As the recent winter Olympics in Sochi illustrated all too well, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Russia face tremendous hurdles in their everyday lives, including openly hostile laws and an extremely difficult working environment for the grassroots organizations that advocate for social change in the face of grave personal risks. The situation in Russia is unfortunately not unique, with LGBT people facing increasing hostility, discriminatory laws, and escalating threats of violence in many countries around the world, whether in Uganda, Nigeria, or Eurasia.
The U.S. government and USAID are strong supporters of LGBT rights. The Agency’s new mission statement places a premium on the inclusion and the empowerment of marginalized people through our work across the globe. Our missions in the Europe and Eurasia (E&E) region have stepped up their efforts to ensure that LGBT issues are addressed through development projects and that LGBT people are able to participate fully and effectively in all that we do. Testing the Waters: LGBT People in the Europe and Eurasia Region, a new report that was just released by USAID today, was designed to support these efforts by comprehensively documenting the status of LGBT people across the region and describing in detail the challenges they face in seeking to claim their human rights and role as full participants in their communities and societies.
The challenges that the report reveals are daunting. Across the region, attitudes towards LGBT people are very negative, with openly derogatory remarks and homophobic sentiments commonly expressed in public and in private. LGBT people are not legally protected from discrimination in the region, and they frequently suffer physical attacks and intimidation. Gathering places and offices of grassroots LGBT advocacy groups have been ransacked and destroyed. Harassment at home, in school, and at the workplace is a common feature of everyday life. Not surprisingly, many LGBT people in the region choose not to reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity, even to families and friends.
Despite all of these challenges, the report also makes it clear that LGBT people across the region are speaking up and making a difference. Grassroots organizations advocate for LGBT rights in every E&E country, provide safe spaces for LGBT people, and offer support and much-needed social services. Many people take on great personal and professional risks in their efforts to ensure that the societies they live in are accepting of all people, regardless of who they love or how they express their gender identity.
I hope you will take the time to read this report and to think about what you too can do to ensure that no-one is left out of our joint efforts to create a world in which everyone is treated fairly and equally.