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Safety, Accountability, Sustainability For Asian LGBTIQ Advocates Working on Gender Based Violence





Grace Poore

The Asia Regional Network on SOGIE (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression) & GBV (Gender-Based Violence) is a feminist, LGBTIQ-led, intersectional network of individuals with expertise on gender based violence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ) communities in Asia. Funded and established by Outright International in October 2020, the Network currently has 35 members based in 10 countries in Asia: India, Indonesia, Japan, Myanmar, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Timor-Leste. Members convene online for regional forums and webinars to share advocacy, expertise, and good practices for challenging GBV perpetrated against LGBTIQ people. This violence is not only because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, but also due to other factors such as their race, ethnicity, caste, mental and physical disabilities, religion, economic status, age and other identity markers. 

In 2021, the Asia Regional Forum expanded its focus to support the wellness of members of the Asia Network on SOGIE & GBV to strengthen the resilience and sustainability of LGBTIQ groups working to stop GBV.

COVID-19 Struggles and Good Practices 

Presentations from activists in different countries revealed significant overlap in the challenges LGBTIQ people are facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Sri Lanka, Philippines, Nepal, Indonesia, and India, regardless of whether same sex and non-conforming gender remain criminalized, the confluence of pre-COVID social, political, cultural, and legal discrimination have increased vulnerability of LGBTIQ people. Amplifying this situation is discriminatory COVID responses by state entities, including access to emergency food rations, shelter, and prescription medications. Non-inclusive definitions of marriage/couple/family deem LGBTIQ people ineligible for COVID relief programs and services. In countries like India, Nepal and Sri Lanka that recognize non-binary gender, transgender people are not able to obtain legally valid ID cards, which denies them access to government COVID assistance programs, such as emergency cash relief. 

Gender diverse persons in Nepal and India are facing discrimination in segregated quarantine centers. In Sri Lanka, military-run quarantine/vaccination centers heighten LGBTIQ people’s anxieties and vulnerabilities. In Indonesia, distrust of the government affect LGBTIQ people’s willingness to access COVID relief programs provided by government agencies/organizations. 

Reports and images showed LGBTIQ community-based organizations “taking up the slack” and filling the gaps in COVID responses, where governments and humanitarian organizations have failed to include LGBTIQ people—e.g., setting up food pantries, mobilizing emergency food and medication distribution, providing group shelter or housing with community members, and initiating online support groups for victims and survivors of domestic/family violence. 

Another challenge echoed by participants of the Forum was that COVID emergency grants did not match emergency needs, donors lacked flexibility in adapting existing grants to immediate local needs, while local organizations lacked capacity and skills to negotiate with funders about these issues.

As ever, the creativity and tenacity of LGBTIQ civil society groups helped them adapt and respond to their community emergencies. For example, Indonesian civil society initiated an Identity Card registration campaign that helped many transgender people obtain their ID cards so they could get services during the pandemic. The local LGBT Center in Wuhan, China helped people with HIV obtain medications during the lockdown when they couldn’t travel from Wuhan where they worked to their hometowns where they were registered to access HIV medications—changing the policy so that HIV medication access is not limited to registered domiciles. 

Myanmar Crisis and How to Respond

During one session of the Forum, guest speaker Aung Myo Min, long-time Myanmar human rights advocate and out gay man, joined the conversation. He shed light on the different anti-coup efforts being taken inside the country, and spoke about how pro-democracy activists, including LGBTIQ people, want the international community to respond. Aung Myo Min was appointed “minister” of human rights under the National Unity Government (NUG), which is a civil society structure functioning as a shadow government, working to restore democratic governance in Myanmar. He recommended several actions which members of the Asia Network on SOGIE and GBV, and others, can take:

  • Call on your governments and parliaments to put pressure on the Myanmar military regime to stop the killings and release civilians being detained for participating in anti-coup actions. 
  • Call on your governments to support Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG), not the military regime.
  • In September, the UN will decide whether to recognize the military government appointee or NUG appointee as representative of Myanmar to the UN. Ask your governments to vote to recognize the NUG as legitimate government representative to the UN and in all international assemblies.
  • Ask your governments to increase humanitarian assistance through channels which don’t involve the corrupt junta or military affiliated organizations and agencies to ensure that it reaches people beyond the military and their families.  
  • Call on your governments to give humanitarian assistance to international agencies operating in the border areas. Cross border humanitarian assistance is more likely to get to civilians through ethnically liberated/controlled areas.
  • Ask your governments to stop doing business with the military.
  • Call on your governments not to send arms to the junta.
  • Call on your governments to push for military to be brought to the International Criminal Court.
  • If it is safe to do so where you are, organize and join street protests and in front of Myanmar embassies in your country.

Network members committed to using knowledge gained from the presentation to amplify the voices of people inside Myanmar and share information with their local LGBTIQ networks and allies. 

Outright is monitoring and reporting on the Myanmar crisis and sharing information received from activists inside the country. 

Aung Myo Min’s presentation during the Forum is viewable here.

Need for Regional Wellness Mechanism

The 2021 Regional Forum concluded with a discussion on wellness needs and how to support LGBTIQ individuals and groups working to stop GBV in Asia. Participants identified several issues in their countries that impacted the wellness of LGBTIQ human rights defenders and anti-GBV advocates, including the following: unreasonable expectations on activists to be self-sacrificial and altruistic, not enough people to take over the work of advocates who need extended time off to regroup and rejuvenate, community divisions generated by sexual assault allegations against movement leaders, lack of mechanisms to “authenticate” claims of intra-personal and intra-community abuses, prevalence of suicides among community members and repercussions of high-profile LGBTIQ suicides on local movements, and no support for LGBTIQ advocates responding to immediate critical needs of their communities including GBV during COVID lockdowns and other humanitarian disasters.

In response to the urgency expressed about these issues, Outright has convened Network members from different Asian sub-regions to form a wellness collective core group. The group meets fortnightly online to review concerns raised during the Forum and develop preliminary ideas and strategies for a regional wellness mechanism—e.g., feminist, LGBTIQ-inclusive and intersectional guidelines for integrating wellness, safety, and accountability in LGBTIQ organizations, communities, and movements.

Prior to the next Regional Forum, slated for 2022, there will be webinars and online mentoring sessions led by members of the Network in collaboration with Outright. External experts will be invited to build the Network’s awareness and capacity on issues that impact wellness, safety, and accountability for LGBTIQ advocates and human rights defenders. Some of these issues are:

  • fighting religious homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny in Asia.
  • stopping SOGIE Change Efforts/ “conversion therapy” in Asia.  
  • improving humanitarian responses for LGBTIQ people in crises and disasters. 
  • ageism and LGBTIQ elder rights Asia.
  • removing barriers to LGBTIQ help-seeking for GBV. 
  • alternatives to criminalization for holding perpetrators accountable for violence against LGBTIQ people.
  • funding for individual, community, and movement wellness.   

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