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Enhancing civic space and security for LGBTQI+ communities through local research


Waves of anti-LGBTQI+ violence and discrimination are increasing globally, coinciding with the rise of authoritarianism and the closing of civic space. For the most part, LGBTQI+ populations in the Global South are either living with no protections or facing serious persecution. As one example, Uganda recently passed one of the harshest anti-LGBTQI+ laws in the world, imposing potential jail terms of up to 10 years for anyone who identifies as LGBTQI+ or engages in same-sex relations. Even in parts of Latin America, where LGBTQI+ rights are enshrined in law, leaders are openly hostile to protections. Research from the Feminist Internet Research Network showed how the election in Brazil in 2018 ushered in an increase in hate speech, anti-LGTBQI+ rights and anti-feminist discourse online when the former President validated such behaviour.  

Backlashes such as this present economic, social and health impacts for LGBTQI+ communities, as well as risks to personal safety online and off. Hard-won political and civil rights are being lost and the civic space for contesting this erosion of rights is shrinking.  

Currently, only limited evidence is available to capture what this means for the daily lives of people in LGBTQI+ communities, especially in the Global South, where data and evidence are scarce. While more research is clearly needed, IDRC supports research under the guiding principle of "Nothing on us, without us" – an approach that requires LGBTQI+ leadership in localized research efforts, which in turn ensures evidence and changes in policy and practice accurately reflect needs on the ground. This is important, as LGBTQI+ communities may simultaneously be facing other threats that are disconnected from their gender or sexual identities, such as conflict, forced migration or general online violence. 

Here are just a few examples of the violence, discrimination and intersecting threats LGBTQI+ communities experience globally, and the local research supported by IDRC that could help lead to lasting policy change.  

LGBTQI+ communities and armed conflict  

In Colombia, protection of LGBTQI+ communities has increased over the past two decades, including the recognition of LGBTQI+ rights in the peace process between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).However, key research findings from a large community-based research project carried out by Fundacion Ideas para la Paz from 2017 to 2019 reveal that, in practice, protections are rarely enforced, and anti-LGBTQI+ violence is on the rise since the peace agreement.  

One explanation is that illegal armed actors are repeating historical patterns of discrimination by continuing to use violence against women and LGBTQI+ people as a mechanism to consolidate power and territory. According to Genica Mazzoldi and Román Huertas, investigators of Fundacion Ideas par la Paz, ‘’Progress [to strengthen the rights of LGBTQI+ persons] has been made at the national level in issuing regulations like the Public Policy for the Guarantee of LGBTQI+ Social Rights (Decree 762 of 2018) and drawing up plans. Now it is necessary to advance in its implementation and articulation at the local level."  

LGTBQI+ communities and urban violence 

Also in Colombia, the Observatorio de Seguridad Humana led a participatory research project to support knowledge on the security of vulnerable communities, including women, displaced young people and LGBTQI+ communities in Medellín.  

"We can speak of two forms of chronic violence that directly affect LGBTQI+ people in an urban setting such as Medellín: the first associated with social and cultural practices and the second with the effects of the Colombian armed conflict," explains Libardo Andrés Agudelo Gallego, a lead community researcher for this project.  

The project shed light on the factors affecting LGBTQI+ communities and identified citizen initiatives to address urban violence. One recommendation from the research team is to recognize the importance of developing localized approaches to address these issues — as they respond directly to situations experienced by a certain LGBTQI+ population — while providing solutions to basic services, including health, security and human rights protections. According to Mr. Agudelo, ‘’Effective policy solutions create agendas that transcend LGBTQI+ people and that incorporate decisive actors such as neighborhood leaders, the family, the school system and grassroots organizations.’’ 

LGTBQI+ people among migrant populations 

Key knowledge gaps remain about the challenges that LGTBQI+ migrants face — including evidence on the continued discrimination, exclusion, violence and lack of integration that systematically affect LGBTQI+ migrants, displaced people and refugees from Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Peru. A new research effort jointly led by Dialogo Diverso from Ecuador and Colombia Diversa seeks to promote the integration of these migrant populations in their host countries with a focus on Venezuelan LGBTQI+ migrants. It also explores experiences and good practices of strategic litigation to strengthen the rights of these populations and foster data and evidence systems on rights violations, with a focus on violent deaths and forced disappearances.  

