You are listening to the Outright Proud podcast. I'm Whitney Pfeifer, Outright's Program Manager for Global LGBTQI+ Inclusive Democracy. On this week's episode, we're diving into the newly launched Global LGBTQI+ Inclusive Democracy and Empowerment Initiative [GLIDE]. Funded through the Global Equality Fund, GLIDE seeks to increase access to participation and leadership in democratic systems for LGBTQI+ communities.
On today's episode, we are talking to Regina Waugh, Senior Global Gender Advisor at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems [IFES], and Michael Heflin, Outright's Global Grants Director. Michael and Regina, welcome. Regina, let's start with you. As someone who works within the broader democracy space, can you set the scene as it relates to the status of democracy around the world?
How is this impacting LGBTIQ people and citizens more broadly? Great. Thanks so much, Whitney. So, I think the general trend, right, the general story that we're hearing with respect to democracy around the world is that it - we're in kind of a state of backsliding. So, you know, for the last 35 years or so, the last 30 years, since essentially the fall of the Berlin Wall, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, we had been on, I think, a, you know, steady improvement in levels of democracy.
And that has really reversed in the last, you know, 10 to 15 years, I would say. To the point that the most recent Varieties of Democracy Report, the V-Dem report, has really found that the advances in global levels of democracy that were made over the last 35 years have basically been completely wiped out.
And I think we've talked about this in the past, but that, you know, approximately 72 percent of the world's populations were living in autocracies in 2022. So that's obviously not what we want to see. And that really means that, you know, the world as a whole is less free as kind of documented, not just by V-Dem, but also by Freedom House, and other, you know, institutions in that space.
And that's certainly not what we want to see. With respect to the LGBTQI+ community, you know, we're seeing this rise in authoritarianism. We're seeing, you know, the trampling of the rule of law, the shrinking space for civil society, you know, writ large, and these broader crackdowns on freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of assembly.
All of those trends have particularly negative consequences for LGBTQI+ people and organizations. Often, you know, this population, which is sometimes particularly marginalized within society, we see, you know, the government's kind of taking advantage of that opportunity, wielding, you know, anti-LGBTQI+ rhetoric, but also using their power basically to pass anti-LGBT laws and policies, and really further restricting the space that LGBTQI+ people have to just live their lives as they are free of violence and free of discrimination. But also it really is restricting the space that organizations might have to be able to, you know, make change. And we've seen, you know, a lot of improvements in the legal framework for LGBTQ+ people, et cetera.
But this closing space for civil society, which really impacts all of us and particularly laws, you know, making it impossible to, or making it illegal, I should say, to talk about things like same-sex relationships, and to promote anything other than these kind of quote-unquote traditional family values.
Those are impacting all of our freedom of expression and the ability to form, you know, organizations that protect, you know, human rights for all people, including LGBTQI+ people, those are restrictions on everybody's freedom of association, not being able to have positive events such as Pride parades, that impacts everybody's freedom of assembly.
So these broader trends are both specific to the LGBTQI+ community and have particular consequences for them, but they are also part and parcel of a broader decline that we're seeing in the democratic space. Thanks, Regina. And Michael, based on this scene setting, which is somewhat dire and not positive, LGBTQI+ leaders and organizations may be asking why they should prioritize democratic engagement and political participation?
And how would you answer that question? And based on your experience and interaction with groups, why is this engagement in and a focus on democracy important for the movement? Thanks, Whitney. I would say that now more than ever, it's critical that LGBTIQ communities increase democratic engagement, including direct political participation.
Inclusive democracy and the rights of LGBTIQ people are inextricably linked. While, of course, there's no perfect democracy, and even in democratic societies, or partially democratic societies, we see barriers to LGBTIQ participation. There's really no denying that with very few exemptions, if we look around the world, inclusive democracies have been at the forefront of advancing the recognition of LGBTIQ people and their rights.
Additionally, LGBTIQ people are often the first casualties of eroding democracies. And as a result, they're often on the first line of defense. And the global decline that Regina was talking about that we're seeing in democracy parallels increased attacks and restrictions on LGBTIQ advocacy and rights. And in many cases LGBTIQ communities are a kind of canary in the coal mine, and kind of the first line of attack which ultimately results in infringement on the rights of citizens more broadly. So, at this moment, I think it's paramount for LGBTIQ movements in different parts of the world to really focus on engaging in the democratic process and to really invest resources in doing so.
I think absent of such an investment, we will be increasingly, we'll see that it's increasingly difficult to continue to make progress on LGBTQI rights. And unfortunately, as we're already seeing in some places, we'll see real regression or retraction of LGBTQI rights as part of a broader undermining of the inclusive democracy.
