LGBT RPCVs Annual Report for 2014 – Activities and Accomplishments

Editor’s Note: These reports have been submitted to NPCA as part of our affiliation renewal with them for 2015. We have posted them on our website each year.

Electronic Infrastructure Improvements:

Website visitors

Click to enlarge

We have had an internet presence since the mid-1990s and have published hundreds of articles from LGBT volunteers about the countries where they served: about what life is like back in the states; or new adventures since their Peace Corps experience, including visits back to their countries of service. Currently our website contains about 225 timely articles from 50 countries ranging from Albania to Zimbabwe.

Our website had close to 22,000 visitors in 2014.

Our fastest growing media presence is on our Facebook group at https://facebook.com/groups/lgbrpcv/ We now have close to 250 members who are current and former volunteers, along with applicants, and nominees.

Our Yahoo Group has been in operations since the late 1990s and currently has about 630 participants and averages 40 messages a month.

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.

Third Goal and Other Accomplishments:

Our electronic improvements and the high number of visits to them is a sign of our strong commitment to Peace Corps third goal. We have provide and enormous amount of information to the LGBT community about joining Peace Corps, what to expect during Peace Corps service, and resources available in and out of Peace Corps to cope with homophobia and insensitivity in the developing world where Peace Corps has programs.

Cooperation with Peace Corps and other NPCA affiliates during gay pride festivals across the country:

We regularly provide written informational materials for Peace Corps staff to use during recruiting and informational events during gay pride season. We did this again in 2014 which saw an unprecedented level of Peace Corps participation in such events. Through our Yahoo Group, Facebook, Twitter and other sources we communicated such events and ways for LGBT people to participate.

We also appreciated and supported the Atlanta Area RPCV group’s participation in Atlanta’s Gay Pride parade last fall. We also contributed $325 to them which was our sponsorship of a film shown in a film festival they sponsored, Call Me Kuchu, which is a powerful documentary about the difficulties and challenges facing the LGBT community in Uganda.

LGBT RPCV – Financial Report 2014

Beginning Balance:         $3901.45

Income:

  • Dues from NPCA    $645.00

Expenses:

  • NPCA Reaffiliation   $40.00
  • Post Office Box        $128.00
  • Internet Hosting         $13.00
  • Domain renewal for nine years                  $314.91
  • AARPCV film
  • Sponsorship of film for AARPCVs    $325.00

Total Expenses:                    $820.91

Income Minus Expenses    ($175.91)

End of Year Balance:         $3725.54

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

2014 was the Year of Connectivity for the LGBT Peace Corps Alumni 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 2015.

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 Peace Corps Alumni 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

Challenges to Sexual or Gender Minorities Populations

By Suzanne Marks, RPCV Togo, LGBT RCPV Steering Committee

According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) as of December 2014, homosexuality is known to be criminalized in 76 countries, including punishment by death in 10 countries (Brunei, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, UAE, Yemen) and in 3 countries so-called “LGBT anti-propaganda” laws restrict freedom of assembly (Nigeria, Lithuania, Russia). See map of the countries. While many of these laws were instituted during European colonial times and subsequently rarely enforced, there has been a recent resurgence in new legislation (Liberia, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Namibia, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe), harassment, discrimination, and violence against LGBT persons or against persons perceived to be LGBT. HRC published a report in July 2014 that lists concerns in Africa: The State of Human Rights for LGBT People in Africa, July 2014.  HRC also reports regularly on recent international news relevant to the LGBT community.  Another resource, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), advocates for the rights of LGBT persons, and provides country-level updates. . For a full listing of human rights practices by country, visit the U.S. Department of State human rights website.

