Can LGBTI+ staff in the aid sector really bring their ‘whole selves’ to work?



by Elodie Leroy Le Moigne, Senior Risk & Safeguarding Advisor


Part 1 of a 3-part series on LGBTI+ safety and security


As individuals working together in organisations we are at our best when we can be ourselves and our contribution is valued. In humanitarian and development organisations, this means all staff having their safety and security concerns recognised and addressed.

Unfortunately, most organisations never realize this vision because we follow a rigid, ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to security. This approach treats every person as if we were same – facing the same threats and being vulnerable to those threats in the same way. But, we are not.

Humanitarian sector spending went from three billion to nearly 30 billion over the past 20 years. As it grew and professionalized it also got better at recognising diversity. During that 20 years, high and middle- income countries increasingly recognised LGBTI+ rights. LGBT+ individuals became more visible in those societies and thus more visible in humanitarian work. There were plenty of LGBTI+ staff in 2000, they were simply less visible.

Visibility doesn’t equate to safety, however. We shouldn’t kid ourselves in thinking we know or fully support our LGBTI+ colleagues in our security practice. We have hardly any data on LGBTI+ workers in the aid sector much less on the risks they face. Collecting that data proves difficult so we are forced to operate on assumptions.



Visibility doesn’t equate to safety, however. We shouldn’t kid ourselves in thinking we know or fully support our LGBTI+ colleagues in our security practice.


Safer Edge has researched 134 countries based on their LGBTI+ practice and 25 criminalise homosexuality with accompanying jail time that ranges from several months to seven years. 29 countries will issue sentences between seven years and life. 11 countries sentence those convicted to death. While 69 countries do not criminalise homosexuality – only 23 have enforced policies against discrimination. This means that an LGBTI+ individual might not be punished by the law but are going to be punished by society. We need to know for each country of intervention what are the cultural norms of a country and how it impacts LGBTI+ acceptance.

The 2016-2018 Afro barometer serves as another rare source of data and suggests that across the countries represented a majority of respondents responded negatively to the idea of having homosexual as their neighbor. When disaggregated, the data showed that young people in urban settings tended to be more open minded.

How are security and programme managers supposed to build LGBTI+ safe and inclusive programming with such weak data? How does this data translate into approaches, proposals and implementation that can become good practice? And, most importantly, how are LGBTI+ colleagues supposed to feel safe and included in such hostile contexts?

They don’t. So, our LGBTI+ colleagues disappear. They are excluded. They make personal risk judgements about whether their private lives could be used to blackmail them or will hinder their posting opportunities or career progression. Working as a security manager I have heard stories from LGBTI+ staff of their colleagues blackmailing and their paying to avoid arrest. Others have kept silent after seeing embezzlement and fraud. Others still have been threatened by HR managers. They’re told to discuss their fears and security issues with a security manager but know that doing so normally means being told they need to ‘keep their private lives quiet’. Worse still it can result in being outed and ostracized. If they are targeted in a security incident because of their gender or sexual identification then reporting it results in further risk.

By not fully supporting LGBTI+ staff we are creating environments where unacceptable behaviours are normalised – not just for LGBTI+ staff but for all of us. We need organisations which not only express support for LGBTI+ staff but also are proactive in building a culture reflecting this support.


We need organisations which not only express support for LGBTI+ staff but also are proactive in building a culture reflecting this support.

It is one thing to put a policy on paper, talk about it in an induction or a mandatory online training, or mention it at a LGBTI+ day once a year. It is something else to build an organisational culture where LGBTI+ support is in programme design and HR or security frameworks. It is something else to have LGBTI+ support repeated and discussed in staff meetings and as part of people’s regular work.

The humanitarian sector has increased in both size and funding. Donors are looking for that to be accompanied by increased accountability. With more money comes greater accountability. We need organisations to step up and create environments where LGBTI+ staff can truly be safely seen and heard

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