Transforming media engagement into results

23 December 2015

Members of Being LGBTI in Asia and civil society partners take part in the Taipei Pride march following the 6th ILGA-Asia conference. Photo: Edmund Settle/UNDP.

In 2015 the Being LGBTI in Asia programme, a partnership between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Embassy of Sweden in Bangkok and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), received significant coverage in local and global media and achieved substantial growth in social media followers and online engagement. This wide and diverse coverage of the programme in news outlets and online forums shows the strength and impact of a well-implemented communication strategy.

The Being LGBTI in Asia programme promotes its activities and disseminates lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) relevant content through its social media accounts. It utilizes Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram and Medium to communicate key results and distribute videos, press releases and blog articles to a wide audience. The impact of the programme’s social media engagement is measured by the number of people reached on social media, the increase in Facebook likes and Twitter followers and the number of views and shares on webpages and social media accounts.

In December of 2015, the Being LGBTI in Asia Facebook page surpassed 20,000 likes from over 45 countries, while the Twitter page has over 4,300 followers. The numbers were aided by strong communications efforts around the 26–27 February 2015 Regional Dialogue on LGBTI Human Rights and Health in Asia-Pacific in Bangkok, Thailand. During the dialogue, the hashtag #BeingLGBTI reached almost 6 million unique people on Twitter and a video of UNDP Administrator Helen Clark giving opening remarks was viewed on Facebook over 32,000 times. #BeingLGBTI continues to be used as the programme hashtag and is consistently used across all of our social media activities. Throughout the last year, an increasing number of partners and community members have begun to use the hashtag across their own social media accounts. The growth in followers and interaction with the Being LGBTI in Asia accounts is sustained and promises to continue into 2016.

During implementation of the Being LGBTI in Asia year one work plan, efforts were made to identify key messages in the following thematic areas (advancing rights and inclusion, health, education, access to employment, legal gender recognition, youth and families) and connect target audiences in order to maximize impact utilizing specific distribution channels.

One of the highlights in media coverage was a 10-part series published by the Huffington Post on LGBT rights in Southeast Asia, Being LGBT in Southeast Asia: Stories of Abuse, Survival and Tremendous Courage. The Huffington Post has over 5.5 million Facebook and 6.5 million Twitter followers and is one of the most popular international online newspapers with over 200 million unique readers each month. Over 10 days the Huffington Post profiled the situation of LGBT people in 10 Southeast Asian countries with an emphasis on criminalization and experiences of stigma, discrimination and marginalization. Five of the country articles (Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Viet Nam) included specific reference to the Being LGBTI in Asia country reports and their findings. Other countries profiled included Brunei, Malaysia, Myanmar, Lao PDR and Singapore for which the author, in the absence of a Being LGBTI in Asia country report, included inputs from key LGBTI civil society activists such as Jean Chong in Singapore, Dede Oetomo in Indonesia, as well as UNDP’s Edmund Settle, the Policy Advisor for the Being LGBTI in Asia programme.

“An active civil society will likely further necessary progressive social and legal change that will advance LGBT peoples’ rights, health and well-being. All citizens have a right to be treated equally in society, irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
 — Klas Molin, Swedish Ambassador to Thailand at the launch of Being LGBTI in Asia phase two in Bangkok, 24 February 2015

In local English media, a number of news outlets including the Bangkok Post and the Fridae (Singapore) reported on the launch of phase two of the programme in February 2015. The New Zealand Daily News reported on the launch of the Report of the Regional Dialogue on LGBTI Human Rights and Health in Asia Pacific. The Nation (Thailand) and Vietnam News published feature articles highlighting progress in the area of human rights for LGBTI people on the occasion of the launch of the flagship regional report summary Leave No One Behind: Advancing the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.

“The Leave No One Behind report outlines the many opportunities for collaboration and obstacles that lie in the path towards true equality and respect for the human rights of LGBTI people in the region. It provides us with a clear road map on how to overcome these obstacles and is therefore an incredibly valuable tool for governments, civil society and other development stakeholders.”
 — Ted Osius, U.S. Ambassador to Viet Nam at the launch of the Leave No One Behind report in Hanoi, 14 October 2015
LGBT advocates and UNDP China were noted for “changing the lives of LGBT people in China” by GaySpot magazine, the largest LGBT magazine in China (March 2015).

The country report of China was referenced in Chinasquare while the Indonesia country report was mentioned in the Jakarta Post during an advocacy interview with Kevin Halim of the Asia Pacific Transgender Network, one of the key regional partners of the programme. Additionally, The Bangkok Post wrote about the New Gender Equality Act in Thailand, which was launched by the Royal Thai Government in collaboration with UNDP. The media coverage of these events coincided with press releases drafted and sent out by Being LGBTI Asia for all major events and activities.

On International Youth Day, 12 August 2015, UNDP and Being LGBTI in Asia worked with UNESCO to launch the #PurpleMySchool campaign. The aim of the online campaign was to raise awareness of school bullying of LGBTI people based on their sexuality and gender identity. On its Facebook page the campaign garnered over 13,000 likes while 22 schools in 11 countries held specific events for the campaign and many more engaged in sharing the campaign’s messages. Campaign materials were translated into six languages (Bahasa Indonesia, Chinese, English, Hindi, Nepali, Thai and Vietnamese).

