Together we resist

May 17, 2021

Today is IDAHOT, the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. Thirty-one years ago today, May 17 was chosen to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness.

At about the same time, Hivos started working with the LGBTIQ+ communities. Initially, we partnered with organizations to respond to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Together we chose an unconventional approach, arguing that AIDS is not purely a medical problem, but a human rights issue which required strengthening key population communities. Ever since, diversity, inclusion and promoting the agency of rightsholders have been at the heart of our mission and vision.

Resilient communities

Looking back on all those years, there are many successes to celebrate. We saw the rise of vibrant and resilient LGBTIQ+ communities. And we stood side by side those who fought for their rights in courts around the world, whether it was to decriminalize homosexuality or institute marriage equality. Last year, after a long and arduous struggle by activists, Costa Rica legalized same-sex marriage. In a country which is home to our regional Latin America office, this victory is particularly dear to us.

A worrying turn for the worse

Despite these important wins, we must remain vigilant when it comes to protecting LGBTIQ+ rights. The pandemic has shown they cannot be taken for granted. Over the past year we have received alarming messages from our partners and colleagues that bear witness to how badly times of crisis can exacerbate exclusion and marginalization.

Governments were quick to implement lockdowns, curfews and economic stimulus packages. In many countries, the stay at home directives and bans on social gatherings increased the risk of violence for gender and sexual minorities. And now these communities find themselves at the margins of recovery responses. While we were able to address initial emergency needs by allocating small funds for hygiene materials, food and psychosocial support, we also realize there is much more structural work to be done.

Standing in solidarity

Together with partner organizations, we spent last year developing two new programs: Free to be Me and We Lead. Free to be Me strengthens the socio-economic position of LGBTIQ+ people. We Lead focuses on young women living with a disability, with HIV, affected by displacement, or identifying as LBTI+. It is designed to strengthen the influence of young women who are most left behind when it comes to their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

With these programs in place, we have made sure that building and maintaining movements of self-confident and diverse LGBTIQ+ organizations is on Hivos’ agenda for years to come. This is important to us. Not only because we learn from all these courageous and inventive organizations, but also because we believe diversity and inclusion are prerequisites for the just, fair, dignified and prosperous societies we work towards.

We hope you – our partners and allies – will take a moment today to reflect on and celebrate the enormous achievements you have made possible. Your work motivates us, and in our shared fight against exclusion, discrimination and violence, you will always find Hivos at your side.


Edwin Huizing – Executive Director
Michel Farkas – Chief Operations Officer