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.

The obligatory Introduction…. of sorts….

Normally introductions would involve: “Hi! My name is ——“, and all of the other details like where I live or where I work. Unfortunately I am unable to disclose that information, because I’m gay AND I work in the national non-profit sector. I can tell you that I’m a 20 something lesbian who helped found an international non-profit. Outing myself could lead to denied entrance into countries I work in, my organization could possibly be banned from certain countries… you get the idea- it wouldn’t be good.

I really wanted to find resources on being LGBT and working in the non-profit / international aid realm; how have other people coped with putting themselves back in the closet for the sake of their work?. But I really couldn’t find anything. I know I’m not the only LGBT person working in a non-profit that isn’t LGBT related. Where is everyone at? I figured that starting this blog would help me (and whomever comes across my humble little blog) understand and work through what it means to be queer working in the international arena.

I understand the irony surrounding a blog about struggling with the idea of the closest as a means of protection (for me and my organization)… while keeping myself in the blogger’s closet. I would love to share stories with you about the inspiration and the creation of my non-profit, what it has accomplished. I would love to tell you about my amazing, supportive, and beautiful girlfriend. But at this point in my career, it’s honestly not worth the risk.

I’m going to delve into this more in-depth as time goes on. My goal is to update at least once a week, talking about my international journeys, various themes surrounding identity, worrying, language,etc. and any articles I can find discussing the LGBT experience in the non-profit world.

My goal is to create a space where people can discuss best practices, safe(ish) locations when traveling, and vent frustrations about maneuvering in a sector that defaults to heteronormative.

Fingers crossed, next week I will be traveling to —- for 2 weeks. This is the first time going abroad whilst being out AND in a relationship. I hope that the next couple of updates will focus on my thoughts and adventures in a mildly to moderately discriminating country.

Till next time- best wishes and safe travels!