Op-ed: Fueling the Frontlines for LGBT Rights

By J. Bob Alotta

Originally published on Advocate.com May 16 2014 4:30 AM ET

Worldwide, the status of LGBTQI rights is increasingly polarized. Nearly one year ago, many in the United States celebrated the historic Supreme Court decisions advancing marriage equality. Similarly, around the globe, we are seeing some of the most forward-thinking policies to date to support and advance LGBTQI rights and equality in places like China, Argentina, Nepal and, South Africa.

Unfortunately, just as we’re seeing advances, we’re witnessing a shocking erosion of LGBTQI rights and liberties, and in some cases the growth of extremist violence and hate-based rhetoric. Just last week, the first law in East Asia that would enforce the policy of stoning to death LGBTQI people went into effect in Brunei. It joins the ranks of countries like Nigeria and Uganda.

On both ends, the polarization is such that we are moving in two very different directions simultaneously and creating a deepening chasm between countries with progressive policies supporting human rights and those that threaten to undermine the most basic of advancements.

As an organization with a 36-year history in support of LGBTQI rights and the first funder to LGBTQI international issues, Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice is working to connect these disparate experiences and create shared knowledge and heightened resources.

We know on-the-ground grassroots LGBTQI organizations and activists are the best equipped to drive lasting change and lead the fight for our rights and protections.

They understand and can untangle the multiple forces at work: systemic discrimination, socioeconomic and legal exclusion, trauma and violence.

Yet the movements they build to fight back against human rights abuses are severely underfunded.

In the U.S., lesbians and gay men receive some of the lowest levels of funding from the philanthropic community. For every $100 awarded by U.S. foundations, only 24 cents goes to LGBTQI causes.

In contrast, U.S.-based conservative and evangelical groups are exporting hate-based rhetoric and policies to nations around the world. Individuals whose ideas would be viewed widely as “fringe” in the United States are getting the red carpet treatment in places like Uganda.

As human rights activists and funders of social change, we can no longer only afford to invest in domestic programs.

Last spring the U.S. Agency for International Development announced the Global LGBTI Human Rights Partnership with my organization, the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, the Victory Institute, and the Williams Institute. This $3.9 million commitment represents the largest single investment by the U.S. government to increase human rights, accountability, and protections to LGBTI individuals worldwide.

But that can only be the start.

We just launched a three-year “Fueling the Frontlines” campaign for global LGBTQI rights that is concentrated in six key regions: Latin America, North America, Africa, China, India and the Balkans.

“Fueling the Frontlines” will address this growing epidemic by propelling the work and priorities of LGBTQI organizations and forging coalitions across issues and borders to end the marginalization and persecution faced by LGBTQI people.
In Ecuador, we’re shutting down lesbian torture clinics. In India, we’re fighting colonial laws that recriminalize same-sex relations. In the U.S., we are ensuring health care access for trans* people. In South Africa, we’re exposing unethical police tactics in order to prevent violence.

LGBTQI youth, trans* people, women, and people of color are leading the global movement to fight back. These are the frontline activists who work in isolation with limited access to financial resources. They are local change makers, artists, and community members who use a multitude of tools to challenge oppression and seed change.

These brave activists on the frontlines of the struggle for LGBTQI freedom cannot afford to wait for laws to change nor for a culture of inclusion to emerge over decades. We must shift the dialog to create the world we want to live in. We must fuel the movement for LGBTQI people.

We have an opportunity to radically tip the scales and close this chasm between rights and atrocities. As funders, we must dramatically increase support to LGBTQI organizations. Individual activists must be a part of this change too, by adding your voice to the chorus calling for change and by taking action when you see LGBTQI oppression. Get engaged online, in the streets, and in your own personal philanthropy.

Whether you give time or money, support the brave activists who are on the frontlines of the global movement for LGBTQI rights and justice.

J. BOB ALOTTA is executive director of the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, a global foundation based in New York City that provides critical resources to LGBTQI organizations and individuals around the world.