Social justice groups fight rollbacks on LGBTQ rights around the world, connect diverse movements

December 27, 2019

When it comes to making progress, human rights work is often a case of two steps forward, one step back. Perhaps no one knows this better than Arcus’ winter 2019 Social Justice Program grantees, which are working across Africa and the Americas to protect the dignity and advance the rights of LGBTQ people.

In our latest funding cycle, Arcus demonstrated our commitment to these activists with a robust docket that supports new and existing partners. These groups are holding the line against repressive forces and assisting victims of abuse in countries where threats to the LGBTQ community are rising. They are ensuring that the experiences and voices of the most marginalized members of the community—including LGBTQ migrants, people of color, and trans people—are centered. And they are strengthening local and regional LGBTQ movements and, where possible, forging alliances with other social justice movements.

A number of governments in our focus countries are attempting to roll back important wins for LGBTQ people, and our partners in these places are focusing on safety and protection. One example is Uganda, where the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) will use its funding to ramp up work to defend LGBTQ people targeted for violence, harassment, and discrimination by civilians and government actors alike.

To assist victims of abuse, HRAPF operates a legal aid clinic for the LGBTQ community and trains and coordinates an extensive network of paralegals in towns across Uganda. They played a key role in defeating the so-called “Kill the Gays” bill, which Parliament passed but the Constitutional Court nullified in 2014. With conservative politicians threatening to reintroduce this discriminatory legislation, and mass arrests and attacks on LGBTQ people on the rise, HRAPF’s strategic litigation, documentation, and advocacy work remains essential to safeguarding LGBTQ rights.

Another country experiencing setbacks is El Salvador, where the new president closed the Social Inclusion Secretariat, which had been tasked with implementing safeguards for LGBTQ people. The situation also remains bleak in the neighboring country of Honduras, where the LGBTQ community has no legal protections and social justice activists are regularly targeted for violence and even murder.

Costa Rica stands in contrast to these negative regional trends, having recently created an official position for LGBTQ issues. Seeking to bolster national-level movements and foster a stronger regional movement in which Costa Rica plays a key role, the Nicaragua-based Fundación Fondo Centroamericano de Mujeres will re-grant Arcus funds to an array of frontline groups in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Costa Rica.

Other grantees in the region will leverage our support to document and advocate against hate crimes, violence, and discrimination against LGBTQ people. These include Centro de Derechos de Mujeres in Honduras, in partnership with the groups Movimiento de Diversidad en Resistencia and Red Lésbica Cattrachas, which will also litigate cases; Asociación Comunicando y Capacitando a Mujeres Trans con VIH en El Salvador (COMCAVIS TRANS), which will focus on hate crimes in El Salvador and human rights violations against LGBTI people in detention centers in El Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras; and Letra S, Sida, Cultura y Vida Cotidiana, A.C., which works with partners in Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic.

A grant to Synergía – Initiatives for Human Rights will provide research, advocacy, safety, and security trainings to LGBTQ rights groups in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. Fundación Arcoíris por el Respeto a la Diversidad Sexual; Grupo de Información en Reproducción Elegida (GIRE); Human Rights Watch; Las Reinas Chulas Cabaret y Derechos Humanos; and Parliamentarians for Global Action also received funding for work in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In the U.S., partners are working at the intersection of race, class, immigration and citizenship status, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement (fiscal sponsor: Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) is organizing against the detention, deportation, and criminalization of trans and queer Latinx undocumented immigrants—a group that is facing unique challenges due to the U.S. government’s increasingly cruel and inhumane treatment of migrants. Trans Queer Pueblo – Semilla De Liberacion and Santa Fe Dreamers Project will also use their funds to advance the rights of LGBTQ migrants in the United States.

National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance will create healing spaces and training opportunities to strengthen the leadership, resilience, and organizing skills of Asian and Pacific Islander organizations challenging homophobia, racism, and anti-immigrant bias in the United States. Southerners on New Ground (SONG) will strengthen and connect LGBTQ leaders working to protect LGBTQ families in southern U.S. states, with a focus on criminal justice system reform.

U.S. partners are also focusing on youth-led movement building. The Transforming Movements Fund (TMF) at Borealis Philanthropy, for example, supports the leadership and visibility of LGBTQ young people of color in organizing for policy and culture change within and across social justice movements. Meanwhile, Power California’s 99Rootz project is building a grassroots movement of progressive young people in small towns in California’s Central Valley. California Rural Legal Assistance will complement this work by assisting LGBTQ people in that region.

Grantees in southern Africa are advancing acceptance and inclusion for trans people. Acting as an anchor organization in the region, Gender Dynamix in Cape Town will provide smaller trans rights groups with regional and global advocacy training and opportunities, ensuring their voices are heard in key regional and international fora. The group will also train health professionals to treat trans patients and develop and launch a digital campaign to educate civil servants and policymakers on trans rights. To bolster their work and that of other trans rights groups, the International Trans Fund (fiscal sponsor: Astraea Foundation) will deliver grants and training to trans organizations in Arcus focus countries, with the goal of increasing their safety, protection, and advocacy effectiveness.

Other organizations receiving Arcus support include the Initiative for Equality and Non-Discrimination and the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission Trust, both of which work in Kenya; Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana; ACT for Women and Girls; Equality Arizona; Spark Reproductive Justice Now; the Outlaw Project; and Global Action for Trans* Equality (GATE), an internationally-focused trans group organizing training and other forms of support for trans activists on a range of issues.