Despite anti-discrimination legislation to protect the rights of sexual minorities in Venezuela, sexual orientation and gender identity remain taboo and sensitive issues. In 2008, Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled that no individual may be discriminated against or treated in an unequal fashion because of their sexual orientation. However, the following year, 19 gay men and lesbian women were arbitrarily arrested, verbally and physically abused, and detained by the police. In addition, violence against transgender people significantly increased, causing some to voice concerns about the lack of legal protections for the LGBT community.
Recognizing the need to promote awareness and acceptance of sexual diversity, the Asociación Civil de Planificación Familiar (PLAFAM) was an early pioneer in sexual rights work in Venezuela and was among the first to integrate respect for sexual diversity into its policies, programs, organizational networks, and services. Discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation is against the law, and PLAFAM wanted to create a rights-based, non-discriminatory organizational culture. So, they measured the opinions and attitudes of staff, management, and Board members, then used the results to develop and implement staff sensitization and training on issues relating to sexual diversity and sexual rights.
Guidelines on sexual diversity were developed to aid the integration of sexual diversity into all of PLAFAM’s programs, policies and practices. PLAFAM also set up a referral and counter-referral system with a network of local experts and organizations that work with sexual minorities. This project led to fundamental organizational changes, creating a rights-based and non-discriminatory workplace environment where staff is able to deliver a more responsive, appropriate, and tailored approach to care.
Taking their perspective into the community, PLAFAM used innovative and engaging outreach techniques to educate the public about sexual diversity, respect for different sexual orientations, and acceptance of various gender identities. They collaborated with likeminded partners in order to use resources most efficiently and reach the largest number of people possible with creative communication techniques. These outreach activities raised public awareness of sexual rights as being human rights and increased people’s understanding of the laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
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PLAFAM’s use of drama activities and interactive discussions promoted safe sexual health practices, particularly among youth, and encouraged people to think critically about their attitudes and beliefs about sexuality and gender. By the end of the project, they had reached over 1,000 people with messages that promote sexual rights, encourage respect for sexual diversity, and challenge traditional gender roles and stereotypes.
It is often challenging for people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities to accept and be open about their sexuality. This is particularly hard for people who live in an environment where their rights are not known or respected. In Venezuela, PLAFAM provides essential support, tools, and information about sexual diversity. Its work plays an essential role in empowering sexual minorities throughout the country and improving their emotional well-being.