Democratic backsliding, propelled by strong anti-gender and nationalist movements, is limiting the ability of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI+) people and other marginalized populations to participate politically and exercise their basic rights and citizenship responsibilities. Around the globe, LGBTQI+ organizations and activists are facing an increase in discrimination, exclusionary political discourse and anti-LGBTQI+ legislative action. In May 2022, for example, the Indonesian government condemned the British Embassy in Jakarta for raising an LGBTQI+ flag in observance of International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT). Just months prior, Senegal experienced a wave of homophobia when parliamentarians touted anti-LGBTQI+ legislation inspired by lawmakers in neighboring Ghana. Meanwhile, COVID-19 has exacerbated barriers preventing LGBTQI+ communities from participating in public life and influencing decisions affecting their health and welfare.
This context set the stage for the International Lesbian, Gay, Trans, and Intersex Association’s (ILGA’s) – the largest trans-national consortium of LGBTQI+ activists, organizations and stakeholders – first in-person world conference since the outbreak of the pandemic. Hosted in Long Beach, California, the May 2022 conference centered around youth in LGBTQI+ activism, highlighting the historical underrepresentation of young people and the importance of intergenerational collaboration within broader LGBTQI+ movements. In addition to intergenerational collaboration, the conference emphasized the need for cross-movement building, acknowledging that unity is the only viable defense against the dehumanizing rhetoric and “divide and conquer” tactics deployed by anti-gender forces. COVID-19 also figured significantly in regards to discussions about ongoing efforts to equitably adapt activism to online spaces and ensure all members of the community feel heard and seen.
For five days, NDI staff members joined approximately six hundred participants representing diverse LGBTQI+ identities and organizations, as well as other allied groups, in solidarity to develop strategies to advance LGBTQI+ activism in their respective corners of the world. Several keynote speakers, including the U.S. Special Envoy for the Advancement of LGBTQI+ Human Rights, the UN Special Rapporteur covering gender-based violence and the executive director of the It Gets Better Project highlighted movement growth and adaptation to meet evolving challenges and to involve the furthest behind. Following two years of restrictions on public gatherings imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference granted participants the opportunity to reinforce long-standing alliances and build renewed consensus on the major issues faced by LGBTQI+ communities around the world: the rise of anti-gender ideological movements and the criminalization of LGBTQI+ identities in regions experiencing significant democratic backsliding. In addition to consensus-building, key recommendations emerged from the conversations including a need to:
Elevate and tackle intersectional challenges faced by LGBTQI+ people with disabilities and Indigenous peoples;
Allow for the movement to adapt and evolve as issues change and best practices emerge; and
Ask that members of the community stand in solidarity with each other, even when the issue at hand may not be their priority.
During the event, NDI coordinated an information sharing session between Equal Rights in Action Fund (ERA) partners and representatives from the U.S. Department of State, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and Italy’s first Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ people. Organizations from Mongolia, Tonga, Serbia, Morocco and South Africa described campaigns to advance the rights of intersex communities, train prosecutors on access to justice for victims of hate crimes and build community support for legislation that protects the rights and safety of transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming communities. Partners also highlighted the uniqueness of the ERA Fund, noting the grant mechanism enables them to focus greater attention on their organizing and action. They emphasized to the Special Envoy and SIDA representative the continued need for the ERA Fund as an element of the multinational Global Equality Fund (GEF), acknowledging that for some, this is the only funding they can access given the communities they support.
Many themes and lessons from the conference are already being integrated into NDI programs. For example:
In Zimbabwe, 13 LGBTQI+ organizations formed a coalition to advance electoral reforms that ensure LGBTQI+ communities can safely participate in the 2023 general elections and utilize political processes to counter stigma and discrimination.
ERA partner Trans Siempre Amigas Inc. (Trans Friends Forever Inc., TRANSSA) is working to counter the disproportionate impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on transgender and non-gender conforming communities in the Dominican Republic. This includes supporting communities to meet their basic needs while engaging government to enact stronger anti-discrimination policies that contributed to discrepencies in service provision during lockdown.
NDI’s participation in the ILGA Conference reaffirms LGBTQI+ inclusion as a priority and the need to continue to meaningfully engage LGBQTI+ communities as key allies in countering democratic backsliding and promoting democracy that works for all.
Whitney Pfeifer, Program Manager on the Citizen Participation and Inclusion team
Samantha de Comines, Program Associate on the Citizen Participation and Inclusion team
NDI is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that works in partnership around the world to strengthen and safeguard democratic institutions, processes, norms and values to secure a better quality of life for all. NDI envisions a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.