New guidance helps humanitarian organizations support sexual and gender minorities

The LGBTQ pride flag. Photo by: Stock Catalog / CC BY

CANBERRA — A commitment from humanitarian organizations to “leave no one behind” has yet to see one important and vulnerable group included: Sexual and gender minorities.

But the Humanitarian Advisory Group believes that important steps can be taken to plan, prepare, implement, and monitor emergency responses so that they are inclusive of all — including LGBTQ communities. In a recent practice paper released by the group, first steps to delivering responses and services — that truly leave no one behind — are highlighted.

Why are sexual and gender minorities forgotten?

According to the group, sexual and gender minorities are overlooked or excluded in emergency responses due to “a blind spot” — that could be something more.

In researching the inclusion of sexual and gender minorities in humanitarian response for the 10 largest emergencies of this year, the group found zero inclusion of sexual and gender minorities.

“It’s possible that the humanitarian community does not see sexual and gender minorities or is not aware of their different needs,” the report said.

It is also possible that humanitarian responders simply do not consider sexual and gender minorities as groups disadvantaged in emergencies.

As data has become an important part of planning, responding, and reporting on emergencies and associated responses, there is concern that organizations are too reliant on data while not considering its limitations — data is traditionally divided into male and female and is not inclusive of other genders.

Despite the availability of questions surrounding sexual orientation and identification, not all would feel comfortable answering honestly within their country or community. Relying on data to reveal truthful insights into sexual and gender minorities misses the mark, the report noted.

The legal status of sexual and gender minorities within countries can also create a barrier. A total of 75 countries still criminalize same-sex sexual activities, according to the report. The Humanitarian Advisory Group says the lack of protective laws may mean it’s easier for humanitarian responders to overlook this community rather than deal with political challenges.

Creating inclusive humanitarian responses

The Humanitarian Advisory Group identifies six key areas where organizations can better prepare, support, and include sexual and gender minorities as part of emergency responses:


Ensuring policies within organizations support staff, suppliers, partners, and program beneficiaries that are inclusive of sexual and gender minorities is an important first step. But staff additionally need to be trained in incorporating gender and sexual minorities. Furthermore they need to actively engage with civil society organizations and other community groups within target countries to understand how to provide better responses.

Conducting a needs assessment and analysis

The group says it’s important to gather as much information as possible: Talking to CSOs, members of local gender and sexual minority communities, and understanding local social customs and practices. All will assist in understanding needs and barriers that exist for gender and sexual minorities within countries.

But where there is limited local knowledge, assume that at least 5 percent of the community being supported are sexual and gender minorities who will face discrimination and barriers.


Simply “tweaking” current categories and practices can enable greater inclusion. Consulting with CSOs and local sexual and gender minority communities can help to change existing plans to be more inclusive. And ensuring they are included in criteria of vulnerability is important in ensuring they are planned for. Emergency facilities also need to be planned for, including safe spaces and safe access to bathroom and other facilities.

Implementing and monitoring of an emergency response

Humanitarian responders shouldn’t assume that sexual and gender minorities are included in communities being supported — regardless of whether or not they self-identify. And for those that self-identify, privacy for both the data and individuals needs to be maintained for protection and developing a relationship built on trust.

Services in an emergency need to be inclusive, with no questions asked, or assumptions made on who deserves access to services including hygiene kits, contraceptives, and antiretroviral drugs. Humanitarian responders need to monitor their own actions to ensure there is no exclusion or discrimination and they are providing services that support everyone — including gender and sexual minorities.

Resource mobilization

During this stage, make sure support is localized, with organizations supporting gender and sexual minorities a part of the response and support.

Evaluation and learning 

During the process for each humanitarian response, consult with sexual and gender minorities for insights into the level of support provided in the response and where improvements can be made.

Why it is important

In collating existing research, the Humanitarian Advisory Group shows that there is clear evidence of harassment, discrimination, exclusion, and violence that sexual and gender minorities face during times of emergency. Some are even refused assistance from humanitarian organizations or miss out because they do not fit the traditional idea of men or women and their needs.

The advice from the paper does not require organization-wide transformation to change humanitarian responses, just a shift in how they think about social norms.

“While it does require effort, it is not too hard,” the Humanitarian Advisory Group said. “We can move the inclusion of sexual and gender minorities from the ‘too-hard basket’ into the ‘possible basket’ — and leave no one behind.”

About the author

  • Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Senior Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.