The 24th annual International Gay and Lesbian Leadership Conference is underway in Washington DC.

Among the guest speakers are prominent lesbian politicians Oregon Secretary of State-elect Kate Brown and US Representative Tammy Baldwin, and Sunil B Pant, the only gay member of Nepal’s Constituent Assembly.

The Leadership Conference, which began yesterday and finishes on Sunday, “will convene openly LGBT elected, appointed and community leaders from across the US and around the world.”

It will feature workshops, discussion panels and keynote addresses aimed at helping openly LGBT public leaders become more informed and effective.

Speakers include: Zvonimir Dobrovic, director of Croatia’s Queer Zagreb Festival, which was attacked by fascist protesters earlier this year; Michael Guest, the first openly gay man to be confirmed by the US Senate to serve as a US Ambassador; and New York City House Speaker Christine Quinn, who has been tipped to replace Hillary Clinton as US Senator from New York.

Edmond Rhys Jones, Human Rights Officer at the British Embassy in Washington, will take part in a panel discussion on the topic:

“LGBT Issues in Global Human Rights: Can the US Help?

“The US State Department regularly uses its influence to expand human rights around the globe, but it has been reluctant to include LGBT rights in its diplomatic portfolio.

“Could the US follow the lead of allies like Great Britain in pressing for basic human rights for LGBT people everywhere?”

Mr Pant, founder of Blue Diamond Society, was named in May as one of five representatives of the Communist Party of Nepal-United in the 601 member new constituent assembly.

The Maoists are the largest party with 220 seats.

Maoist insurgents, who fought a ten-year guerrilla war against monarchist forces at a cost of over 12,000 lives, finally signed a peace agreement with the new democratic government in November 2006.

LGBT people joined the Maoist rebels and others to protest in a democracy movement against the king, demanding a freely elected, secular government.

King Gyanendra eventually relinquished sovereign power to the civilian government and elections were finally held for a new assembly on 10th April.

Gays and lesbians in the Himalayan kingdom previously suffered persistent persecution from security forces during the absolutist rule of King Gyanendra. The harassment of lesbian, gay and trans people continued at the hands of Maoist rebels.

The assembly will draft a new constitution, decide the fate of the monarchy and govern Nepal for the next two years.

Mr Pant is a hero to many gay activists across the world. On a visit to India last month he said:

“We have moved from being a marginalised and persecuted lot who were thrown out of homes, schools and jobs to people who have human rights and are now protected by the police, the same people who once harassed us.

“In Nepal, the LGBTI communities were part of the campaign for garnering votes for the Communist Party of Nepal.

“They approached me to campaign and I managed to secure 15,500 votes. It makes a statement that LGBTI people are interested in matters of politics and governance and not just sex.

“The campaign not only gave LGBTI issues visibility but a platform to negotiate for rights.

“It is one thing to clean up the city and stop transgenders from begging but one must provide them with alternative means of living.

“India is a very big country and a single strategy may not work. However, I’m sure it won’t be long before a political party will tap the LGBTI vote bank¯there are millions of untapped votes.”

In May 2007 the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission gave its Celebration of Courage award to Mr Pant.