Working in Anti-LGBT* Countries

With the Prime Minister of Uganda  signing the anti-homosexuality bill into law I feel like I need to talk why I work in a country that isn’t friendly to LGBT* individuals. The country outside of the United States that I work in is not on the same level as Uganda or Russia, but it would be hazardous to be openly gay there.

It’s a complicated issue. I have heard professors, teachers, and friends refuse to financially support organizations that are working in anti-gay countries like Uganda and Russia. Which is very understandable.

I’m lucky in the sense that the country I work in isn’t extremely anti-LGBT*. Yes there is a culture of homophobia, but I cannot personally draw a line in the sand and say I’m not willing to work there.

Is there a line that we as gay humanitarians have to draw? I’ll give/volunteer/work in country X only if the government doesn’t discriminate against the LGBT* community and if there isn’t a culture of homophobia? Does a country like that exist?

Sometimes, it is hard to justify working in a homophobic country (especially to myself). Why work in a country that would kick me and my organization out if they knew I was a lesbian? For a lot of the LGBT* community – they wouldn’t participate, and that makes a lot of sense. Supporting your own discrimination does seem counter intuitive.

For me, my reasoning lies with the people I am working with, the constituents. I have an emotional connection to the families, children, schools, and communities. I am constantly reminding myself that the people are not the government, and the government is not the people.

I won’t be outing myself there anytime soon. I don’t want to find out whether people would still like and accept me regardless, and I don’t want the government to kick my organization out of the county. I guess that is cowardly.

Maybe I’m also naive – but I believe someday I’ll be able to talk about my girlfriend to the people I work with here and abroad.

Will I be donating to a Russian or Ugandan aid organization any time soon? Probably not. Will I give up my organization? Definitely not. What is driving me despite everything is the emotional connection I have to the people, the country, and the mission.

We all have to draw our line somewhere.

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