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Two years from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, communities and organisations continue to be heavily impacted by discrimination, inequalities and violence globally. The very survival of civil society organisations – especially those advocating for the human rights of people with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and/or sex characteristics (SOGIESC) across the Commonwealth – is at risk due to unprecedented political, economic, climate change and funding challenges.

These challenges have fallen upon everyone’s shoulders but have fallen disproportionately on the shoulders of those who are already discriminated against because of their race, gender identity, sexual orientation, class and/or health. Applying intersectionality is critical in addressing these challenges, as it encourages the collaborative efforts of various groups working towards equality and justice.

LGBT+ rights organisations in the Commonwealth Pacific deliver localised and intersectional strategies to address these challenges, including with assistance and funds provided by Kaleidoscope Trust. Recently supported strategies within this region include initiatives to include people with diverse SOGIESC in climate change and disaster response, and addressing the socio-economic needs of these communities in Fiji and Vanuatu.

Climate change puts the lives of marginalised communities in greater danger

Climate change affects the weather and coastal resources of Pacific Islands states in a variety of ways. Sea-level rises increase coastal erosion and inundation, leaving beaches vulnerable to impact of waves. At the same time, destructive weather patterns put local communities at increasing risk of societal exclusion, displacement, destruction of property and landmarks, and loss of land and food security, especially communities of diverse SOGIESC who are already facing these risks due to stigma and discriminaiton.  

To respond to these challenges, VPride Foundation, a Vanuatu-based LGBT+ human rights organisation, created a guide and virtual course to assist civil society and decision-makers with better inclusion and protection of people with diverse SOGIESC during times of disaster and climate change.

To develop the guide, VPride Foundation interviewed and consulted with local community members, representatives of various social justice movements, international humanitarian organisations and government officials, including from the Ministry of Health and the National Disaster Management Office. These consultations provided an opportunity to discuss and better understand how risk mitigation policies and practices could effectively identify and address the needs and issues of communities with diverse SOGIESC in times of emergencies.

As a result of this work, several civil society organisaitons and government institutions made significant commitments towards better protection and promotion of LGBT+ human rights, including through a more intersectional approach in policy making, consultation and implementation. For example, the International Organisation for Migration is collaborating with the Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office and has invited VPride Foundation to assist in the development of SOGIESC inclusive evacuation centre guidelines.

“Establishing a good connection with these organisations is allowing us to provide a voice to be heard in all government sectors especially when we are working closely with them in their policies and procedures, providing us a space where we can be recognisable with our needs, and our concerns can be addressed accordingly – just as much as everyone else in the community.”

Gigi Baxter, Executive Director, VPride Foundation, Vanuatu

But Vanuatu is not the only country in the region where communities of diverse SOGIESC experience these very specific challenges. The small island nations of the Pacific are amongst the most vulnerable to the acute effects of climate change globally, and communities on the ground are working to alleviate them.

For instance, a Fijian LGBT+ human rights organisation, Rainbow Pride Foundation (RPF), gained feedback and input from representatives of various social justice movements and the government, including from the Ministry of Itaukei (indigenous) Affairs and the National Disaster Management Office, to produce a Roadmap For Diverse SOCIESC Inclusion in Climate Change Policies in Fiji. Its purpose is to help duty-bearers reconsider how they frame and address concerns of individuals with diverse SOGIESC within policies and legislation to ensure security, opportunity, inclusion and diversity in decision-making processes.

Helping LGBT+ communities redress the effects of colonialism

As a region still suffering from the legacies of colonialism, the prejudices of the past have very real consequences for local communities in the present. Economic disparities, discriminatory laws and public prejudices contribute to ongoing infringements of the human rights of people with diverse SOGIESC in the Pacific. 

Rainbow Pride Foundation (RPF) is working hard to identify the needs, challenges, strengths and contributions of the SOGIESC community in entrepreneurship, agriculture, service and cultural industries, and they conducted important research on Increasing Opportunities for SOGIESC Inclusive Socio-Economic Development in Fiji. The research shows that almost 80% of survey respondents are currently struggling financially, with almost 65% reporting they are unemployed.

Additionally, RPF responded to rising incidents of harassment at workplaces by developing an Inclusive Workplace Training Manual tailored to the private and public sectors, offering guidance on how businesses can incorporate diversity and inclusion meaningfully. The manual builds upon recent work by RPF to deliver business human rights training, which enabled 30 LGBT+ entrepreneurs from the tourism and culture sectors to learn how to grow their businesses ethically.

“LGBT+ people in Fiji have multiple intersecting identities that come with their own realities and vulnerabilities. Support from Kaleidoscope Trust has allowed the Rainbow Pride Foundation (RPF) to complement its data collection work on socio-economic empowerment of Fijians of Diverse SOGIESC that will inform future work of the organisation. With climate change causing multiple natural disasters in Fiji and the region, RPF’s work on SOGIESC inclusion in climate action, disaster risk reduction and humanitarian response saw a policy brief identifying gaps in national legislation. A roadmap was also created to help guide CSOs, and the Government on best practices in ensuring LGBT+ people are part of the dialogues, processes and initiatives in Fiji.”

Abdul Mufees Shaheed, Program Officer, Rainbow Pride Foundation, Fiji

In all we do, Kaleidoscope Trust works closely with our civil society partners in their efforts to address the pressing and intersectional challenges faced by LGBT+ communities across the Commonwealth. With the help of funding from the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Kaleidoscope Trust has been able to continue to respond to the needs of our partners, to shape programmes and interventions that are culturally-specific and high-impact – and at a time of increased uncertainty across civil society.

If you’d like to contribute to our work upholding the human rights of LGBT+ people across the Commonwealth, please consider making a donation.