Recent anti-gay legislation in many countries has been promoted by American religious extremists, who have been spreading inaccurate information about sexual and gender minorities and about HIV transmission on five continents, especially in Africa and Eastern Europe. HRC published a report called Exposed: Export of Hate that documents the activities of Scott Lively, Lou Engle, and others who have been instigating these changes. Inaccurate information that the religious extremists have promoted includes: 1) “LGBT persons recruit youth into homosexuality” and “No one is born gay.” In fact, there is substantial evidence that most same-sex attraction and gender identity are innate; 2) “Conversion therapy” can work to make persons heterosexual. All credible health organizations reject the practice of “conversion therapy,” which is ineffective and in many cases harmful; 3) “Gay men molest youth more than heterosexuals.” There is no evidence that LGBT persons engage in pedophilia more so than heterosexuals; and 4) “Same-sex parents harm children.” All credible scientific studies find that children raised by same-sex parents are as well-adjusted as those raised by heterosexual parents. The Southern Poverty Law Center exposes hate groups and provides materials for fighting homophobia to counter the misinformation. A key resource includes Top 10 Anti-Gay Myths Debunked

Some consequences of human rights abuses against sexual and gender minorities and their de-humanization have included: 1) lack of privacy due to published lists, pictures, and addresses of known or suspected LGBT persons; 2) isolation due to laws requiring the reporting of any known/suspected homosexual; 3) police harassment/brutality/abuse including home invasions and raids, 4) forced disrobement and invasive physical examinations, 5) eviction from homes, 6) “corrective” rape of LGBT females, 7) being targeted by mob justice (stoning; bombings, murders), 8) loss of children, 9) accusations of transmitting HIV, and 10) suicide. In Nigeria, where a law (1/7/2014) criminalized freedom of assembly of and association with LGBT persons, there is a report that HIV treatment has declined substantially, as people fear (because of the perception of being gay) going to clinics to receive their medication. (Mother Jones 3/2014). Moreover, HIV prevention and outreach efforts have become stymied. Also see The Economist 2014.

God Loves Uganda

God Loves Uganda Documentary Film

Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) has sued Scott Lively for violating international law by intentionally contributing to the persecution of Ugandan LGBT and seeking to deprive them of their basic human rights. As of January 2015, the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals refused Lively’s request for case dismissal based on the First Amendment to the US Constitution, so the case will soon be heard in court. (Slate 2014)

There are a few films that poignantly portray the issues: “God Loves Uganda”highlights motivations for the actions of some religious groups. “Call Me Kuchu” is a film, mostly from the perspective of LGBT Ugandans, showing the impact of LGBT persecution and story of David Kato’s efforts to bring  international support for LGBT rights in Uganda.

“I understand that sexual orientation and gender identity raise sensitive cultural issues.  But cultural practices cannot justify any violation of human rights. . .  . When our fellow humans are persecuted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, we must speak out. . . . States bear the primary responsibility to protect human rights advocates.  I call on all States to ensure the freedom of expression and the freedom of assembly that make their work possible.  When the lives of human rights advocates are endangered, we are all less secure.  When the voices of human rights advocates are silenced, justice itself is drowned out.” – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

While the situation for sexual and gender minorities has become worse in many countries, the situation, especially regarding marriage equality, has improved in some countries. As of December 2014, 18 countries permit same-sex marriage according to Freedomtomarry.org. Ireland, Chile, and Taiwan are scheduled to vote soon on marriage equality.

For sexual and gender minorities living, working in, or visiting countries where homosexuality is criminalized, it is important to be aware of the current situation for LGBT persons in the country. While the decision to be openly LGBT is left to each individual. Many persons choose to be discreet or not open about their sexual orientation or gender identity with foreign-country nationals. However, being out to your Peace Corps and other U.S. governmental colleagues is encouraged so that you can obtain needed support in talking about your family and social life. Becoming involved in advocacy for LGBT rights is welcome after you return to the U.S., but doing so while overseas as a PCV would likely need to be approved prior to any activity and might be discouraged because of security reasons.

