LGBT RPCV National Coordinator on the “Listening Tour”

by Manuel Colón, 

In my new role as National Coordinator for LGBT RPCV, I decided to make it a point to reach out to each of the continuing Steering Committee members and have a chat. I’ve dubbed this my “listening tour.” I wanted the conversations to serve not only as a time for me to engage with each of the members one-on-one, but also to tap into their individual and collective knowledge of the group’s history and their thoughts on our future. I’m nearly complete, with only two or three more committee members to go, and I cannot be happier with the results thus far.

The conversations I’m having have  been so informative, insightful, and, quite honestly, enjoyable! The knowledge and experiences that each one of our Steering Committee members brings to the table is absolutely great! However, there is a particular incident that has truly surpassed my expectations of what these chats could have produced. LGBT RPCV produces a newsletter that is shared with our followers and supporters on a quarterly basis and done so digitally. However, as you might imagine, when the group first started in 1991, the newsletter was print.

Dennis Gilligan, fellow Steering Committee member, informed me that he still had all the original print newsletters that the group had produced. In fact, he had been meaning to scan and digitize them, just never got around to it. Since our conversation, Dennis has sent me over 70 digitized pages of LGBT RPCV’s newsletters from its early days of inception. I was only two pages into the inaugural newsletter when I was stopped dead in my tracks to learn that in 1991, an RPCV named James “Jim” Kelly wrote a master’s thesis titled “Diversity’s Hidden Dimensions: Gays and Lesbians in the Peace Corps.”

James “Jim” Kelly and Manuel Colón

James “Jim” Kelly and Manuel Colón

In my excitement to find Jim and his thesis, I looked in our university’s database, scanned what Google produced, and even searched Facebook. While I was unsuccessful in my digital search, all I had to do was scroll over to the next page to find Jim’s home address and phone number (as research would have been done in 1991, obviously). I wasn’t 100% positive that the number listed would still be active 24 years later, but it was! Jim answered the phone, was more than happy to chat with me, and, since we are both in Illinois, made time to meet in-person later that week.

I’ve invited Jim to contribute a piece to our website; so that he can expand upon his experience with Peace Corps and his dissertation work. Jim was also gracious enough to provide us with a digital copy of

his thesis (a task he, also, had been meaning to do, but hadn’t until I requested) and we’ll share the full report when we get his written story.

In the meantime, I was able to record our chat. I tried my best to edit it and have shared via SoundCloud. If you have about 45 minutes, CLICK HERE to  take a listen.

Survey of LGBT RPCV Followers

LGBT Follower Survey 2015To take the pulse of what LGBT RPCV followers think about our mostly virtual organization, a survey was announced through our listserv as well as via Facebook and Twitter. Seventy-seven (77) people responded to the short survey (12% of our listserv membership).

Of the 77 respondents, just over 80% are returned Peace Corps volunteers (RPCVs), with about 13% being current volunteers.

The feature of our organization most appreciated is the listserv (62.5%) followed by Facebook (51.4%) and our webpage (37.5%).

For the listserv, the top 2 postings appreciated are Learning about Peace Corps-related news and events (73.5%) and LGBT world news (67.7%). Also appreciated were learning about job postings (38.2%) and countries of assignment (30.9%).  65.7% of respondents judged that the number of listserv postings is about right, with 22.4% saying there are too many posts and 11.9% too few. When asked how we can improve the listserv, the top suggestion was to consolidate the postings into either a daily or weekly summary to cut down on the frequency of posts, and possibly including questions for discussion about the posted issues. Many suggested adding more stories of LGBT PCVs and RPCVs and to include links to all that is posted, although a current PCV asked for the opposite: to post full articles since Internet service is weak and opening links can be a challenge. A few comments commended what we are now doing.

On the mentoring program, 58.2% of respondents didn’t know such a program existed, but would be interested in participating. Very few had participated in the program either as a mentor or mentee. The few notable comments were that people had tried to participate but were never contacted and that it may be worth considering having current volunteers mentor one another. It was also suggested that RPCVs who had served in specific countries could be made available to share their experiences with those who may be going to those countries.

Key suggestions to improve the Facebook group, Twitter posts and our webpage were to close the Facebook page because having it open to the public may compromise current volunteers where host country nationals can see that they are members and to increase the number of job posts.

Other things that followers would like to see LGBT RPCV doing that would be useful:

  • Enable more connections among RPCVs such as organizing more local and regional events of interest to LGBT RPCVs, including social events and job fairs and pride events.
  • Make links to more external groups that share similar interests to ours, including working with US-based LGBT organizations to support projects.
  • Make more efforts to reach potential PCVs.
  • Explore having RPCVs visit current LGBT PCVs.

When asked about interest in becoming more involved in LGBT RPCV in leading our community, 9 people stepped forward with their contact information. No one had a specific idea about what they wanted to volunteer to do, but one respondent who has already been very active noted that he has taken part in LGBT RPCV events such as Pride celebrations and Peace Corps anniversary occasions. He said that he is “proud of our organization and its ongoing supportive involvement in Peace Corps. I consider my own service as a pivotal point in my own life that keeps me closely connected… Surely PC’s own evolving comfort and active support of LGBT volunteers has much in our organization’s existence and work…”

LGBT Follower Survey 2015

2014 – The Year of Connectivity for the LGBT Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Organization

2014 was the Year of Connectivity for the LGBT Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Organization as we continued to reach people through our website, our Facebook page, our Yahoo! Groups list, and Twitter. Here is a overview of our connected presence.


