LGBT Aid Workers start networking

I remember when I got my first job in aid work. After three years of failed attempts I officially got my dream job – a random aid work job in the field (that’s the dream, right?). I had a few misconceptions about what my work life would be like, as I’m sure we all did. At 23 I thought I would go into the field, be unnaturally fantastic at my job, fall in love with a fellow aid worker, and we’d live a life of happy, gay aid work bliss traveling the world. That’s how it works, right? Not exactly, I guess.

When I was in Houston waiting to fly out I got a little antsy and started to do some “preliminary research”. I did a simple Google search: “lgbt aid workers”. Nothing. I Googled, “gay aid workers” and I found a couple of links, one was an article from 2008 and another from what seemed to be a now shut down aid worker dating site. I started to get a little nervous.

I have lived in the Middle East before but never with the prospect of living there for years. As my flight approached I started thinking of the issues that could pop up. Would being gay in the Middle East cause professional issues? Could I be out? What about working with colleagues who had issues with homosexuality? Was I protected if something happened? These questions wouldn’t leave me alone and as a new aid worker who didn’t know anyone, I didn’t know anyone who I could ask and I didn’t know anywhere I could look for resources. I thought to myself, “this is fine, once I get to Jordan I’ll connect with the humanitarian community and they’ll help me if I have any questions”. Wrong.

Don’t get me wrong, I made great friends during my first mission and I met people who would end up being great mentors. Just not any gay ones. And despite how much I cared for my colleagues, they didn’t always understand or have a frame of reference for how being gay could cause issues in the field. I got comments ranging from, “how big of a deal could it be?” to, “you should just say you’re straight to not cause any problems, ok?”.

I dealt with it though. Most of the international staff knew I was gay but for the most, my Jordanian colleagues didn’t. It was fine until 7 months into my job I got an email from a colleague. One of our national staff was outed, some of his coworkers refused to work with him, and refugees we were interviewing complained he was “acting too flamboyant”. She was asking me for help. A woman, who I consider one of the best people I’ve ever worked with, with over 10 years of experience was asking for my advice, an aid worker of less than a year, simply because I was gay and there was no where else to go. I didn’t know what to do, but what’s worse, I didn’t know anyone to ask either. I didn’t know any experienced gay aid workers and our (small and stretched) HR department seemed silent on the issue. I thought, “is this really happening? Are there literally zero resources to help with these situations?”.

Afterwards, I was talking to a friend who also gay and worked in Washington D.C. about all these issues. I remember saying I wanted to think about making a network for gay aid workers and she responded, “why think about it? Just do it”. She was right. It was a gap that needed to be filled. And that, folks, is how LGBT Aid Workers was born.

I started messaging every gay person who worked in aid that I knew. I talked to UN GLOBE, I talked to GLIFAA, and I talked with any others who had mentioned similar problems and concerns. Our mission became apparent pretty quickly. First, we needed to connect gay aid workers to each, to let each other know we’re not alone (which happens in the field enough already) and to be there for each other when someone has questions. Second, it was time we started adding our voice to the aid world. It was time to create HR policies for same sex couples, it was time to discuss protection issues, and it was time to think about possible training on LGBT sensitivity.

We created a private Facebook group which grew quickly simply by word of mouth. Questions like, “Anyone in _____ country?” and “Anyone have any experience being gay in ____ country?” started popping up. People talked to each other, people gave each other tips when traveling, and people became friends.

For me, aid work can be isolating and lonely enough sometimes. Why not create a community where we can support each other? That’s what we’re trying to do and I’m happy to say, we’re not doing such a bad job.

Ryan Delafosse, @RyanDelafosse

#GAYdWorker

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11 thoughts on “LGBT Aid Workers start networking”

  1. I am excited to come across this blog, and read that i am not alone, WE ARE NOT ALONE. But how to break this invisibility? How to come out of the AID WORKERS CLOSET? I have started a shy initiative to discuss this inside the NGO where i work for the last 10 years….Anyone is aware of any International NGO with positive policy on LGBT staff? I would like to know!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Paulo,

      that is a very common question that luckily many people seem to be asking these days!

      One of the reasons behind the creation of this blog was to document some of the challenges that LGBT+ aid workers face and use them to lobby in our respective organisations for more inclusive policies and practices. I recently attended an interesting event in London which tried to map existing good practices, but it became quite clear that most good practices come from the private sector and good examples from the aid sector are normally one-off and determined by the goodwill of an individual manager or HR staff.

      We will be posting a new blog soon reporting from the London event, so stay tuned for updates!

      Martina

      Like

  2. Lgbtq people and activists like me from middle east fleed our own country’s because of discrimination and because threats on our life, I’m based in holland and lucky that I have friends here and not alone but many others they don’t have anyone and again they face the same thing that they are running away from, I hope this would help more

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  3. Hello. I’d like to be part of this network. I’ve worked for over 8 years in Mozambique (now I’m based in Boston), but I’d like to contribute to this discussion. How can I join the Facebook group?
    Thanks, Marcos Benedetti

    Like

    1. Hi Marcos,

      I have forwarded your request to the owner of the Facebook group and he should be able to add you. It is a secret group to protect the identity of its members, of course, but we are very happy to see it grow!

      You can also contribute to the discussion by sharing your story on this blog, if you would like. It can be done completely anonymously, contact us if you are interested!

      Thanks, Martina

      Like

  4. Hi Martina!

    Great article, and good to see that there are the beginnings of gay aid workers organzing themselves.. every step is one! Would it be possible to be linked to the FB group?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Lars,

        I have tried adding you to the Facebook group. Let me know if it works and thanks so much for subscribing to the blog! Let us know if you would like to write about your experiences as well.

        If anyone wants to get in touch with us privately, you can always email us at gayd.worker@gmail.com

        Cheers

        Martina

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  5. Hi Martina,

    Have just come across this blog and would love to join the Facebook group and contribute in any way I can. I am in a same sex marriage and have worked as head of HR for an international NGO for the past 5 years. I have just left the iNGO world for some time off but would love to take part in the conversations.

    Warmly,

    Dana

    Like

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