Using Social Media and WorldPulse to Overcome Distance and Lack of Cultural Understanding
The biggest barrier to change in the worldwide community is, quite simply, distance.
I often study and write about problems that impact queer people in different parts of the world--for example, sodomy laws, laws that target trans or gay sex workers, and HIV/AIDS. Though much of the "idea work" can be done anywhere, it is impossible to make change from so many miles away. This is true both due to physical distance--if I'm working on a legal or policy problem on another continent, I can write about that problem, but I can't actually be there to lend support--and a lack of understanding. Though international human rights work is very valuable, it also can be dangerous, as the western LGBT movement has shown in providing many setbacks in the Global South. It isn't helpful to simply show up, claim that there is a problem, and try to fix it. It is crucial to know how gender and sexuality are understood in a particular community, how queer people in that community perceive the problem, and what help is needed. Often, the work I do is theoretical, because I don't have partners in other parts of the world who can, for example, help me to understand their local context for a news piece I am writing, or caution me not to misunderstand a particular facet of the problem when writing an article about strategy on my blog.
Presently, I use the Internet in general, and Web 2.0 in particular, to overcome the barriers of distance and lack of cultural understanding. It is much easier now to do research than it was ten years ago. Social media in particular provides a great opportunity to ask for help. Now that I have a fairly large Twitter network focused on queer issues, I can pose a question through Twitter and get help, or recommendations for other Twitter users that might be able to help me. I can avoid the problem of saying "This is what queer people in X country do" based on a law review article written by a British researcher, and instead simply ask. Social media is also great for idea-sharing. Too many US activists working abroad see international issues as an Us vs. Them situation, failing to recognize the serious problems in our own culture. While working on queer issues abroad, I am highly critical of the way my own society views gender and sexuality. Social media provides an opportunity for activists around the world to share frustrations, bounce ideas off one another, and develop strategies that might be implemented in different areas.
I would, however, like my network to be larger, and I would like more focus so that those of us working on these issues can more easily find each other. One way to do this is to expand my existing network on Twitter. I'm also looking forward to using WorldPulse, particularly Groups and the Resource Exchange. I just created Queer and Trans Rights Worldwide because I noticed that there didn't seem to be a specifically queer-focused group on WorldPulse. There are no members yet, but I hope those of you who have an interest in these issues will join me! I also can see the huge potential of the Resource Exchange for finding those who might have knowledge about the topics I'm writing on, and in turn for providing my own expertise for those dealing with similar problems.