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Lesbian Visibility Day Is a Time to Defend, Uplift, and Strategize

Astraea foundation
Members of the Women's Health and Equal Rights Initiative (WHER) in Nigeria.

The Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice says a "return to normal" should not be our goal.

Today, on Lesbian Visibility Day, we want to uplift the lesbian, bisexual, and queer (LBQ) movements doing groundbreaking work around the world. The current COVID-19 pandemic underscores just how essential the organizing, advocacy, and support provision of these organizations are.

We know there are two ongoing realities for LBQ people: 1. LBQ-identified women and non-binary people's lives are being threatened everyday around the world, and 2. LBQ-identified women and non-binary activists are not only creating change in their own lives, but also are building a new political reality that is inclusive, respectful, and safe for all oppressed and marginalized communities -- and indeed, for us all.

As a result of heightened threats to LBQ communities' safety and security during the current crisis, organizations around the world have been forced to rapidly shift and adapt their strategies.

"LBQ communities, who already experience high rates of violence and discrimination and whose challenges are largely invisibilized, are now facing surges in domestic violence, criminalization, and surveillance as a result of many states' COVID-19 measures and responses," says Mariam Gagoshashvili, the Senior Program and Advocacy Officer at the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice. "Furthermore, LBQ people who also belong to other marginalized communities such as people with disabilities, elders, sex workers, and migrants, are more vulnerable to various threats stemming from the virus and efforts to contain it."

Many LBQ organizations are turning to virtual ways to provide support and connection to community members. In Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, Astraea grantee partners are beginning to provide online emotional support to LBQ people, many of whom have been forced to return to homophobic home environments as a result of the crisis, while others are dealing with trauma as they re-experience war-like conditions.

Mama Cash, one of the oldest international feminist funds, has a grantee partner in Pakistan who has also expanded their online counseling services, workshops, and social events to reach LBT people in isolation. Their goal is to counter loneliness and support the mental health of their community.

"LBQ communities experience high levels of trauma in general, and we're hearing that many LBQ people are now facing higher rates of depression and anxiety as a result of social distancing measures which have isolated them from their chosen families and communities," says Mariam Gagoshashvili.

The Women's Health and Equal Rights Initiative (WHER), a Mama Cash and Astraea grantee partner based in Nigeria has shifted to offering their human rights trainings, counselling, and legal aid over messaging apps and conference calls. This ensures that LBQ-identified women and non-binary people have access to vital information on their human rights, as well as psychosocial and legal support during this time.

LBQ movements are integral to creating a fabric of justice and equity, yet the budget sizes of these organizations remain abysmally small with nearly 40 percent working with budgets of under $5,000 per year. 25 percent of those groups operate without any budget at all. An upcoming report from the Astraea Foundation and Mama Cash, "Vibrant Yet Under-Resourced: The State of Lesbian, Bisexual, and Queer Movements", finds that the LBQ movements' resourcing has not kept pace with the innovative ways in which they are working. While their approaches are dynamic and care-based, their funding and resources are inadequate.

Particularly at a time like this when organizations are taking on more work, it is imperative that donors step up to help provide responsive, flexible funding. We need to ensure that organizers have the resources and tools they need to reach their communities quickly and effectively.

Our world is just beginning to grapple with the COVID-19 crisis, and simultaneously recognizing that its effects lay bare the much deeper cracks and injustices in our societies. A "return to normal" is not possible and should not be our goal; instead, our goal must be deep systemic shifts in power and justice for all.

We know the road ahead is long, but LBQ movements have been fighting stigma and isolation, building community, and advocating for their human, economic, social, and political rights for longer -- they have provided the tools and the map for the way though. Their work and activism is building toward a future where all of us can live self-determined lives and enjoy safety, bodily autonomy, and pleasure. They envision building healthy and well-balanced relationships in their families, their communities, their workplaces, and with the Earth. We must support them, we must resource them, and we must learn from them.

Mihika Srivastava is the Communications Program Associate and Mariam Gagoshashvili is Senior Program & Advocacy Officer at the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, the only philanthropic organization working exclusively to advance LGBTQI human rights around the globe. Mama Cash funds women's, girls', and trans and intersex people's rights organizations and initiatives around the globe.

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Mihika Srivastava