Every year in June, the international community celebrates the month of Pride, a time dedicated to amplifying the voices of the LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) community, their lived experiences and their right to safety regardless of their sexual or gender identity.
Many leaders in the Asia-Pacific are driving initiatives to ensure that all people are respected and confident to use their voice to fight discrimination, homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia online and offline. They are raising awareness of LGBTQ+ rights online, commemorating Pride and listening to the stories and experiences of individuals who have faced injustices. These leaders are behind the pride movement in the region. They have worked together to build a strong voice online and create supportive and inclusive communities, all while enduring online harassment.
Getting and Staying Online
Around 4 billion people still don’t have access to the internet – globally, 55% of households are still without internet, and the majority offline are the vulnerable and marginalized communities in low-and middle-income countries. While the internet has created a space for LGBTQ+ people to find community, understanding, and safety – many remain offline. When they do get online, they often face harassment, public humiliation and bullying, which often keeps them offline.
Midnight Poonkasetwattana, Executive Director of APCOM Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Thailand working across the Asia-Pacific region, has been part of the global community to advocate and amplify the voices of marginalized groups. For Midnight, “having a voice online is imperative” for the LGBTQ+ community. He added, “many are still without a voice because they feel scared or victimised online. The internet can bring out the worst in people, but it also brings out the best when a collective group advocates for freedom of expression. Most of these vulnerable communities are not only left behind in the digital world, but they are left out of global forums and meetings that advocate for the unconnected. Covid-19 has amplified the inequality in our society. Connecting humanity by 2030 is going to get tough if our voices keep getting shut down on the internet.”
“Fear causes bad behaviour on the internet, and when marginalized and vulnerable communities like the LGBTQ+ community use the internet and technologies to restore their identity and preserve a safe space, it gives them a sense of respect. People think we don’t have the power to change things, but we do, and we will keep fighting for equity, dignity and social justice,” says Poonkasetwattana.
In response to the discrimination and violence the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups face online, the Web Foundation has bought together tech companies with civil society and marginalized communities to address and find solutions for online violence.
Closing the digital divide for the LGBTQ+ Community
To close the digital gap and ensure digital inclusion, the Web Foundation developed the REACT framework to focus on Rights, Education, Access, Content, and Targets. The internet can’t guarantee a safe and empowering space unless everyone’s rights are protected online and everyone has affordable, meaningful and free access to an open internet.
The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI)and the Web Foundation uses the REACT framework to provide this community with a voice on the internet, social media and other digital technologies. A4AI and the Web Foundation believe that one voice can inspire others, and one voice can start a great movement. The stories told by the LGBTQ+ community across digital platforms must continue to be amplified and bring attention to the injustices faced by the community.
To ensure we achieve the universal access goal of 2030 and that the internet is a truly inclusive space, we call on all stakeholders – governments, the private sector and the public sector- to take the following actions:
- to implement policies that address the digital divide and ensure that everyone is connected;
- to ensure that every citizen has the right to stay connected – we are simply asking the governments, private and public sectors to make the internet accessible and more meaningful to these communities – we need to close the digital divide and empower the voiceless on the internet;
- to end internet shutdowns that violate their right to access the internet;
- to develop strategies and policy targets to make progress towards providing affordable, free and meaningful connectivity for marginalized communities like the LGBTQ+ community;
- to protect fundamental rights of the LGBTQ+ community and ensure freedom of speech and privacy, and that policy, legislative, and regulatory processes uphold their digital rights;
- to end online-based violence against the LGBTQ+ community;
- to close the digital gap by giving the LGBTQ+ community a voice online.
A4AI looks forward to working with governments, the private sector, and the public sector to achieve these goals.