Thanks, Michael. And I'll stick with you because I think this is where the new GLIDE Initiative comes into play. So, it'd be great if you could introduce the GLIDE Initiative. What are its components and what is GLIDE hoping to do? Thanks, Whitney. So, the Global LGBTQI Inclusive Democracy and Empowerment Initiative, or for short called GLIDE.
It's a unique collaboration between Outright International, Synergía - Initiatives for Human Rights and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems [IFES] that Regina is representing today. It's aimed at stimulating the participation and engagement of LGBTIQ people in organizations and democratic spaces and processes.
And the idea is that this will be done through a combination of grants, capacity strengthening assistance, research, publications, convenings, and other interventions. In essence, GLIDE has three primary objectives. The first is to generate interest and build the skills and capacity of LGBTQI communities to strengthen their leadership and engagement and participation in political and public life.
Secondly, to develop and coordinate communications and advocacy strategies that encourage LGBTQI individuals to use democratic mechanisms to mitigate intolerance, violence, and discrimination. And thirdly, to engage supportive political, government, community, including religious leaders, to promote political engagement and reduce intolerance and human rights violations against LGBTQI communities.
Thanks, Michael. And Regina, as IFES is serving as a technical organization to the GLIDE Initiative, it'd be great to get your thoughts on why you think GLIDE is needed within the broader democracy space. Sure. So, I mean, we, you know, as Michael just said, inclusive democracy really is democracy. It requires all elements of society to be included.
And, you know, LGBTQI+ people are, are one of those groups that have been, I think, historically and continuously neglected and kept out of the democratic space as we've just been discussing. And, you know, this is kind of part and parcel with a broader challenge of representative democracy, right?
What we see when we're looking around the world is that our leaders do not look, you know, as a general rule, like the populations that they're representing. You only have to look at the levels of women in near national parliaments, as heads of state, et cetera. And that is doubly and perhaps exponentially true when we're looking at the LGBTQI+ community.
And I think part of the reason that the broader democracy and human rights community has not been, you know, particularly successful at lifting up the needs and experiences of this particular group within broader democracy programming is that we've all been, you know, fighting broader fires, you know, around the world.
And there have been so many challenges with respect to, I think, particularly laws that criminalize consensual same-sex conduct, which I think makes it feel like a more difficult space for traditional democracy actors to operate in. But the rule of law needs to be the rule of law for everyone. And so it's, I think, exceedingly important to have this particular focus of the GLIDE Initiative on democratic engagement in particular.
And, you know, it's based on some of this background research that we've done within GLIDE to begin with, we know that LGBTQI+ people are engaging in their communities. They're engaging civically, they're voting, and what I think is needed is a concerted focus to help build the movements and to provide the resourcing needed to do so, along with the technical assistance working not just with civil society organizations and human rights activists and LGBTQI+ groups, but also with those government entities that are going to have to do that outreach and not, I should say, not just government entities, but also, you know, political parties and the opening of those places and spaces for members of the LGBTQI+ communities. And I think between the organizations represented by the GLIDE partners, we have some really interesting opportunities and insights into how we reach out to these various stakeholders, and some of the groups that Michael was describing.
So that there is kind of both top down and bottom up pressure to increase the participation of LGBTQI+ people in democratic governance and so doing actually making democracy more of a reality for more people all around the world. Thanks, Regina. And as you alluded to, GLIDE has already done some work in identifying some of those best practices.
LGBTQI+ organizations remain active in this space, despite the challenges that they face. So Michael, can you highlight one or two examples of how LGBTIQ organizations and leaders are already engaging politically and leveraging democratic mechanisms in favor of LGBTQI+ rights and priorities?
Sure. And of course, while it's our assessment that there's both increased need and opportunity for LGBTIQ+ communities to become more involved in democratic spaces, there's already many examples of LGBTIQ communities successfully leveraging democratic mechanisms to advance LGBTIQ rights and promote inclusive democracy.
I'll just cite a few examples quickly from different parts of the world. In Asia, Taiwan is one of the most impressive examples of the LGBTIQ community, learning to engage directly with political leaders and in the political process. And they did this as part of their multi-year campaign to achieve marriage equality in Taiwan that was ultimately successful in May of 2019, the first Asian country to recognize marriage rights for LGBTIQ people. In achieving this victory, the Taiwanese LGBTQI community had to combat serious backlash, and this included a public referendum against marriage rights.
But ultimately through engaging across the political spectrum and through a broad public campaign. They were able to build both political and public support and ultimately get the Taiwanese legislature and president to sign a marriage law into effect. And it's interesting that in Taiwan, this issue, although it was an issue about LGBTQI rights became a much broader issue within society and really became an issue about, you know, what kind of society Taiwan was going to become and what kind of inclusive democracy Taiwan was going to develop. Another example from a different part of the world in countries like Hungary and Poland, in Eastern Europe, we're seeing LGBTQ communities on the front lines of fighting back against attacks from anti-LGBTIQ, anti-gender actors, who are often working in concert with illiberal populist politicians who try to instrumentalize LGBTQI people in their broader efforts to undermine democratic institutions.
