What's Arcus Doing to Support the World's Most At-Risk LGBTs?

It’s no secret that the Arcus Foundation’s commitment to improving global human rights includes changing the laws that continue to marginalize and stigmatize LGBT people. And a look at the foundation’s 2014 first-quarter funding strategy shows that it’s keenly aware that there is more work to be done to combat stigma, violence and discrimination in countries like Russia, Uganda and Iran. 

So what exactly is Arcus doing to bolster support for the world's most at-risk LGBTs?

Well, one thing that interesting about Arcus's global work is the sophisticated strategy for opening even the most closed minds on LGBT issues. For the first time, Arcus is working with the American Psychological Association to help train psychology-focused organizations and agencies, particularly in South Africa and the Philippines, change the perception that being LGBT is a mental disease or defect. The goal? It’s simple: If you change the way in which the medical community talks about, regulates, and medicates LGBT issues, you can better educate the public to reduce stigma and violence within communities.

That strategy was key to advancing LGBT rights in the U.S. a few decades ago, with the APA famously changing its stance on homosexuality in the 1970s, and Arcus is betting it can yield dividends abroad.

Arcus also understands that part of driving global support for LGBT populations includes building bridges between larger international organizations and smaller regional groups or individuals. That’s why this year it upped its support for International Lesbian and Gay Association, Iranti-Org, Gender DynamiX, and the Coalition of African Lesbians, all of which are documenting the human rights atrocities and victories of LGBT people in Southern and Eastern Africa, to better advocate for human rights law and policies that stop imprisonment, murder and ostracization.

But Arcus’ strategy doesn’t just focus on social advocacy. The foundation also recognizes that much of the global anti-LGBT sentiment is cloaked as “freedom of religious expression.” That’s why the foundation is strengthening its compassion-building efforts within international religious communities. By supporting pro-LGBT Christian and Muslim groups, the foundation hopes to increase the number and effectiveness of faith messengers who can widely convey opposition to anti-LGBT bigotry and violence.

Through The European Forum of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Christian Groups, a first-time Arcus grantee that is made up of 30 groups from 15 countries, Arcus is supporting leadership training for emerging LGBT Christian leaders in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. and through the Interfaith Alliance Foundation, Arcus hopes to counter harmful “religious exemptions”—in which institutions seek to be excused from laws so that they can discriminate against LGBT individuals based on their own religious beliefs.

In addition, two organizations received grants to expand dialogue among Muslim activists and leaders in countries where LGBT people face profound marginalization: The Cape Town–based organization The Inner Circle will hold trainings, retreats, and conferences for religious leaders interested in social change and Other Sheep Africa, also a new grantee, will engage Muslim leaders in Kenya to reduce violence and create greater tolerance and acceptance of LGBT people in East Africa.