November Featured Advocates: LGBT RPCV’s
By Jessica Agostinelli on Tuesday, November 5th, 2013
Host country culture, social adjustment, and displacement are common challenges faced by Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs). For Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgendered (LGBT) PCVs, these difficulties can be significantly more challenging. While key progress has been made for LGBT volunteers and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs), there are still inequalities and unique challenges for this group. However, much of the resources and representation achieved for LGBT rights in recent years has been due to the work of the LGBT RPCVs, an NPCA member group that is this month’s featured advocate.
LGBT RPCVs formed in 1991 when a group in the Washington, DC area got together to discuss the challenges and problems faced by certain Peace Corps Volunteers due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. They saw the need for representation within the Peace Corps community, and decided to organize to achieve positive change.
Challenges faced by LGBT PCVs range from alienation to violence and hostility. According to Mike Learned (Malawi 1963-65), president of LGBT RPCVs, “[the] greatest risks and challenges usually come from their sexuality in countries and cultures where same sex relationships are frowned on or even severely punished. Thus almost all LGBT volunteers remain closeted or at least very discrete in their host communities.” Learned says like women and minorities, LGBT people run the risk of their efforts being obstructed by their identity. The issue is compacted by the fact that LGBT people do not have full equality in the United States with regard to marriage and discrimination. Therefore, it is even more difficult to advocate for equality in a governmental agency.
The goal of LGBT RPCVs is to provide networks of LGBT individuals affiliated with the Peace Corps in order to create networks and dialogue on these issues. Information and education plays a great role in these efforts. Learned says “although Peace Corps has addressed policy changes that we have long advocated to improve the lives and working conditions of LGBT PCVs, there’s still a lot of work to do to keep fair treatment ongoing and consistent. We expect Peace Corps to continue its outreach to the LGBT community at large, actively recruiting LGBT volunteers…Of most importance is providing in-country support and information about the realities of living as an LGBT volunteer in a particular country and various communities within those countries.”
Through these efforts, crucial changes have been made in Peace Corps policies, such as allowing same sex couples to be assigned together, the inclusion of sexual orientation in the Peace Corps’ non-discriminatory statement, allowing HIV positive individuals to serve if they are in good health, and including examples of LGBT individuals in recruitment materials.
Congratulations to Mike Learned and the LGBT RPCVs on their outstanding advocacy efforts and the positive change that has resulted.