The Global South presents unique challenges for LGBTQ activists and stakeholders.

The Human Rights Council notes that 29 countries have extended marriage law to same-sex couples, and most of them are in the global north, which includes more developed countries in America and Europe. Less than a handful of these countries – such as South Africa and Brazil – are in the Global South. As a result, countries in the global north are more prone to an LGBTQ-friendly public mood than the global south, which is characterized by restrictive anti-LGBTQ laws.

This reality not only makes life turbulent for both open and closed queer people in the Global South, the chances of encountering LGBTQ-friendly feelings in these regions are also next to nonexistent. Ensuring the basic human rights of the queer people living in these regions is essential for activists.

The Washington Blade recently spoke to activists from Thailand and Lebanon about their lobbying and also about how they celebrated Pride in countries where LGBTQ identity is not widely recognized.

Thailand

Midnight Poonkasetwattana is the executive director of the Asian Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM), a non-profit organization based in Bangkok. The organization’s work is focused on addressing sexual health issues by collecting data on gay men and men who have sex with men in 35 countries in Asia and the Pacific.

“What we generally do is empower local communities to speak their truth and also participate meaningfully in national, regional and global forums so that they can raise their voices and actually articulate what the communities’ needs are based on Are ground, ”says Poonkasetwattana.

By enabling these communities to voice their concerns, APCOM creates and facilitates an environment in which the sexual and mental health needs of LGBTQ people are met, even when discrimination remains a barrier to access to these services.

APCOM’s work is not without its challenges as anti-LGBTQ laws are widespread in many Asian countries. However, her work tends to go on steadfast as she is able to work with local community organizations in the public health sector.

“There are a few opportunities to work in public health, and we’ve managed to do that in certain places [like Afghanistan] where it is still difficult to talk about equality, ”says Poonkasetwattana. “When we talk about ensuring that those who are marginalized and most at risk, [contract] HIV can be prevented and treated, [we focus on working] with community-based organizations. ”

As a result, APCOM was able to facilitate important conversations about HIV / AIDS with the specific information about the use of necessary and appropriate language in web programs that recognizes people’s different sexual identities and encourages face-to-face conversations about drug use and sex work.

Employee of the Asian Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM) in Bangkok. (Photo courtesy APCOM)

APCOM, to commemorate the tenacity of the LGBTQ community in Asia, started Pride Month with a virtual discussion sponsored by the Australian Embassy in Thailand. The event, entitled “Celebrating Pride Month 2021: LGBTQI Inclusion and the Effect of COVID-19”, comprised two sessions.

In the first session “Voices from Thai LGBTQI: Launch of Khormoon Report” the effects of COVID-19 in Thailand were discussed. The second, “COVID-19 Recovery and LGBTQI Inclusion: A Perspective from the Business Sector,” focused on how the Thai business sector practiced inclusion and how it will continue to drive LGBTQ advocacy.

As APCOM prepares to return to normal as the pandemic subsides, Poonkasetwattana will begin preparing for the organization’s HERO Awards (HIV, Equality and Rights), a fundraising gala showcasing outstanding LGBTQ activists, HIV / AIDS – Honoring service providers and allies from across Asia and the Pacific and also raising funds for APCOM’s HIV prevention and human rights work.

Lebanon

Helm, whose executive director is Tarek Zeidan, is an LGBTQ advocacy organization based in Beirut, Lebanon. This non-governmental organization, founded in 2001, works to improve the legal and social status of LGTBQ people in the Middle East and North Africa.

Lebanon describes Zeidan as a slightly safer place for queer people. Lebanon has become a more inclusive and liberal place compared to Egypt and Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East, although it is far from a safe haven for queer people.

“When it comes to LGBTQ rights, Lebanon is way above its weight,” says Zeidan. “Because Lebanon had a relatively safe and inclusive experience in a region notorious for LGBTQ rights abuses, and here I use the word enjoy very loosely.”

Helm managing director Tarek Zeidan (Courtesy photo by Tarek Zeidan)

Helem in his many incarnations in its 21 year history has always had one primary goal: to respond to the priorities and needs queer people in the Middle East have.

The helmet is structurally divided into three parts.

The first is the service department, which does a lot of work to protect and support LGBTQ people in crisis.

“We [offer] Emergency intervention, case management, emergency benefits, free psychological support, free medical help, everything, ”says Zeidan. “Food inspection [also] acts primarily as a hub where we collect a lot of data, especially data on the location, density and type of human rights violations as well as demographic information. “

The second part of the organization is the community department.

Helem runs the largest non-commercial queer space in the Arab world that serves as a community center. This room is where the Zeidan conducts localization work, community building, energy building work, capacity building and vocational training.

“There we do our family support, youth work and all this kind of community building and integration time work,” says Zeidan.

The final leg is the advocacy part or “office” anchored on political work, process, cultural change, public awareness and legislation. Helm’s legal work also focuses on criminalization, which Zeidan describes as “attracting more attention” when it is not the focus.

“Also, the criminalization that we always do gets a lot of attention, but it’s really not the central issue we deal with,” says Zeidan. “There are several ways to guarantee LGBTQ rights and inclusion that don’t necessarily go through parliament or the Supreme Court, especially when those two are blocked. In short, the central question we are asking ourselves is: What can we do to improve institutions to become LGBTQ inclusive? How do we improve the lives of LGBTQ people? “

Zeidan also points out that this strategy opens up avenues that do not necessarily conform to traditional human rights beliefs by extracting opportunities from both development and human rights frameworks.

For example, when tackling the employment shortage in Arab LGBTQ communities, Helem does not reach out to companies that are more likely to be LGBTQ inclusive. Instead, the industries that target LGBTQ people are identified.

“We are more interested in targeting small and medium-sized companies as locations for settling in than big banks, because this is where most of the workers and queer people with low incomes live, and that is where they earn most of their living,” says Zeidan.

Zeidan says he expects even more commitment to LGBTQ activism in the Middle East in the future.

“We are very happy to decipher the question: What does regional activism really look like in the Middle East,” says Zeidan. “That is a very complicated question.”

The massive explosion that destroyed large parts of Beirut, Lebanon on August 4, 2020, severely damaged Helem’s offices. (Courtesy photo by Tarek Zeidan / Helem)

He goes on to mention that this goal is complicated because the Middle East does not have a regional organization to turn to for advocacy. For example, in Africa there is the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, but the Middle East does not have such a body.

Helems modus operandi will therefore rush to try to make sense of how best to free queer Arabs.