The monumental Amsterdam Rainbow Dress artwork has made its first visit to Australia to shine a light on the human rights issues affecting the global LGBTQIA+ community, ahead of the Sydney WorldPride Human Rights Conference in March 2023.
Created in the Netherlands by Mattijs van Bergen, Arnout van Krimpen, Jochem Kaan and Oeri van Woezik, the dress is made from the national flags of the 71 countries where it is still illegal to be LGBTQI+ on penalty of imprisonment, torture or death.
The dress’s arrival in Sydney comes as the harbour city prepares to welcome 1,500 community leaders, activists, politicians and human rights experts from across the globe to the International Conference Centre, Sydney (ICC) for the Sydney WorldPride Human Rights Conference.
Taking place from 1 to 3 March 2023, it will tackle the key human rights issues facing LGBTQIA+ communities around the world and is the largest event of its kind ever to be held in the region.
The topics being discussed at the conference include the protection of LGBTQIA+ refugees and people seeking asylum; access to supportive and affirming healthcare for LGBTQIA+ people; the future of inclusive sport; and the international effort to end unnecessary procedures performed on intersex people without their consent.
Eight New Human Rights Conference Speakers Announced:
A further eight speakers and presenters have been confirmed for the Human Rights Conference, bringing the total confirmed number of presenters to 18.
These renowned presenters come from as far and wide as St Lucia and China, and include Senator Sarah McBride, the first openly transgender person election to a state senate in the United States. The new speakers confirmed today are:
- Phylesha Brown-Acton (she/her), Fakafifine, MVPFAFF+, LGBTQ+ rights activist and Executive Director, F’INE Pasifika Aotearoa Trust (Niue / Aotearoa – New Zealand)
- Professor Paula Gerber (she/her), internationally renowned scholar, international human rights lawyer and Professor of Law at Monash University (Australia)
- Nancy Kelley (she/her), Chief Executive Officer of Stonewall UK, human rights advocate & policy adviser (United Kingdom)
- Steph Lum (they/them), Intersex advocate, researcher, poet and founder of YOUth&I (Australia)
- Senator Sarah McBride (she/her), first openly transgender person elected to a state senate in the United States (United States of America)
- Kenita Placide (They/Them/she/her), human rights, HIV and LGBT activist, the Founder and Executive Director of the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity & Equality (St Lucia)
- Yanzi Peng (he/him), Executive Director of LGBT Rights Advocacy China (China)
- Dr Senthorun Raj (he/him), Associate Professor in Human Rights Law (Manchester Law School) and Chair of Amnesty International UK (United Kingdom)
“The Amsterdam Rainbow Dress is a powerful symbol of the very real threats that members of the LGBTQIA+ community still face on a daily basis around the world,” said Chief Executive of Sydney WorldPride 2023, Kate Wickett.
“Here in Australia, many of us are lucky now to live relatively safe lives thanks to tireless campaigning for equal rights, but there are still many issues that affect LGBTQIA+ communities right across Australia, especially for trans and gender-diverse people.
“The Human Rights Conference is a major opportunity for community leaders, lawmakers and human rights experts from across the world to come together. For the Asia Pacific region, it is an opportunity to celebrate the diversity and enduring spirit of the LGBTQIA+ community, and to push for progress at home and internationally,” said Wickett.
Amsterdam Rainbow Dress:
At a massive 16m (52ft) in diameter, the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress is a striking and poignant reminder of the challenges that LGBTQIA+ communities around the world continue to face. As a sign of hope, each time a country changes its law, its national flag is replaced by a rainbow one.
The dress has travelled across the world to countries as diverse as Canada, Mozambique, Argentina, Sweden and Poland. It highlights the human rights issues affecting the global LGBTQIA+ community, with the aim of encouraging debate and awareness about inclusion and equal rights across the globe.
The Amsterdam Rainbow Dress is being modelled by Sydney-based actor, theatre critic and trans woman, Suzy Wrong, to highlight the discrimination members of the trans and gender diverse community face, both in Australia and around the world.
“It is a privilege to bring the dress to Australia for the first time to mark the upcoming Sydney WorldPride festival,” said Dress creator, Arnout Van Krimpen, from the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress Foundation.
“The Amsterdam Rainbow Dress is a symbol of freedom – the most precious thing we have. The choice to exclude LGBTQIA+ people from legal protection doesn’t just endanger the community but society as a whole.
“As well as advocating to end anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation, this work of art highlights the importance of preserving the freedoms we have won,” said Van Krimpen.
Ymania Brown, a proudly Samoan born, Fa’afafine trans woman, from Australian national LGBTIQ+ organisation, Equality Australia, the lead community partner for the Sydney WorldPride human right conference, said:
“The Amsterdam Rainbow Dress is a powerful embodiment of the global journey toward equality for people who face serious discrimination and harm based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or variations in sex characteristics,” said Brown.
“After decades of work by activists from affected communities, many countries have repealed laws that criminalised people on the basis of who they are or who they love, but still 71 countries criminalise sexual acts between people of the same sex and 13 countries directly criminalise the gender identity or expression of trans and gender diverse people while many more disproportionately target trans and gender diverse people under other criminal laws.”
“We are also seeing a wave of anti-equality activism targeting gender diverse people, across the world. This work threatens not just to slow or prevent the decriminalisation of trans and gender diverse people, but to wind back the hard-fought gains for these communities, including here in Australia.
“That’s why it is so timely that Sydney WorldPride is presenting the Human Rights Conference in May 2023, to shine a light on the issues facing our communities around the world and to bring together activists and decision-makers to build a better world, where LGBTIQ+ people are free and equal, no matter who we are, or who we love,” said Brown.
“The presentation of the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress marks an important milestone as we prepare to host the largest LGBTQIA+ Human Rights Conference ever held in the Asia Pacific region at ICC Sydney in March 2023,” said Geoff Donaghy, CEO at ICC Sydney.
“Diversity at ICC Sydney is about recognising and valuing the different knowledge, skills, backgrounds and perspectives that people bring regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, social background or sexual orientation. Our diverse workforce is our strength, and we look forward to delivering the best guest experience to the people that we are dedicated to serving,” said Donaghy.
The full list of 71 countries represented on the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress is compiled by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, ILGA World. Thank you to the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress Foundation for allowing the dress to be in Sydney.
Sydney WorldPride takes place 17 February to 5 March 2023. For more information and events program, visit: www.sydneyworldpride.com for details.
Image: Suzy Wrong wears the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress – photo by Cassandra Hannagan