How USAID Is Advancing Locally Led LGBTQI+ Inclusive Development

An LGBTQI+ flag waves in the wind in front of a buildingPhoto credit: Raphael Renter

Michael Heflin is the Global Grants Director at Outright International.

Stephen Leonelli is the LGBTQI+ Program Advisor in the Inclusive Development Hub in USAID’s Bureau for Development, Democracy, and Innovation (DDI).

A Q&A with Michael Heflin and Stephen Leonelli on the Alliance for Global Equality

Michael Heflin (left) and Stephen Leonelli (right)

What is the background of the Alliance for Global Equality? 

[Stephen Leonelli]  The Alliance for Global Equality is the outcome of nearly two years of co-creation with Outright International and the LGBTQ+ Victory Institute.

Our aim was to create a program to support capacity strengthening and activity implementation for LGBTQI+-led organizations in countries where USAID operates. The reason we intentionally chose to center local LGBTQI+-led organizations is that USAID, Outright, and Victory acknowledge that strong LGBTQI+ community-based and civil society organizations are key stakeholders in advancing human rights and social inclusion. Outright International is a trusted intermediary, working with LGBTQI+-led organizations worldwide, especially in challenging operating environments posing localization challenges for USAID.

By supporting our partners’ strengths and expertise, USAID can collaborate with frontline activists who possess valuable insights into the specific needs of each country. 

What unique challenges do organizations supporting LGBTQI+ communities face?

[Michael Heflin]  LGBTQI+ organizations face serious human rights challenges in many countries. This includes continued criminalization of same-sex relations in more than one-third of the world’s countries. Even in many countries no longer criminalizing same-sex relations or expression of gender diversity, LGBTQI+ people continue to face high levels of violence, discrimination, stigma, and exclusion. LGBTQI+ groups struggle to register legally and typically operate on very limited budgets. 

Can you describe the types of organizations Outright is issuing grants to? 

[Heflin]  We’re supporting a range of organizations. Some of them are established and have been around for a while, but many of them are still emerging and young, with limited organizational capacity. The organizations supported through the Alliance for Global Equality are located in about 20 countries across Africa, the Caribbean, Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, the Pacific, and also Latin America. 

How might these organizations face barriers to working with USAID?

[Heflin]  Historically, humanitarian and development agencies have often not been receptive when LGBTQI+ organizations have tried to access resources for their communities. Sometimes this has included direct discrimination from development agencies or their implementing partners. USAID is now playing a leadership role in the development sector in mobilizing more resources for LGBTQI+ inclusion worldwide. 

At the same time, USAID’s requirements can be challenging for small, emerging LGBTQI+ groups to navigate and comply with. This is where intermediaries like Outright play a crucial role in supporting local LGBTQI+ movements to access these vital resources. Over time, these groups can develop their own organizational capacity to manage these resources.

How does Outright strengthen the capacity of partners/grantees to be positioned for success when receiving USAID funding?

[Heflin]  We assess capacity in areas like financial management, oversight, budgeting, and governance structure. Since many organizations we support have limited budgets and staffing, we focus on supporting core organizational development. Given the challenging contexts many work in, we assist in developing advocacy and educational strategies to sensitize key stakeholders and access development resources.

How many local partners/grantees does the Alliance for Global Equality aim to engage? 

[Heflin]  The Alliance is new and recently completed its first call for proposals, receiving nearly 70 applications. We will support groups in 11 or 12 different countries with 13 or 14 grants. Our plan is to have multiple calls for proposals each year, resulting in 10 to 15 grants per call.

As the program evolves, we aim to strike a balance between establishing long-term partnerships and providing responsive funding for innovative initiatives and opportunities.

How does working with the Alliance help local partners/grantees become more prepared for other types of partnership with USAID?

[Heflin]  We closely collaborate with the organizations, requiring regular reporting from them. In turn, we must report back to USAID on a regular basis. This reporting process strengthens the organizations' future capacity, enabling their involvement in other USAID-funded programs or those funded by other development agencies and donors.

For USAID, it's an opportunity to develop better familiarity with these organizations. Some of these groups may become long-term anchor partners that both Outright and USAID wish to collaborate with over an extended period.

[Leonelli]  In many countries, U.S. government engagement with LGBTQI+ organizations occurs through the Embassy and State Department, focusing on human rights reporting and activities. Some may not be aware of the broad spectrum of programming supported by USAID Missions. We aim to connect recipients with Mission staff, expanding their involvement in various activities like economic empowerment and political engagement. This presents a learning opportunity for both Mission staff and staff in Washington to explore long-term partnerships with local groups.

Do you expect that any of the local organizations supported through the Alliance for Global Equality might go on to become direct implementing partners of the Agency?

[Leonelli]  We would welcome that! We're proud of our partnerships managed from Washington, including with Outright, but we also want to see more local organizations in countries where USAID is based become prime recipients and implementers of our programs. We want to represent the full diversity and vibrant community of LGBTQI+-led organizations globally among USAID’s partners.

What advice do you have for U.S.-based organizations that might want to partner with USAID to advance LGBTQI+ inclusive development?

[Heflin]  For U.S.-based groups to be effective internationally, they will need to build visibility and trust with global organizations, which requires time and attentive listening. This should be a reciprocal process of mutual learning and sharing, recognizing that local LGBTQI+ movements must lead the development and implementation of priorities in their respective countries.

U.S.-based international development organizations without prior experience working with LGBTQI+ communities should invest time and resources to acquire knowledge on LGBTQI+ rights and inclusive development. They will also need to build teams from these communities who have knowledge about the communities they’re working with and have local communities’ trust. 

[Leonelli]  The principles of "Do No Harm," "Nothing About Us Without Us," and intersectional thinking are essential for LGBTQI+ inclusive development worldwide. Partnering with Outright is exciting because their trusted relationships with communities ensure that funding reaches LGBTQI+-led organizations and aligns USAID-supported advocacy and programs with local priorities. U.S.-based organizations must ensure their staff understand and identify with these communities, committing to long-term, meaningful partnerships. It requires humility and a willingness to listen to local communities, even when they challenge our approach. Recognizing power dynamics and uplifting the wisdom of existing local groups is crucial for effective LGBTQI+ inclusive development.

For additional resources on locally led LGBTQI+ inclusive development, check out our Resource Library, featuring toolkits for gender and social inclusion and trainings on gender and sexual diversity.

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