When Being LGBT Can Cost You Your Life

A LGBT (Lesbians Gays Bisexuals and Transgenders) couple is silhouetted by their rainbow-colored symbol while waiting to marc
A LGBT (Lesbians Gays Bisexuals and Transgenders) couple is silhouetted by their rainbow-colored symbol while waiting to march around the University of the Philippines campus in an annual event to draw the attention to their issues as gay rights and anti-discrimination Friday, Sept. 11, 2015 at suburban Quezon city northeast of Manila, Philippines. More than a hundred LGBTs joined the march which culminated in a concert.(AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community experiences myriad inequalities all across the globe. There are more than 70 countries where it is illegal to be LGBT, eight where state-sanctioned death penalty is the punishment, and often times, even in countries where being yourself is lawful, many LGBT people are treated as second-class citizens. It is imperative for Sustainable Development Goal 10 to work toward reducing inequalities among all people, including the LGBT community.

At GLAAD, our mission is to accelerate acceptance of LGBT people by utilizing the news media to tell stories of everyday LGBT people and the entertainment media to portray fair and accurate LGBT diversity. We know that you cannot legislate acceptance and that human rights are achieved through a receptive culture. Our global work is built on the foundation that local organizations are the best catalysts for change, and we support them with our media expertise. We've experienced success with this all around the world -- from Nigeria, to Ireland, to Chile, to the United States.

In 2014, Nigeria signed into law the "Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act," which condemns married same-sex couples to 14 years in prison. LGBT advocates in Nigeria noted that the act allowed members of law enforcement to severely violate the human rights of alleged "culprits." Widely supported by members of the Nigerian public, GLAAD partnered with the Bisi Alimi Foundation and The Initiative for Equal Rights in Nigeria to assess Nigerians awareness, perception, and levels of acceptance of the lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) community in the country. The resulting poll showed that while support for the "Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act" was high, it had decreased by almost 10 percent in the past five years -- indicating a positive, albeit gradual, shift. On average, only 17 percent of Nigerians surveyed knew a member of the LGB community in the country; however, that number jumped to 30 percent for respondents between ages 18-24. Given that familiarity with lesbian, gay and bisexual people has led people to a better understanding of the community, this shows promise that the next generation will be even more accepting than previous ones.

Ultimately, the poll showed that Nigerians are not inherently homophobic, but that the absence of accurate information about the LGB community spurs misinformation and negative perceptions. The next step was clear: provide education and information to the general public about the LGB community via films, narratives, and personal stories.

LGBT acceptance in Nigeria is a bit of a conundrum. If more people were out and sharing their stories with loved ones or in the media, acceptance and understanding would improve. However, Nigeria remains a very unsafe place for LGBT people to come out, so there are roadblocks to sharing stories and thus move acceptance forward.

In a completely different context, we find a similar focus on stories and personal relationships. This year,

GLAAD also worked with the YesEquality and #VoteWithUs campaigns in Ireland, providing strategy and messaging used to fight similar marriage-equality referenda in the United States. Here, the goal of our work was to encourage Irish people to vote in favor of marriage equality by building support through understanding. The #VoteWithUs campaign consisted of videos with everyday Irish people telling others why they were going to vote yes. The most popular was of an elderly straight couple, Brighid and Paddy. They were resolute in talking about what marriage has meant for them, and what it can mean for their loved ones who were LGBT.

We were overjoyed when Ireland made marriage equality the law of the land earlier this year by popular vote (though it's always worrisome to see a majority be allowed to vote on the rights of their minority counterparts).

We have also gotten positive feedback on our work in Chile, where GLAAD traveled last year. Advocates there have said our trainings and media work helped inspire everyday people to tell their stories. Chile has seen significant wins in the past year in the realm of relationship recognition and is now in the middle of more high profile debates on LGBT issues.

While our work abroad is very important, we can't forget that even in places like the U.S. where we have achieved full marriage equality, there is still much work to be done. In 2014, GLAAD commissioned a Harris Poll to measure attitudes toward LGBT Americans. We found that Southerners feel significantly greater levels of discomfort around their LGBT family, friends, and neighbors than the country's general population -- which led to the development of our Southern Stories initiative. The inaugural event of the initiative, which aims to accelerate LGBT acceptance across the U.S. South, was the Southern Stories Summer Tour, which traveled across six states in seven days, spotlighting stories of LGBT Southerners in local and national media. By locking arms with local organizations and elevating stories of trial and triumph from the LGBT community in key states, GLAAD was able to increase understanding and, in turn, accelerate acceptance.

By highlighting the personal stories and working alongside local organizations to fully understand regional and cultural-nuanced needs, we can make Goal 10 a reality and reduce inequality by providing knowledge and resources to developing LGBT-rights movements around the world. The most secluded neighborhood is the human heart, and that is where our work must be directed to realize our greatest possibilities.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, "What's Working: Sustainable Development Goals," in conjunction with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The proposed set of milestones will be the subject of discussion at the UN General Assembly meeting on Sept. 25-27, 2015 in New York. The goals, which will replace the UN's Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015), cover 17 key areas of development -- including poverty, hunger, health, education, and gender equality, among many others. As part of The Huffington Post's commitment to solutions-oriented journalism, this What's Working SDG blog series will focus on one goal every weekday in September. This post addresses Goal 10.

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