Culture isn’t real- at least what most of us think of when we hear the word culture. The “homophobic culture” of a country (i.e. Russia) is not the entire country. Saying that there is only one culture in a country or geographic area is ridiculous. Yes, there are features that are unique to specific countries, but saying there is only one homogeneous American culture would negate the differences that the North, South, East , West, and Midwest are proud of.
I think it is getting better, but a large amount of the aid/non-profit/government workers still treat countries and regions as having one collective mindset. Going into City A with locked in expectations is counter productive to whatever your mission is.
Assuming that a group of people in any aid/non-profit/government situation has nothing to offer will also decrease the chance of your program making the most positive impact. We are not the true experts, and utilizing every resource, even if it’s not an obvious one, is crucial.
I do need to remind myself of these things quite often: every time I travel, give a workshop or work with volunteers. Assuming that a person, group of people, or entire country hates who I am closes me off from creating the most positive impact.
I’m not saying that every gay humanitarian should tattoo the word “Queer” on their forehead, but putting every Russian, Ugandan, or American in the same homophobic box discredits the diversity of opinions that exist in humanity’s spectrum.
When going into a new location, we need to remind ourselves that politics and political agendas are not people.
And it’s not why we do the work we do. It’s the people.