Atlanta Area RPCVs March at Atlanta Pride

Fifty-five AARPCV members and guests showed their pride by marching with Peace Corps host country flags for the annual Atlanta Pride Parade on October 12, 2014. An estimated 300,000 people lined up on the streets to watch the event. It was AARPCV’s first time marching with our new country of service flags, and our first time marching in the Pride parade. After a dreary, wet morning, the clouds opened to reveal sunshine and blue skies. AAPCV was joined by special guest, Angie Harris of the Tennessee RPCVs. Angie, RPCV Papua New Guinea, serves as the Southeast Regional Representative on the National Peace Corps Association Board. Other AARPCV guests came from as far away as Chicago and New Jersey. The parade was streamed live online by 11Alive, who gave AARPCV an enthusiastic shoutout as we passed by.

See more photos from Atlanta Pride on their website.

October is the gayest of months in Atlanta, starting with the LGBT Out-on-Film festival, followed by the Atlanta Pride festival, AIDS Walk Atlanta, and Halloween celebrations. The LGBT community is organized and active, working to connect people to fun, philanthropy, and services. Nearly every major company in Atlanta has an LGBT organization, and there are many LGBT-specific organizations. Atlanta is in many ways an oasis for LGBT persons living in the Bible Belt South.

AARPCV recently added an LGBT Liaison to its Board: Suzanne Marks, who also serves on the National LGBT RPCV Steering Committee

The Atlanta Area Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (AARPCV) is a group of 300+ people who served two or more years in the U.S. Peace Corps. AARPCV’s goals are to make a difference in the lives of people here through quarterly service projects, to make a difference abroad by funding overseas projects, and to educate and socially engage its members.   Find out more at www.aarpcv.org.

AARPCV recently added an LGBT Liaison to its Board: Suzanne Marks, who also serves on the National LGBT RPCV Steering Committee (our board). The national group mentors currently serving LGBT PCVs, facilitates communication about LGBT issues faced by PCVs through its newsletter and website, informs people about international issues facing LGBT persons through its Listserv, and advocates for U.S. Peace Corps’ policies that are supportive of LGBT PCVs and staff. Find out more at  lgbprcv.org, join us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @lgbt_rpcv.

The Atlanta Regional Peace Corps Office had a booth, this year which AARPCV helped staff, in the Pride marketplace to recruit potential new PCVs. At least 50 interested individuals signed up for more information on Saturday alone; Sunday’s interest was even greater. The Peace Corps has had a booth at Atlanta Pride nearly every year for the past 17 years. This year 2014 was the first year that AARPCV participated in the Atlanta Pride Parade. Fifty-five plus people marched in the parade carrying flags from their Peace Corps countries of service. A local television station, 11 Alive, live-streamed the parade, including our flags’ display. AARPCV also is planning an all-day film festival, which will feature “Call me Kuchu” a film about being gay in which the National LGBT RPCVs has sponsored.

Editor’s Note;

This article is based on input from Amber Davis Collins and Suzanne Marks.

LGBT Peace Corps Alum Wins 2014 Franklin H. Williams Award

For Manuel Colón, Peace Corps service was about more than gaining skills and helping others overseas – it was about sharing his experience with people back home and inspiring others to consider making a difference. Even while he was still a volunteer in Paraguay, Chicago native Colón kept in touch with friends and family and used Skype to chat with prospective applicants at a recruitment event. While home on leave during his two-year service, he was the featured speaker at a 200-guest send-off event for new volunteers in Chicago.

Increasing understanding of other cultures in the U.S. is one of Peace Corps’ original goals dating back to the agency’s founding, and Colón embraces it more than ever since completing his service. Now, that commitment has brought him national recognition from Peace Corps.

Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet honored Colón and five other returned Peace Corps volunteers with the Franklin H. Williams award on Wednesday, Oct. 8, during a ceremony at Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C. The award honors returned Peace Corps volunteers from ethnically diverse backgrounds who exemplify an ongoing commitment to community service and Peace Corps’ Third Goal of promoting a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

 

Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet with Manuel Colón

Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet with Manuel Colón

“In memory of Franklin H. Williams, we honor some of the brightest stars in our Peace Corps family who are incredible champions of our mission at a time when the Peace Corps has never mattered more,” Hessler-Radelet said. “These extraordinary individuals embody what the Peace Corps is all about – a lifelong commitment to service, social justice and cross-cultural understanding.”

