As LGBT people face discrimination, harassment and violence across the globe, advocates are risking jobs, safety, and, sometimes, their very lives for justice and equality.
Below, we honor eight incredible activists improving the lives of LGBT people everywhere from Armenia to Uganda. They’re on our radar, and need to be on yours, too.
For more information on international LGBT issues, visit Logo’s Global Ally page.
Khader Abu Seif, Israel
As a Palestinian, Khader Abu Seif is fighting for acceptance in two worlds: He is shunned by his fellow Arabs for being gay, and discriminated against by the Israeli government for being Palestinian.
“I need to fight in front of my community. We have LGBT in our community. It is a new discussion happening now,” he told NNN. “I want a lot of Arab teenage boys and girls to feel comfortable to be whoever they are.”
But Abu Seif, the subject of the documentary Orientated, is not just fighting for LGBT rights in Palestine—he also fights for Palestinian acceptance in Israel: “Not all of us are terrorists. We just want to be equal like everyone,” he says. “When there is tension, living as a Palestinian can be difficult. I had to be careful what language I speak in public. Every time you are in the bus and you talk in Arabic everybody looks up.”
At the same time, he wants the media to start telling diverse stories about gay Arabs: “I want to be a positive role model so people can say, ’If he can make it, than so can I.’ I want to be loyal to my roots. Listen, I am gay and we are going to talk about. I am Palestinian and we need to talk about it.”
Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, Uganda
The editor of Bombastic, Uganda’s first LGBT publication, and directer of Freedom and Roam Uganda, Nabagesera has been beating the drum for equality for years. In 2012, she filmed a YouTube video protesting her homeland’s heinous Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
“More than ever, the world shouldn’t neglect the human rights of LGBT people, because we are here to stay—and part and parcel of the development of this world,” Nabagesera told the The Advocate.
“All we need is respect, and protection from violence, and our basic inalienable human rights. Speaking out and bringing attention to the plight of LGBT people is life. I will not be silenced by anyone.”
Subhi Nahas, Syria
Nahas, a gay Syrian refugee, had to flee his homeland after being threatened with death when his family learned of his sexuality.
In 2015, he became the first person to present testimony to the United Nations Security Council regarding ISIS’ persecution of LGBT Iraqis and Syrians. He was granted asylum in the U.S, where he now works to help other LGBT people in the Middle East earn refugee status in the West.
“I lived there. I’ve been there,” he says. “So I know exactly how it feels when you’re under persecution and your life is under threat. I know you just want someone to help you get out of there.”
Nahas was selected to be a grand marshal at the 2016 New York City LGBT Pride March, and was honored at Logo Trailblazer Honors the same year for his bravery and dedication.
Ivana Fred, Puerto Rico
“I began working in community health 10 years ago, offering HIV education to the LGBT community here in Puerto Rico,” explains veteran trans activist Ivana Fred, who was profiled in the 2014 documentary Mala Mala, along with other members of Puerto Rico’s trans and drag communities as they battle employment discrimination, violence and other hardships.
“I feel tremendous pride about this film. I never thought it would go around the world, but here it is, showing in other countries,” she says. “What I feel really proud about is how diverse it is—it shows different lives of people who identify as trans: people who are older, those who are younger; those who are sex workers and those who own their own businesses.”
Harish Iyer, India
When Iyer’s mother tried to place an ad for a boyfriend for him in a Mumbai newspaper, she was rejected numerous times. India is still a very conservative country, and homosexuality is technically illegal.
“As an organization, we have always supported equal rights for everyone, regardless of religion, caste, sexual orientation, the color of the skin, or whatever,” said Sachin Kalbag, executive editor of Mid-Day, the paper that ended up running the ad.. “When the gay matrimony ad came to our office, we did not even think twice about publishing it.”
But Iyer’s been an important activist in his own right—fighting for the decriminalization of homosexuality, and speaking frankly about sex abuse at a Ted X conference. In 2013, the Guardian listed him on its World Pride Power List, the only Indian on the list.
Kenita Placide, St. Lucia
After her father’s suicide, Placide struggled with depression before working with United and Strong, an LGBT advocacy group in the small Caribbean country. Soon after, she was chosen to speak publicly against anti-gay legislation at the Constitutional Reform Commission.
Placide has led United and Strong through many hardships, including being held at knifepoint and the group’s headquarters being vandalized and torched.
“Every single thing was gone, but that did not stop United and Strong. That didn’t stop me,” she confided in 2015. “We got this new space to help continue building the work we do: representing the community and bringing them together. It is necessary to continue educating and sensitizing the general public. And I will continue being a voice.”
Placide insists that regardless of the challenges she’s faced, “I have built a family, not just locally and nationally [but] regionally and internationally. ”
Mamikon Hovsepyan, Armenia
Homosexuality has been legal in Armenia since 2003, but incidents of discrimination, harrasment and violence are not uncommon, in part due to the influence of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Hovsepyan is director of Public Information and Need for Knowledge (PINK), the leading LGBT rights group in the country.
“We are focused on LGBT human-rights protection and advocacy, and we use all the mechanisms—mostly international organizations—to bring change, slowly,” he tells NNN. “But it’s also very important for us to empower LGBT people here in Armenia—we need more community members to join the movement and make changes together.”
In 2014, he was one of 60 people publicly outed in by the tabloid Iravunk, which linked to their Facebook profiles and called on readers to shun them. Those outed were harassed and threatened, and one man was unable to return to Iran after the list was published.
PINK supported a lawsuit against Iravunk but the courts ruled in favor of the tabloid, and made the plaintiffs pay court fees.
“Hate speech in Armenia is rising day by day,” he shared. “The homophobic media has the support of government officials and promotes aggression and hate toward LGBT people.”
Hovsepyan points to PINK surveys that show that LGBT people face violence and discrimination in every sphere, from their families to healthcare, education, and the government. “That is the reason we have low number of people taking the cases to police or court.”
Monica Shahi, NepalPRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images
In 2015 Monica Shahi made history as the first person to receive a Nepalese passport with designation “O,” or “other”—the status given to those who identify outside of the male/female gender binary.
“This recognition in the passport is the result of a long struggle and today we are proud that our country has taken this step,” Pinky Gurung, president of LGBT group Blue Diamond Society told IndiaTV.
Nepal is now one of seven countries to legally recognize more than two genders, and Shahi played a huge role in the new policy.