Ryan Figueiredo, 42, is an LGBT rights activist whose new NGO, the Equal Asia Foundation (EAF), focuses on the elderly LGBT population. Over the past 20 years, he’s dedicated himself to social development issues—from child nutrition to reproductive rights—in his homeland of India. Ahead of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT), he speaks about why gay rights NGOs so often overlook the aging community.
Why did you set up the EAF?
To address blind spots relating to Asia’s LGBT community. Our four main focuses are: aging and elderly members of the LGBT community; mental health issues, like suicide prevention and harm reduction in young LGBT people; human conflicts; and using technology to end LGBT poverty. There is very little being done about these issues in Thailand, so LGBT people are being left behind. Most organizations react to issues as they happen, but I think there is also space to think about the future and plan ahead to build a better community.
What are your current projects?
We are focussing first on how to bridge the generation gap in the LGBT community, in order to reduce social isolation. Today’s work tends to focus on young people, neglecting the older generation, who didn’t experience the freedom that young LGBT people have today. We’re also focussing on innovative ways to support LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, especially those in countries affected by conflict and natural disasters.
What issues are unique to the aging LGBT community?
Social isolation of older LGBT people is very serious in Thailand, it pushes them into a space of loneliness and all its inherent problems. All you need to do is walk into any gay parties and look around. You will be able to count the number of older LGBT in one hand. Many of the wounds in our movement today are because younger LGBT do not fully appreciate the historical journey that the older generation made to get where we are. In turn, the older generation has little understanding of the challenges of being LGBT in the age of the internet.
How does the situation here compare to other big cities in the region?
From some vantage points, we are doing much better, but we really need to focus on who’s still being left behind, such as lesbian women or transmen, who don’t get to experience the acceptance as much as gay men.
Why do you say Thailand has the chance to become a leader in its region?
Thailand decriminalised homosexuality back in 1956, and the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) recently launched a campaign to promote Thailand as a LGBT friendly destination. Thailand also conducted broad consultations on the Civil Partnership Bill and last year the cabinet tabled the bill. There is every indication that Thailand values how the world perceives it as a tolerant, accepting and progressive society for LGBT and we can help to make the government realize this ambition.