As an environmental education Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay from 2010-12, Colón carried out sustainable tourism development work, youth group education, and cultural exchange activities. His most successful project was a national environmental youth group workshop conference called “Paraguay Verde,” which fostered youth interest in environmental stewardship and is now in its fifth iteration with current volunteers in Paraguay.

“I’m beyond honored to be a 2014 Franklin H. Williams award recipient,” Colón said. “As I explain the three goals of Peace Corps to people, it’s very clear that the first two are constrained to your 27 months abroad, while in service. The beauty of Third Goal is that every volunteer, at any and all stages in their life post-service, can engage in it.”

Now pursuing his Master of Education in Human Resources Development and working as an Undergraduate Recruiter at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, his alma mater, Colón continues to assist with Peace Corps recruitment there. He also serves as the New Volunteer Coordinator for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Returned Peace Corps Volunteers association. In that capacity, he works closely with Peace Corps’ Office of Diversity and National Outreach to engage prospective, current, and returned volunteers, in addition to promoting recruitment and Third Goal activities to the Queer community through the group’s social media.

Both in his everyday life and while working, Colón never misses an opportunity to share his personal Peace Corps story with diverse audiences. At his alma mater high school, Whitney Young in Chicago, Colón recently spoke to students about the way Peace Corps could, one day, transform their lives, as it has transformed his. In the summertime, he enjoys drinking tereré (Paraguayan iced tea) and listening to music from Paraguay, sharing the country’s culture with his friends and co-workers in the U.S. This year he waved the Peace Corps flag at multiple Pride events, inspiring countless LGBTQ Americans to serve.

Colón’s commitment to bettering his world also extends beyond Peace Corps’ Third Goal. He currently volunteers with the University’s Intensive English Institute as a conversation partner, helping students from South Korea and Saudi Arabia improve their English and learn more about American culture. “The parallels to Peace Corps pre-service training are so strong, so I’m glad I can give back to visitors to our country the same way I was so warmly received by the people of Paraguay,” Colón said.

About the Franklin H. Williams Award: Franklin H. Williams was an early architect of the Peace Corps. He worked at the agency from its inception in 1961 to 1963 and helped Sargent Shriver, the first Peace Corps director, to promote the agency and its programs to the world. Williams’ exceptional public service career included positions as Peace Corps Regional Director for Africa, U.S. Representative to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and U.S. Ambassador to Ghana.

Since the first Franklin H. Williams award ceremony in 1999, 107 outstanding returned Peace Corps volunteers have received the award. For more information on the award and bios for all awardees, please visit: http://www.peacecorps.gov/resources/returned/staycon/williamsaward/?from=hps 

About the Peace Corps: As the preeminent international service organization of the United States, the Peace Corps sends Americans abroad to tackle the most pressing needs of people around the world. Peace Corps volunteers work at the grassroots level with local governments, schools, communities, small businesses and entrepreneurs to develop sustainable solutions that address challenges in education, health, economic development, agriculture, environment and youth development. When they return home, volunteers bring their knowledge and experiences – and a global outlook – back to the United States that enriches the lives of those around them. President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961 to foster a better understanding among Americans and people of other countries. Since then, more than 215,000 Americans of all ages have served in 139 countries worldwide. Visit http://www.peacecorps.gov to learn more.

As the preeminent international service organization of the United States, the Peace Corps sends Americans abroad to tackle the most pressing needs of people around the world. Peace Corps volunteers work at the grassroots level with local governments, schools, communities, small businesses and entrepreneurs to develop sustainable solutions that address challenges in education, health, economic development, agriculture, environment and youth development. When they return home, volunteers bring their knowledge and experiences – and a global outlook – back to the United States that enriches the lives of those around them. President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961 to foster a better understanding among Americans and people of other countries. Since then, more than 215,000 Americans of all ages have served in 139 countries worldwide. Visit http://www.peacecorps.gov to learn more.

This story was reproduced with permission of the Midwest Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Association.

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