Breaking the silence; listening to LGBTI voices

May 13, 2020


A key feature of inclusive governance is the ability of citizens to make their voices heard, which fosters greater political participation and builds partnerships between governments and civil society organizations. Communicating issues of concern as citizens help to improve evidence-based policymaking that benefits all members of society and shows respect for diversity, human rights, and equality before the law. Too often however, the voices of the most vulnerable are not heard. This year, the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia under the theme "Breaking the Silence" reminds us all that the voices of the LGBTI community are routinely excluded under an umbrella of indifference, stigma, and discrimination.

Across the Caribbean a new movement of more interconnected LGBTI youth uses social media to express their everyday realities, often reaching policymakers they would not otherwise have been able to. In Haiti, they claim their right to start a family. In Jamaica, they express their concerns on how inequality, violence, and discrimination deprive them of reaching their full potential, while in the Dominican Republic, they talk about their aspirations for an inclusive and decent labour market for trans people. The "Being LGBTI in the Caribbean" project, to raise the voices of LGBTI people, launched in June 2019 its campaign "Proudly Caribbean", which  has reached more than 70,000 people on social media. The initiative strives to inspire optimism through the messages of 23 representatives of the LGBTI community who share their experiences in English, Spanish, and Creole.

Artistic spaces help to promote empathy, inclusion, and respect for human rights. In theatre monologues are used to externalize the inner world of a character, revealing their thoughts, ideas, and emotions without intermediaries. This served as a tool for 20 transgender people in the Dominican Republic who received specialized training and then shared their realities on stage at the Narciso González Cultural Center.

Seeking to advance inclusive public policies, "Being LGBTI in the Caribbean" organizes a series of National Dialogues in which LGBTI activists engage technical and political staff of their governments, the private sector and religious leaders among many others, to discuss issues that affect them most, be it access to health, education, decent work or access to justice. Recommendations facilitate policy advocacy, which has already influenced progress evident in the recently approved National Gender Equality Plan 2020 – 2030 of the Dominican Republic that now takes into account the priorities and needs expressed by the LGBTI community.

The global crisis stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic affects the LGBTI community in many ways. In recent discussions, LGBTI people from around the world highlighted common problems that have been exacerbated during the pandemic, such as healthcare, HIV treatment, abuse of force on the streets by security forces, or the importance of legal recognition of gender identity, especially in instances where quarantine measures mandate mobility based on sex-recorded in identity documents. LGBTI persons, particularly young people, are at risk of violence when they are required to confine in households that are not safe for them, or often have difficulties to access mitigation measures implemented by governments due to the discrimination and exclusion suffered by many.

UNDP has been investing in efforts to ensure that, at every stage of the response to the crisis in the Caribbean, the voices of the LGBTI community are taken into account. Civil society organizations are supported as they conduct surveys on the impact of the pandemic. Rreliminary results show that there is strong demand for counseling, food, and sanitation,  and support in reporting crimes during this time. Concerns also include that for many in the community physical distancing and self-isolation in safe spaces is a luxury for very few.

The reality of LGBTI people matters in all contexts, but even more so during a crisis that put the most vulnerable at greater risk. Today, more than ever, we must listen to LGBTI voices to prevent human rights abuses, to ensure that public health measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus protects the rights of all. Only then can we walk together to create a new normal that is more inclusive and equal, a normal that leaves no one behind.