Q&A with our New Executive Director, Maria Sjödin

Contributed by: 

Tell us About Yourself

I am Maria Sjödin, OutRight’s new executive director. I have been at OutRight for more than eight years, most recently serving as the acting executive director. Prior to this, for five years, I served as the deputy executive director. Before joining OutRight, I was the executive director of RFSL, Sweden’s largest LGBTQI organization and one of the oldest LGBTQI organizations in the world.

Tell us About Your Vision for OutRight

First, we are committed in helping LGBTIQ grassroots in underfunded regions because these are individuals and groups who are pushing for legal and social change in their communities. It’s a sobering fact that almost 30 countries have no LGBTIQ organizations whatsoever, leaving LGBTIQ people vulnerable when they are arbitrarily arrested, maligned or persecuted. They have not even a single LGBTIQ organization to advocate for them. Second, we will support the creation of laws and policies aimed at protecting and advancing equality for queer people in places where landmark change is possible and needed. And finally, in partnership with local groups, we will continue to provide humanitarian response and relief efforts to LGBTIQ communities. 

What about any organizational changes?

OutRight is expanding. From our team to our programs and reach, we are growing to better support the LGBTIQ community. Currently, we have staff in over 12 countries, and we are hoping for more, especially in the Global South. With that intention, comes the need to invest in internal infrastructure and people in the field. And this is something I’m very excited to share. You heard it first here: we are refreshing our brand. This fall, we are launching our reimagined logo, our revitalized storytelling, and a more user-friendly website. In the process, we will honor the legacy and the work of those who have been part of our organization in the last three decades.  

What are the ongoing works at OutRight right now? 

In terms of networking and resource-building with marginalized communities, we launched a program for lesbian, bisexual and queer women called LBQ Connect. This is a global feminist initiative aimed at boosting their work and visibility. In Africa, we are focusing our efforts to end conversion practices through key partnerships while in the Caribbean, we are working with several groups to fight against gender-based violence and create a more supportive environement where the archaic, colonial-era sodomy laws will be repealed. Most recently, we saw this in Antigua and Barbuda. 

Globally, there are a lot of issues that cross borders, such as gender-based violence, discrimination, crackdown in activism, and safety and security issues to name a few. There’s a long way to go for full equality. We are also witnessing governments, in too many places, trying to stop or even roll back on our rights and progress. This is why we are working with our local, regional, and global partners, such as the UN LGBTI Core Group, which consists of 41 member states who are collaborating to advance LGBTIQ equality. 

In the midst of our fight for equality, conflicts in Ukraine and Afghanistan as well as the COVID-19 pandemic have demonstrated that people who already suffer from discrimination, including LGBTIQ people, are at even greater risk during crisis. They may be more likely to fall through the cracks due to bias or invisibility. This is why we launched our queering humanitarian aid initiative. 

With all of this, I can assure you that OutRight will be here to ensure that LGBTIQ people can live in safety, with dignity and with our rights protected.