Stockholm Pride is a celebration of love, but it also serves as a reminder that LGBTI people around the world still face discrimination, violence and even death because of who they are and who they love. Discrimination and harassment against LGBTI people is widespread and homosexuality is considered a crime in 76 countries, including many in the Global South and East.
To promote equality and human rights in developing countries, the LGBTI Global Development Partnership was founded in 2012 by Sida and USAID. The program supports five organisations and institutions that strengthen LGBT activists and promotes rights and economic empowerment of LGBTI people.
Creating space for LGBTI in politics
The Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute (Victory) is one of the organisations in the partnership and works to increase the political participation of LGBTI people in the countries they live in. Through trainings and forums, Victory and their local partners equip LGBTI leaders with the skills and tools to engage politically. This might mean running for local office or, in less mature situations, planting seeds for political participation for when the moment arises. Caryn Viverito at Victory remembers one of the big triumphs:
– Luisa Revilla took one of our political leadership trainings in Peru 2014 and only a year later she was elected as Peru’s first transgender City Councillor. It was so exciting to meet her as one of the many extraordinary LGBTI leaders at the training, and even more so to see her get elected.
Another way to create space for LGBTI people and issues in politics is by increasing awareness and knowledge in society. Through a research project in the Balkans Victory was able to prove that political parties in the region do not lose votes for supporting LGBTI initiatives. Citizens ultimately base their votes on other issues; a huge revelation in a context where politicians used to avoid taking a stand for LGBTI rights out of fear of losing votes.
Technology as a threat and an amplifier
For LGBTI activists, visibility on and offline are often important strategies to advocate for rights. But technology can also be threatening for activists, as it might expose their identities. Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice is supporting activists with tools and skills to stay safe while they build movements and advocate for human rights. Their CommsLabs trainings are designed with, by and for activists, and include digital security and web skills as well as communication strategies for delivering impactful messages.
– Through our CommsLabs initiative, we have connected queer and trans activists with technologists, and with one another; to explore, learn and innovate at the intersections of technology, rights and activism, says Kerry-Jo Lyn, Astraea Foundation.
Because of the threatening environments in which LGBTI activists usually act, conflict resolution and self-healing have been included in the trainings – to make the activists and the movements they drive more resilient.
– I think we tend to have an attitude where we just keep working and working, but never get a chance to sit down and debrief what we’re feeling or how this is affecting our families. So learning about self-care was one outstanding thing that I plan to take back”, says one of the CommsLabs participants.
The importance of networks
Swedish RFSL equips activists with leadership skills and networks through the Rainbow Leaders. Training of LGBTI leaders has proven to help sustain the organisations they represent as well as themselves as human rights activists.
– In countries with discriminatory and repressive laws LGBTI organisations often work isolated, with little opportunities to exchange with other organisations that is advocating for the same issues. Through the partnership and the Rainbow Leaders we have had the opportunity to offer a unique forum for learning and reflection to LGBTI leaders around the world, says Katarina Stenkvist at RFSL.
Astraea Foundation, RFSL and Victory all witness of the importance of the lasting global networks that have been established between LGBTI activists through their different programs. And activists seem to agree.
– From time to time we still communicate the A-Z of life, which has become like long distance coaching sessions. Knowing different people and contexts, and the challenges that they come from is a motivation that we are not alone, says a participant from the Rainbow Leaders.
An activist from one of the CommsLabs says that she was inspired by the solidarity among the other participants.
– It was displayed in these sessions and made you feel like you’re not alone. I’ll go back home knowing that I have other people I can talk to, that can come and assist us when we’re doing work.