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.

Share Your Story at Peace Corps Connect June 2015

LGBT RPCB PCC-BerkeleyThe LGBT RPCV Association wants to share more voices during its Peace Corps Connect session in Berkeley. This is the annual gathering of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community, and it is the first conference session we have hosted in many years. (The actual session time is TBD but likely Friday, June 5, 4:30 – 5:30PM)!
At our conference session we will lead the audience through a sample Safe Zone Training session, as well as give an overview of the work of LGBT PCVs through the years. We want to include you!
All are welcome, but we are especially looking for recently COS’d (last 3-4 years; or currently serving!) — and extra-especially anyone who participated in a Safe Zone Training while in service.
We invite you to participate by attending our session live*, or coming live via Skype, or emailing in your thoughts for us to share. If interested or for questions, please contact Hale Sargent @ lgbtrpcv@gmail.com.
*You do not have to pay the conference fees if you are serving as a presenter and only coming for our session. To learn more about Peace Corps Connect, visit http://www.peacecorpsconnect.org.

LGBT RPCV’s Steering Committee Selects New National Coordinator

The Steering Committee for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Returned Peace Association has appointed a new National Coordinator, Manuel Colón.  He served as an Environmental Education Volunteer in Areguá, Paraguay, from 2010-2012. During his service, Manuel led efforts to establish a national curriculum called “Paraguay Verde” with

Manuel Colon LGBTRPCV Alumni National Coordinator

Manuel Colon
LGBTRPCV Alumni National Coordinator

Volunteers from the entire Environment sector. Paraguay Verde promotes environmental youth groups centered around civic and community engagement. The national conference component to Paraguay Verde successfully concluded its fifth iteration February of this year. Manuel was also a leader in Jopara, the Volunteer-led diversity committee, which helped to facilitate the first-ever LGBT ally training with Volunteers and Staff. Upon completion of service, Manuel returned to his alma mater to work as an undergraduate recruiter for the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is also a part-time Master’s student in the Human Resources Development program.

Manuel joined LGBT RPCV’s steering committee in 2013 as the New Volunteer Coordinator. In this capacity he is the liaison between the prospective Volunteer, currently serving Volunteer, and recently returned Volunteer populations and the group at large. Manuel is a major content generator on our group’s social media accounts and listserv. He works to highlight, promote, and celebrate the LGBT Volunteer experience.

Other members of the Steering Committee have agreed to continue their roles to help support our new leadership. Mike Learned, former Group Leader, will remain on the Steering Committee as enewsletter editor.

Manuel can be contacted at lgbrpcv@lgbrpcv.org 

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

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

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