April 20, 2016
DAI this week hosted Chloe Schwenke for a presentation in its Bethesda office. Schwenke is a leading voice in the efforts to integrate sexual minorities into the work of the international development community.
An openly transgender woman, Schwenke has dedicated the past 10 years of her life to promoting the basic needs and rights of people in developing nations who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI).
DAI's Jean Gilson, from left, and Chloe Schwenke currently serve on SID-Washington Board together.
She was selected as the 2013 Distinguished Alumna of the Year by the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland. In that same year, she was honored with the National Public Service Award, presented by the National Center for Transgender Equality. In 2012, she received the Meritorious Honor Group Award from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for her service on the Policy Task Team that drafted the new Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance Strategy. From 2010 to 2013, she was appointed by President Barack Obama to guide USAID in devising guidelines around how to work with sexual minorities.
The resulting Vision for Action is a good starting point in grappling with the issues facing LGBTI people in developing nations, Schwenke told an audience of some 60 people in Bethesda.
“All LGBTI people are human beings, everywhere,” Schwenke said. “Learning about their daily challenges may awaken in each of us the awareness that this remains a very, very troubled planet for the vast majority of our LGBTI sisters and brothers. We have no justification whatsoever to think the war for global equality and universal human dignity is even close to being won.”
With nearly 80 countries criminalizing homosexuality, working with LGBTI communities can be challenging for development organizations and dangerous for the people involved. Among other recommendations, Schwenke suggests that development organizations seek out entrenched and trusted local groups that work in developing countries and gain their confidence; invest in new monitoring and evaluation tools that can safely elicit insight from LGBTI people; and work to spread awareness by becoming better educated about the terminology and diversity within the various LGBTI communities.
Schwenke currently serves on the boards of Alturi, the International Development Ethics Association, and the Society for International Development Washington DC chapter. Her forthcoming book, “Self-ish,” to be published by Red Hen Press in 2017, is an account of her life and work.
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