Recognizing the resilience of LGBTQI+ people facing online violence

For LGBTQI+ journalists and public figures around the world, online harassment is a pervasive and growing problem. These digital threats have real effects on the lives of LGBTQI+ people, harming victims’ mental health, potentially escalating to offline attacks, and halting access to resources such as healthcare for queer communities. 

Many CAOV members are working on innovative ways to protect LGBTQI+ communities from online attacks, especially in places where homophobic and transphobic legislation is escalating around the world.

This month, we spoke to Alexandra Haché and Xeenarh Mohammed from the Digital Defenders Partnership about their initiatives for LGBTQI+ communities and how they are leveraging community resilience to combat violence. 

Read more about their Bessy Ferrera Fund here

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Can you describe some of the ways you support LGBTQI+ communities who are facing online violence? 

Alexandra Haché: We have an incident emergency fund for activists that are facing digital threats and gender-based violence online. We have regional and community funds, which are more long term, setting up holistic security protection for organizations to understand the risks they’re facing and improve the digital, physical, and psychosocial infrastructure…We have one fund that is specifically oriented to the LGBT community, the Bessy Ferrara Fund. The fund was created as a partnership between DDP and Right Here Right Now – Hivos, starting in 2020 after the assassination of LGBT activist Bessie Ferrara in Honduras. 

Have you observed any recent trends in attacks against LGBTQI+ communities?

Xeenarh Mohammed, Africa regional program manager: People have normalized online violence. They just take it on the chin and they move on unless their websites are being targeted or they’ve lost access to their online accounts. We hardly ever get reports. But groups on the ground are reporting an increase in online violence, especially toward queer people with the rise of homophobia and transphobia in Eastern Africa specifically…

For trends that we’re seeing from the support requests we get from the Bessy Ferrera Fund, there has been a rise of people being outed, forced evictions, and homelessness…People are also being physically harassed on the streets more often [in Eastern Africa] because again, with the rise of this kind of rhetoric in the news, people feel entitled to take matters into their own hands, so we’ve had a lot of medical interventions. 

How are you using community networks to combat violence toward LGBTQI+ communities?

XM: When DDP started, it was a couple of people based in Europe providing help across the world, and then we started having regional teams. As things grew, we realized that we cannot offer help and solutions to groups that we don’t belong to.

AH: It creates capacity on the ground outside of our organization through networks of support and solidarity. This helps appropriate holistic security practices and create knowledge on the ground. 

How have you seen the resilience of LGBTQI+ communities in your work? 

XM: Resilience is really something that has shown itself at this time. There has been a lot of organizing challenging this law [in Uganda] and swift coordination within groups. Again, this is not the first time that queer groups in the African continent are going through this kind of intense attacks. Many of these countries have tried to pass these laws before. So there’s more capacity and more resilience. We are seeing that opposition in action. 

What advice do you have for people who are facing severe online attacks?

AH: The first thing is finding a trusted person that loves you, that can listen to you so you don’t have to handle this burden alone. When you need to start making a risk analysis, dealing with possible physical threats, or documenting attacks, you don’t want to do it alone.

XM: There are a ton of resources available specifically for queer individuals. There are organizations who work on the frontlines to ensure that LGBT people can access help that is contextual and relevant to the kind of digital threats that we face — and to find community.