Website LGBRPCV

We have had a web presence since the mid-1990s and have published hundreds of stories from queer volunteers and their friends about the countries where they serve; about what life is like back in the states; or about new adventures since the Peace Corps. Our website is hosted at http://www.lgbrpcv.org and currently contains almost 225 timely articles from 50 countries ranging from Albania to Zimbabwe. You can follow new publications on our website and we welcome comments online. If you follow your news on a blog reader (RSS) the newsfeed URL for our website is http://lgbrpcv.org/feed/. We average about 100 visitors day.

Website visitors

We had close to 22,000 visitors in 2014.

Most of our most popular posts in 2014 were written before 2014, indicating that our information remains relevant and important to our readers.

Rank

Title Publication Date
1 Is There Gay Life in Benin? May 2006
2 Placing Same-Sex Couples in Peace Corps Ukraine February 2014
3 It’s Not that Bad in Paraguay April 2012
4 Queer Volunteer? What to Expect in Morocco March 2010
5 My Friends, the Fakaleitis of Tonga

November 2006


 LGBT Peace Corps on Facebook

Our fastest growing media presence is on our Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/lgbrpcv/. We now have over 237 members who are current and former volunteers, as well as friends of LGBT PC. Finds news, personal stories, job postings and the latest articles for our website here.

Lesbian__Gay__Bisexual__and_Transgender_Peace_Corps_Alumni


LGBT Returned Peace Corps Volunteers on Yahoo! Groups

Founded on December 31, 1998 is our Yahoo! Group at https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/lgbrpcv/ . This site requires a membership but it is easy to request by sending an email to lgbrpcv-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. The group currently hosts 631 members and averages 40 messages a month. Members post LGBT news from around the world, job listings, and seek advice on countries of service. This is our most important tool for mentoring volunteers about to enter service so if you have a question join in the conversation.

Lesbian__Gay__Bisexual__Transgender_Peace_Corps_Volunteers_-_Yahoo_Groups


LGBT Peace Corps on Twitter

Lastly we host a Twitter Feed at https://twitter.com/LGBT_RPCV. Over the last quarter of 2014 our Tweets had 12,700 views, with an average of 140 per day.

Our most popular tweet of that period was about our very own steering committee member, Manuel Colon with 787 views. .

Tweet_Activity_analytics_for_LGBT_RPCV

United Through the Wire – Our Organization Thrives in a Digital World

– Kevin H. Souza, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Malawi

The key to maintaining volunteer organizations is creating self-sustaining practices and this has been the approach of the LGBT Peace Corps group for the last few years, particularly in the area of communication. Our communication strategy consist of a wordpress website, a discussion group hosted by Yahoo Groups, a Facebook group and a Twitter account.

Website LGBRPCV

We have had a web presence since the mid-1990s and have published hundreds of stories from queer volunteers and their friends about the countries where they serve, about what life is like back in the states or about new adventures since the Peace Corps. Our website is hosted at http://www.lgbrpcv.org and currently contains almost 200 timely articles from 48 countries ranging from Albania to Zimbabwe. You can follow new publications on our website and we welcome comments online. If you follow your news on a blog reader (RSS) the newsfeed URL for our website is http://lgbrpcv.org/feed/.

The website averages about 100 visits a day from almost every country in the world. Our most popular articles of all time are:

  1. The Life of a Transgender PCV: Are you a Boy or a Girl by Bryce Wolfe

  2. Open Secrets – Serving Queer in Paraguay – Compiled and Edited by Manuel Colón and Fiona Martin

  3. Building My Own Closet in Paraguay – by Fiona Martin

  4. Is There Gay Life in Benin? – by a former volunteer

  5. It’s Not That Bad in Paraguay  – by Manuel Colón

Online Discussion Group at Yahoo! Groups

Our Yahoo! Groups listserv at https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/lgbrpcv/ has attracted 655 members since January 27, 1999 and inspired 4192 messages. It is one of the richest sources of information on queer issues in Peace Corps service and the full archive is easily searchable. In the archive you will find 170 postings on Malawi, 145 on Russia, 126 on China, and 79 on Mongolia – just to scratch the surface. To search the archives or join the conversation you can subscribe at lgbrpcv-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

Facebook

Our fastest growing community is found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/lgbrpcv/ with more than 145 members and growing daily. Discussions similar to our Yahoo! Groups are found here with postings from potential applicants, recently placed applicants and former volunteers sharing advice and stories about life as a queer volunteer in the Peace Corps. Recent discussions have included service in Columbia, Uganda, and Russia. You will also find information on Peace Corps events and interesting polls from our members. Boasting active members of Peace Corps it is also a great place to track new policy, advocacy and opportunity.

Twitter

Finally, our group has a presence on Twitter. You can follow us at https://twitter.com/LGBT_RPCV. Like Facebook, our Twitter community is growing fast with over 145 followers and posts that encourage local get-togethers, highlight volunteers and queer Peace Corps employees around the country.

The easiest way to be a part of our community is join in the discussion. You have many options depending on your favored way of communicating. Lets us hear from you.

For questions or comments about our communications strategies contact kevin.souza@gmail.com

New Website is Modern and Mobile

The new LGBT Returned Peace Corps Volunteers website has a modern look and travels well on tablet and mobile phone devices. The new site is built on the wordpress.complatform and therefore is much easier to update and maintain. All editing takes place through a web interface instead of using computer-based software, thus making it easier to post, edit and manage our web content.We have migrated over 120 articles from our old website and provided robust tagging of our content by topics, including more than 40 countries-of-service listings. We look forward to a robust publishing future and encourage our readers to submit articles for consideration.The new website allows for RSS subscriptions using the POSTS link in the upper right corner of every page and email subscriptions using the SUBSCRIBE list in the right hand navigation bar. The new site will also save us money as we no longer have to pay hosting fees.

Thanks for visiting us and check in often for new content. If you would like to volunteer to help run the new site please contact Kevin Souza at webmaster@lgbrpcv.org.

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