Another objective of the project, highlighted in this project launch video, is to create a community of practice that advances LGBTQI+ rights in the region. ‘’We will create a network to identify the complex forces that shape inequality and oppression, connect and exchange promising experiences in the defense of the rights of LGBTQI+ people in a situation of human mobility and forced displacement, as well for public policy advocacy,” explains Jorge Medranda, coordinator for the promotion of rights of Dialogo Diverso. 

New and evolving threats, experiences and realities online  

Online and technology-facilitated harassment and abuse are global problems that cross borders and target multiple vulnerable groups. From cyberstalking, impersonation, the production of “deep fake” content, the non-consensual distribution of intimate images and deliberate personal attacks on multiple communications channels, online violence is silencing the voices of LGBTQI+ individuals and contributing to systemic inequalities and exclusion in the digital public sphere. Few studies have managed to unravel the magnitude of violence that is experienced online by vulnerable communities, and this research gap is even more prevalent in the Global South.  

To address this gap in research and evidence, IDRC support to the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) is enabling a global survey of technology-facilitated and online gender-based violence to document experiences online in the Global South.  

In the survey’s first phase, covering 18 countries, nearly 60 percent of respondents (of all genders and sexual orientations) reported experiencing some form of online harm; but transgender and gender-diverse people experienced a higher overall proportion of incidents: 76 percent. The nature of those experiences can be seen in the following graphic.  

A graph

Source: Adapted from CIGI, 2020 

Of those reporting online violence, nearly a third said it had a negative impact on their desire to live. Based on these findings, researchers’ recommendations to policymakers include stricter regulations of social media platforms, new educational programming and better access to legal recourse for victims. Without acting on this issue, women and LGBTQI+ communities will not be able to partake in the increasingly digital world on an equal footing. The second phase of the survey is extending to a further 18 countries across the Global South. The latest on the first phase can be found here.

Transphobia: the need to understand diverse experiences 

Research stemming from the Feminist Internet Research Network in Botswana, Rwanda, South Africa and Uganda shows some of the divisions among LGTBQI+ communities, and how experiences differ from each other. For example, members of the non-binary and gender-diverse communities, particularly transgender persons, are sometimes victimized by members of the wider LGBTQI+ community, both online and on the ground. This research suggests that gender-diverse communities are having experiences distinct from those of cis-gendered women and men when it comes to online violence or on-ground harassment. The researchers caution that these communities cannot and should not be grouped together as a single identity, as doing so risks making the experiences of these communities “invisible”.  

Localized research contributes to lasting policy change 

To understand the pressures facing LGTBQI+ people in all these different contexts, the focus needs to be on localized research. Research endeavours should not be about LGBTIQ+ communities, but led by them to develop truly inclusive solutions and transform the social norms and structures that perpetuate the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. Only then can research contribute to lasting changes in policies and practices that effectively strengthen human rights protection for LGBTQI+ people. 


Contributors: Mylène Bordeleau, Program Officer, Markus Gottsbacher, Senior Program Officer, Ruhiya Seward, Senior Program Officer 

Research highlights

  • There is an absolute need to create safe space for LGBTQI+ participation and active citizenship. They must be genuinely and actively involved in the development of legal and policy reforms and guidelines to be successful. 
  • More research is needed to influence policies and practices that protect and improve respect for the rights and dignity of these communities in the Global South. Research efforts must put LGBTQI+ researchers, activists and community leaders in the driving seat to ensure that findings and solutions proposed are appropriate and do work for the different gender identities, being sensitive to context.  
  • LGBTQI+ communities are not uniform, and distinct experiences of transgendered, or lesbian, or gender-diverse communities must be understood, particularly in the context of technology facilitated and online harassment.  
  • Prejudicial and anti-rights discourse and harassment is growing online. At present, there are not many avenues for regulating, improving or countering technology-facilitated harassment. Nor is there enough psychosocial support for those who survive online violence.