On May 16, 2014, the US Embassy in Sarajevo was lit up in rainbow colors to show its support for LGBTI activities and community members. / Embassy of the United States, Bosnia & Herzegovina

On May 16, 2014, the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo was lit up in rainbow colors to show its support for LGBTI activities and community members. / U.S. Embassy, Bosnia & Herzegovina

In May 2013, the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo illuminated its building with rainbow colors in support of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. A few months later, the U.S. Embassy in Prague followed suit in honor of Prague Pride week. Reading about these events in the newspaper, I felt both proud of my government and afraid of the reaction such bold support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights might provoke in an Eastern European country.

At the time, hate speech and physical violence against LGBT people were breaking out all over the world: from Russia, to Uganda, to here at home in the United States. Little did I know at the time that these supportive public statements were just the beginning: In the following years, the U.S. Government would increasingly commit to advancing the fundamental human rights of LGBT people at home and abroad.

This commitment in terms of international development was initially laid out in USAID’s LGBT Vision for Action in June 2014. This week, USAID is launching a publication to help development professionals implement LGBT-inclusive programs in the countries of Europe and Eurasia: the Toolkit for Integrating LGBT Rights Activities into Programming in the E&E Region [PDF].

These steps forward are of vital importance. LGBT people in Europe and Eurasia encounter a wide range of everyday discrimination, human rights violations, psychological trauma and sometimes physical violence. These legal, social and psychological conditions are described in an earlier USAID report called Testing the Waters: LGBT People in the Europe & Eurasia Region.

But the case for LGBT inclusion is not just a question of rights; it’s also a question of good development practices. USAID and its partners are building the case that the economic exclusion of LGBT people wastes human capital, deepens poverty, magnifies inequality and hurts GDP. But what is to be done?

The new USAID toolkit presents case studies and advice for how LGBT inclusion can advance development agendas. Examples not only include programs that focus specifically on LGBT rights, but also projects where LGBT people are part of a broader target population. For example, the toolkit recommends that programs to empower women entrepreneurs deliberately seek out lesbian and transgender women, who can then help the program reach new participants. The toolkit also suggests that community leaders connect LBT women entrepreneurs to business development programs that provide mentorship opportunities. At the heart of all of these programs and examples is a good working relationship with local LGBT communities.

Staff from the U.S. Embassy in Prague marched in support of Prague Pride in August 2014 / Embassy of the United States, Czech Republic

Staff from the U.S. Embassy in Prague marched in support of Prague Pride in August 2014 / U.S. Embassy, Czech Republic

Having worked in the Europe and Eurasia region, I was especially impressed by the story of an HIV/AIDS program in Ukraine called SUNRISE. To reach isolated and underserved rural populations, SUNRISE mobilized urban volunteers—health workers and members of populations vulnerable to HIV, such as men who have sex with men—and trained them to provide sustainable outreach to rural areas. These volunteers formed and guided self-help groups to provide education, counseling, and testing and prevention services.

Dmytro Pichakhchi, who works with a charity that partnered with SUNRISE, noted in a report that the project also strengthened civil society by uniting leaders and activists from regions and cities across Ukraine

While HIV/AIDS programs are a natural fit for LGBT-inclusive development work, the toolkit also looks at programming in the areas of rule of law, civil society, accountable governance, media, entrepreneurship, education, health, vulnerable groups, youth and gender-based violence. The toolkit’s presentation of lessons learned, points for possible intervention, and illustrative indicators for measuring success can easily be applied to other regions.

Although just a starting point, when it comes to advancing LGBT human rights and well-being, USAID’s toolkit gives us some concrete new answers to the famous old question of what is to be done.


Laura Adams is an AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow in the LGBT office at USAID. Follow her @lauristan