Gay rights activists have praised Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the President of Brazil, for announcing that he is convening the first national conference of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and trans persons (LGBT).

New York-based Human Rights Watch has urged people to write to Mr da Silva to congratulate him on his decision to call the conference. His decree was published in the Official Gazette last week.

“It will be a very significant event for LGBT rights in Brazil,” said Toni Reis, president of ABGLT, the Brazilian gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans association.

“700 people are expected to take part, 60% civil society and 40% government. The conference is being organised by the government.

“There is strong opposition from religious fundamentalists and at this time it is important to provide support and congratulate the President and the Minister for Human Rights.”

The national conference, Human Rights and Public Policies: the way forward to ensuring the citizenship of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and trans persons, will be held from May 9th to 11th 2008.

Conferences will be held in Brazil’s 27 states to develop initial proposals and elect the delegates to the national gathering.

The conference is expected to propose the guidelines for the implementation of public policies and the national plan to promote the citizenship and human rights of LGBT people.

It will also evaluate the Brazil Without Homophobia Programme and propose strategies to strengthen it.

An organising committee comprised of 16 ministries, the Parliamentary Front for LGBT Citizenship and 18 representatives of the LGBT movement has the task of writing the internal rules of the Conference as well as guidelines for the state level LGBT conferences, in addition to accompanying the organisation of the national conference.

Homosexuality has been legal in Brazil since 1823, except in the armed forces, and civil unions are allowed in some areas.

The country plays host to some of the largest gay celebrations in the world – two million members from Brazil’s LGBT community gathered in Sao Paulo earlier this year for the 10th annual Sao Paulo Gay Pride.

However, homophobia and gay-bashing remain significant problems in the country of 184 million people.