But we're seeing some really strong efforts, including in Poland, where the LGBTQI communities have been able to use a combination of leveraging the European Union and mobilizing local communities throughout Poland to successfully pushback against local ordinances, declaring those local communities to be LGBT-free zones.
In many cases, they succeed in getting those ordinances overturned. One final example I would use, again, in a very different part of the world. In Brazil, despite, or maybe in response to, the continued really high levels of violence against LGBTIQ people, including directly against queer politicians and the general kind of growing threat to democracy that we've seen in Brazil. We've also seen a huge surge in LGBTIQ community political mobilization including in 2020, a record number of trans people running for political, local political office, nearly 300. And in 2022, for the first time, we saw two trans women elected to the National Congress. So these are just a few of many examples around the world, but I think they should bring a lot of hope and inspiration.
That, although very tough, it is possible to use democratic mechanisms to build political support and to build public support and to set the stage for protecting rights and being part of the larger effort to, again, build open and inclusive democracies. Thanks, Michael. Those are some excellent examples, ones that I know GLIDE anticipates hoping to amplify as well as invest in.
And for our final question, Regina, the democracy space is quite broad and includes a diversity of stakeholders, including political parties, practitioners, academics, faith-based actors. Why do you think that these stakeholders should prioritize the meaningful inclusion of LGBTQI+ partners in their work?
And can you highlight an example of a successful collaborative partnership? Sure. This is such an important point, Whitney, and I'm so glad to get to talk about it just a little bit. So I think I mentioned, you know, if we're talking about inclusive democracy and representative democracy, which, you know, is the priority for so many of those stakeholders that you've mentioned, and so much of the work that IFES and our partners do around the world.
You know, you can't, you know, achieve inclusive democracy without making sure we're bringing along all portions of the population and making sure that everybody has an opportunity to have meaningful, you know, representation, and an opportunity to take on those leadership roles as well. And, you know, the work that, that IFES has been doing historically, we work a lot very closely with election management bodies, for example, and that's not a particular group that you mentioned, but it is often either an independent, you know, government institution that can play a very important role in both setting the regulations and enforcing election laws that make a really big difference in who is able to participate as a candidate, who is able to participate as a voter, and as a citizen and, you know, elections and political processes.
And one of the things that we have seen as a very positive example of certainly increasing the visibility and representation of transgender persons in voting have been movements to make it easier for trans people to change their gender marker on their identification, for example, and to be able to re-register to vote using a name and the gender that reflects their true selves and providing that type of training to, you know, election officials and also just sometimes registration officials, so that when folks show up and say, I would like to change, you know, the name on my identification, I would like to change my gender marker. In those places where that we're doing so is legal, you know, we've had some great success in countries like Guatemala and in Pakistan, helping to increase the connections between civil society and the election management bodies so that, and there's still a long way to go in terms of making this, you know, a lived reality for everybody in those countries. But doing things like encouraging the reduction or the elimination of the fees that are sometimes associated with, you know, changing your registration, which makes it easier for people who may have less economic resources, which, unfortunately, disproportionately is true for the trans community in many places. So giving them that opportunity to, you know, re-register to vote without having to pay the fees associated with that, that's an incredibly important and really practical thing that makes it possible for people to take advantage of those laws in those places where it is possible to change your gender marker. You know, in places where those things have happened, making sure that we're providing that technical assistance and capacity strengthening for election officials, for poll workers, many of whom kind of aren't trained and show up right before an election, so that they understand that when somebody shows up with this particular type of identification or says that they want to, they want to vote in the special circumstances line, as opposed to having to line up by gender, which is true in a lot of countries that those, those people are prepared to respect the rights and the rules that are in place in those countries.
And that's a big step, I think, in the right direction. Although, you know, as we know from our work and the reason that GLIDE exists, there's many, many other important steps that need to be taken as well. But I think that's an example of some successful partnerships that we're seeing right now we're bringing together those institutional officials on one side of the stakeholder space and really leveraging all of the expertise and the lived experience in civil society and seeing those collaborations really pay off. Thanks, Regina. And I hope that GLIDE will be part of many more successful collaborative partnerships with IFES and other democracy actors.
Well, thank you, Regina and Michael for this conversation. I suspect it will be the first of many on this topic. And to our listeners, thank you for listening. And remember that our strengths and values make us different and at Outright International, these are built on our purpose and cause. So together, for LGBTIQ lives. Outright. Until next time, goodbye.