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Sexual orientation and gender identity

Last edited: July 03, 2013

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  • A great deal more research is needed to understand how to respond to the needs and challenges faced by LBTI individuals in conflict-affected settings. Nevertheless, the following are basic recommendations to improve the safety and well-being of LBTI individuals:

 Assess the particular needs of lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersex women/ individuals before initiating programmes to address VAWG. Be aware that not all gender and sexual minorities identify using the LBTI acronyms, and cultural-specific terminology should be understood and respected (Human Rights Watch, 2009).

  • Raise awareness and build capacity of aid organizations, relief workers, and civil society organizations through providing education and training on the issues faced by individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Example: In Nepal, a seminar was designed by the local LBTI umbrella NGO, the Blue Diamond Society (BDS), the Disaster Risk Reduction office of USAID and the US Embassy. The US Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) officials saw this seminar not only as an opportunity to deliver valuable information, but also as a way to bring in the community’s own suggestions and views: according to the DRR director at USAID Nepal: ‘findings today will not only ensure the LBTI community here in Kathmandu is better prepared for a large scale earthquake, they will inform future activities across Nepal’.  The half-day programme took place in the conference room at BDS, ensuring a safe and welcoming atmosphere for LBTI community members. In advance of the seminar, DRR officials consulted BDS to see which subjects would be relevant to the community, and the appropriate language to use in referring to the community members present. During the seminar, transgender attendees voiced concerns about male and female segregated emergency shelter, health and bathroom facilities, and asked how they should select the facility that would guarantee them safety and dignity. These concerns were noted, and the Red Cross representative – who attended to present on accessing relief services post-disaster – issued an invitation to routine first aid training sessions, as well as an offer to initiate similar sessions in BDS offices, where LBTI people felt safe in asking questions. According to one participant, a human rights officer at BDS: ‘I knew about the threat of an earthquake, but I never thought about how it would affect me as a transgender man. Now I feel I know how to ask the right questions and access services like everyone else’.

(Excerpted from Knight, K. and Sollom, R. 2012.Making Disaster Risk Reduction and Relief Programs LGBTI-Inclusive: Examples from Nepal.” Humanitarian Exchange Magazine, Issue 55, September.)

  • Protect LBTI refugees from bias-motivated violence and ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted, regardless of the survivor’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Develop effective referral systems to assist survivors in accessing services, including emergency hotlines and legal services (Breen, 2012).

Advocate for the repeal of discriminatory laws and practices that marginalize and oppress LBTI individuals (OHCHR, 2012).

  • Recognize lesbian, bisexual and transgender women as part of the larger and diverse women’s movement; allocate space for all voices and foster collaboration between organizations working for LBTI rights and organizations working for women’s rights (Brown, 2011).
  • Provide equal and safe access for LBTI individuals to necessary services such housing, healthcare, livelihoods opportunities, and psychosocial services.  Ensure survivors of violence and sexual assault have safe access to services that are non-discriminatory and sensitive to their needs (For more information on working with LGBTI persons in forced displacement, see UNHCR, 2011).
  • Encourage aid organizations to expand their definition of “family unit” to include non-traditional and non-heterosexual groups of people living together (Knight & Sollom, 2012).
  • Recognizing third-gender or alternative gender categories may be a step in advocating for the safety and inclusion of gender-variant individuals, although much more research is needed.

Example: The third gender in Nepal is an identity-based category for people who do not identify themselves as either male or female. This may include people who want to perform or want to be presented as a gender that is different from the one that was assigned to them at birth, based on genitalia or other criteria. It can also include people who do not feel that the male or female gender roles that their culture dictates to them match their true social, sexual, or gender-role preference (excerpted from Knight, 2012a). For more information on Nepals’ third gender policy, see:

Additional Tools

The It’s All One Curriculum: Guidelines and Activities for a Unified Approach to Sexuality, Gender, HIV, and Human Rights Education was developed by the International Sexuality and HIV Curriculum Working Group.  Activities 20-21 specifically focus on same-sex sexual behaviour.  Special attention must be paid to cultural and political considerations addressed on pages 10-11.  Haberland, N. & Rogow, D. (Eds). 2009.It’s All One Curriculum: Guidelines and Activities for a Unified Approach to Sexuality, Gender, HIV, and Human Rights Education.” New York: The Population Council, Inc.

For an example of implementing international human rights law for LGBTI citizens in Kenya, see G-Kenya Trust. My Way, Your Way, or the Right Way? Human Rights Law and the LGBTI Community in Kenya.” American Jewish World Service (AJWS).

MBBC (Movement Building Bootcamp for Queer African Activists) is an online platform and e-learning space for African Activists doing progressive work around sexuality, gender, justice and rights.  It features training guides and knowledge resources organized around theoretical concepts, tools and practice, individual and collective security.


Additional Resources

For an article on the need for sensitivity when working with LGBTI refugees, see Grungas, N. 2012. Support, Not Stereotypes, When Interviewing LGBTI Refugees.” Huffington Post.

For a guide of best practices in advancing the human rights of LGBTI individuals, see The Danish Institute for Human Rights and World Outgames. 2009. Copenhagen Catalogue of Good Practices.”

For research and recommendations on working with LGBTI refugees in Kenya and Uganda, see: Breen, D. 2012. The Road to Safety: Strengthening Protection for LBTI Refugees in Uganda and Kenya.” Human Rights First.

For a project addressing violence against lesbian and bisexual women in the rural areas of Sri Lanka, see: Brown, K. 2011. Struggling Against Homophobic Violence and Hate Crimes.” Colombo, Sri Lanka: Equal Ground.

For research and preliminary recommendations on decreasing violence against lesbian women in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal, see: CREA. 2012. Count Me In! Research Report on Violence against Disabled, Lesbian, and Sex-Working Women in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal.” New Delhi: CREA.

For additional case studies, see ARC International.  2011. Rising Through the Challenge: Documenting and Analysing Best Practices for Advancing Human Rights based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity/Expression: Narratives of Best Practice Case Studies (English).”

International LGBTI Organizations

ARC International


ARC International advances lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights internationally, strengthening global networks, enhancing access to UN mechanisms, and advancing LGBT issues within the UN human rights system. 

COC Netherlands


COC Nederland has been advocating the rights of lesbian women, gay men, bisesxuals and transgenders since 1946, striving for equal rights, emancipation and social acceptance of LGBT’s in the Netherlands and all over the world.

International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC)


Founded in 1990, IGLHRC is a leading international human rights organization based in New York dedicated to improving the lives of people who experience discrimination or abuse on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.

International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association


See the ILGA website that tracks LGBTI issues and movements globally.


Columbia Diversa


Columbia Diversa is an LGBT rights group founded in 2004 in Bogota, Columbia.  Website provides documentation on the status of human rights in Columbia, as well as resources and learning materials (available in Spanish)

Global Action for Trans* Equality (GATE)


GATE is a trans* network coordinator, facilitator and advocate to the ‘outside’ world. GATE works to unite trans* movements for common goals, while developing trans* agendas on a conceptual policy level.