The campaign attracted significant media coverage referencing Being LGBTI in Asia, including: the Queer Mango, Prachathai, Brondong Manis, the Nation on two occasions, Magdalene, Gay Star News, the Fridae and Một Thế Giới.

During the LGBTI pride month in the Philippines, the Manila Times highlighted the programme’s work in strengthening partnerships and empowering networks of LGBTI people and groups across the Asia-Pacific region, developing an understanding of the capacity of LGBTI organizations to engage in policy dialogue, and spurring community mobilization. The Philippine Online Chronicles also picked up the Being LGBTI in Asia and UNESCO video “Teachers Matter” which addresses school bullying, violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation gender identity and expression via social media and helped to promote the #PurpleMySchool campaign.

Indirect references to the programme’s activities are also found in the media, such as an article on transgender issues in the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake and coverage of the documentary film Mama Rainbow (China) about parents of LGBT children. On the other hand, while few in number, there have been instances of negative coverage, such as an article that attempted to paint the programme as proof of Western promotion of an anti-Islamic agenda at odds with traditional values.

The programme also received global coverage. Reuters published an article entitled “Families must end LGBT violence and improve rights in Asia”. The regional dialogue meeting in February was featured in Gay Star News and Washington Blade, while the Miami Herald and the Huffington Post covered International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) Day celebrations.

Further global reference included numerous other organizations referenced in Being LGBTI in Asia country reports, policy documents and research. For instance, the White House referenced the programme in their Fact Sheet on Promoting and Protecting the Human Rights of LGBT Persons: A United States Government Priority. The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada cited the Indonesia country report on the social environment and perception of LGBT people from a religious standpoint.

The Organization of American States published a short article and video on the Regional Dialogue, providing further visibility. The programme was also recognized as a unique initiative in the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association State Sponsored Homophobia 2015 report. The Human Rights Campaign‘s website references the programme in their coverage of the release of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights report on Discrimination and violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. The Open Society Foundation references Being LGBTI in Asia in their legal gender recognition issue brief License to Be Yourself: Marriage and Forced Divorce.

The programme is also credited with inspiring similar work outside the region, such as a research study on LGBT in West Africa modelled after the first phase of Being LGBTI in Asia. Additionally the programme is mentioned on the SAIS Center for Transatlantic Relations’ Equality Blog in a post entitled LGBTI Exclusion: The Slow Graduation from a Cultural to a Development Issue on tremendous efforts in LGBTI rights advocacy and research.

Another aspect of the Being LGBTI in Asia media outreach priorities is direct engagement with media professionals. To this end, the programme has organized media roundtables in China, Indonesia and Thailand in conjunction with prominent media institutions. (The Philippines will host a roundtable in 2016). These roundtables brought together journalists, editors and media professionals from print media, TV and new media as well as academics and civil society representatives to discuss the role of the media in creating a more open and embracing society towards sexual and gender minorities. At the end of each event an LGBTI media fellowship programme was announced to provide an opportunity for journalists to work with community groups on LGBTI issues and promote more balanced, supportive reporting. The ultimate goal is to establish a network of media professionals receptive to positively advocating on LGBTI issues.

In China, 33 participants attended a media roundtable organized by UNDP in partnership with the Media and Communications Department of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the Beijing Gender and Health Education Institute.

In Thailand, 37 participants including journalists from print, TV and online media as well as academic and civil society representatives attended a media roundtable entitled “Thai Society and Gender Diversity in Thai Media” organized by UNDP Thailand in partnership with the ISRA Institute of Thai Press Development.

In Indonesia, UNDP in collaboration with the Indonesian Journalist Alliance (AJI) conducted a meeting of 20 editors from five cities (Jakarta, Surabaya, Bali, Medan, and Makassar) to enhance understanding of the importance of addressing stigma and discrimination against LGBTI people in media.

Perhaps one of the biggest indications of the successful communication efforts of the programme was the participation of Charles Chauvel, the Inclusive Political Processes Team Leader for UNDP, on the Pop Culture Hero Coalition panel “End Bullying: Becoming a Superhero in Real Life” at Comic-Con 2015. The Pop Culture Hero Coalition is the first organization to make a stand against bullying, racism, misogyny, cyber-bullying, LGBTI-bullying and other forms of hate at pop culture conferences, using the phenomenal popularity of comics, film and TV to discuss social justice issues. The invitation to discuss the programme at a major international popular culture event demonstrates that the programme is overcoming barriers between the public and private sphere and is reaching people beyond general activist and governmental circles.

Being LGBTI in Asia would like to acknowledge our partners for their guidance and outstanding support, including Out Leadership, Pink Dot (Singapore) and B-Change, and the communications teams from UNESCO, UNDP, USAID and the Embassy of Sweden in Bangkok.

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