignity, and mental and physical integrity.”

Arbour went on to point out that there’s a distinct difference between criminal activity conducted in secret and activity that should not be penalized when conducted in private.

Joining Arbour in calling for full human rights for LGBT people were Montreal’s mayor, Gerald Tremblay, and Quebec’s Minister of Justice, Yvon Marcoux.

“Let us be certain, social progress does not occur by itself,” said Tremblay. “Societies must take charge. This Conference and the 1st World Outgames are an opportunity, through their visibility, to contribute to a full social acknowledgement of LGBT rights.”

“The fact that this event is being held under the auspices of national and international authorities confirms a new social reality: sexual minorities have emerged from anonymity, they have seen their differences acknowledged, and they can now lead the normal lives they are entitled to,” Marcoux told the crowd.

Conference attendees will attend 200 workshops that focus on essential rights, global issues, the diverse LGBT community, participation in society and creating social change.

The Outgames opening ceremony takes place this Saturday.

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