How much further does the LGBTQIA+ community have to go in different parts of the world to achieve human rights, equality, and acceptance?
Hotjar kicked off its month-long celebration of Pride with a panel to educate and provide context on diverse parts of the LGBTQIA+ community. Like last year's panel on LGBTQIA+ Representation in the Workplace, the purpose of this discussion was to raise awareness about the LGBTQIA+ community and help people become allies.
Hotjar’s Director of Brand Christian Schorm (he/him) spoke to three activists, one from the Global North (Poland) and two from the Global South (Mauritius and Guyana), to highlight the particular challenges that their communities face.
Certain parts of the LGBTQIA+ community don't receive much of a spotlight. And parts of the community are especially targeted in some places.
To highlight diverse parts of the community, we heard from:
Anjeelee Kaur Beegun (she/her): a human rights consultant from Mauritius who identifies as asexual.
Joel Simpson (he/him): managing director of SASOD Guyana.
Mateusz Sulwiński (he/him): former president of Grupa Stonewall, one of the largest LBGTQIA+ organizations in Poland.
You can find the speakers' bios at the end of this article.
This panel is part of a month-long celebration of Pride at Hotjar. It is an example of our ongoing commitment to inspire change through empathy. This is at the core of everything we do at Hotjar, and we’re proud to show you what this looks like in action.
What challenges does your community face, and how are you tackling them?
As an asexual person of color, Anjeelee realized that most conversations and advocacy in the LGBTQIA+ space centered around gay white men. In response, she co-founded a more representative organization called RekonekT. Their work focuses on the responsibility of society rather than LGBTQIA+ individuals when it comes to equal rights.
We don’t talk about empowering people but removing the structural barriers that prevent people from exercising their own power.
So if a person’s family is homophobic, the answer is not to simply tell them to leave. This is often unrealistic and unsustainable. Sure, a person might be able to get temporary refuge in a shelter, but what happens after that? Anjeelee’s organization tries to work with families to rebuild relationships. Likewise, they work with employers to help them understand why it’s important to create a safe space for LGBTQIA+ employees within companies.
Currently, her main project is to build a safe harbor for LGBTQIA+ people who have suffered violence or been rejected from their families. A place where people can stay, rest, learn new skills, or develop their own businesses. But making the project self-sustainable is key:
“One of the drawbacks of depending on funding is that the moment the funding is cut, you have to close your doors,” she said.
For this reason, RekonekT cultivates its own businesses and agriculture to create and maintain this safe harbor.
In Poland, self-sustainability is also a key challenge, as Mateusz from Grupa Stonewall explained:
“We have similar problems because you can’t really depend on public funding, since there is none.”
To tackle this, his organization operates a business-NGO model. They run an online store, a bar, a nightclub, and a hostel to fund their NGO activities. These spaces are used for profit and purpose. For example, the bar offers queer performers a safe platform where they can express themselves, and the hostel doubles up as a shelter for homeless LGBTQIA+ people. Their latest venture is a clinic that provides some sexual health services for free while charging for others.
Critical health services are also lacking in the LGBTQIA+ community in Guyana. Joel’s organization SASOD Guyana provides sexual and mental health services for its community. It also tackles discriminatory and human rights laws. The organization just recently overturned law criminalizing cross-dressing, after spending eight years fighting it in court.
You can’t just change laws and policies. If you don’t change attitudes, you’ll still have violence.
One of their main challenges is changing hearts and minds, which they do with their education program. For example, in 2019, they became the first organization to provide LGBTQIA+ training to police in Guyana.
Tell us about your personal experiences of gender and sexuality
For Mateusz, it was simple: he always knew that he was a gay man. However, he knows many people who came to a realization about their own sexuality later on in life and finds these stories fascinating.
Joel is one of those people for whom it was not so simple. He realized he was most attracted to boys as an adolescent, but societal cues told him that this was unacceptable and something to be hidden. He dated girls up until the end of high school and secretly had boyfriends on the side. At the age of about 18, the situation became too messy.
It was like some kind of Netflix soap opera. And I was like, you’re not going to live this kind of life. You’re gonna accept yourself, and people are just gonna have to come around to it.
But although Joel decided to live openly as a gay man in Guyana, he continued to face challenges. He was bullied as a law student at university, and on June 17th, 2019, he became the victim of a hate crime. He was buying breakfast alone at a local spot after a night out when a gang of guys attacked him and beat him up. The attack involved the relative of a local drug dealer, and Joel was forced to drop criminal proceedings under the threat of violence.
We need to be understanding and allow people the freedom to choose what they want to identify with.
Anjeelee spoke about the problematic nature of labels:
“All of us experience our sexual orientation, attraction, and love very differently, and each person has a very specific experience of it. We can’t all really tick boxes to say okay, I’m lesbian, I’m gay, I’m asexual.”
She went on to describe the broad spectrum of identities that fall under the label of asexuality. Strictly speaking, asexuality refers to people who feel little or no sexual attraction. However, there are also people who are demisexual, who might feel sexual attraction if there’s a strong emotional bond. Or reciprosexual people, who feel sexual attraction only if they know another person is sexually attracted to them.
Some people are asexual but feel romantic attraction, while others are both asexual and aromantic. So if someone is asexual and homoromantic—meaning that they feel romantic attraction towards the same sex—they might tell you that they are gay. Often, the labels available to people are limiting, since sexuality is a spectrum and can also be fluid.
This echoed Joel’s statements that in many cultures, there was not enough space for people to explore their identity. This lack of space was sometimes responsible for people’s late realizations about their own sexuality and expression.
What wins have you had recently?
Mateusz explained that it had been a hard few years in Poland as the country’s ultra-conservative government has made the LGBTQIA+ community out to be the enemy.
This resulted in hate speech from politicians, anti-LGBTQIA+ propaganda in state-controlled public media, and so-called ‘LGBT-free zones’—legal acts by local governments declaring themselves free of LGBT ideology. These acts covered a third of the country at some point and were an expression of anti-LGBTQIA+ sentiment in local politics. Most of those were withdrawn after legal challenges and EU threats to cut funding, but one effect is that it strengthened the community.
In 2018, there were about nine pride parades in Poland, and in 2019, there were thirty. The main reason for that was this anger that we felt. A lot of people decided: I can’t do nothing anymore. I have to act. I have to do something.
Mateusz feels that the community is more united and motivated now: When a new government comes in, they’ll be ready to demand the changes they’ve been waiting for.
How does life vary for LGBTQIA+ members living in the Global North vs. the Global South?
Anjeelee highlighted some parallels between all three counties. She said that the violence and hate that Joel had described could have happened to someone in Mauritius. And Mattheusz’s examples from Poland showed that just because certain rights and progress had been made in some regions, it did not mean they couldn’t regress again.
I think being an LGBTQIA+ person in the Global North and the Global South can sometimes be very different experiences, just as they can be very similar experiences.
However, in countries like Mauritius and Guyana in the Global South, colonization created additional challenges.
For example, in Mauritius, same-sex relationships are still criminalized due to a law imposed by its French colonizers. Even though France eventually decriminalized homosexuality after the French Revolution, these same freedoms were not afforded to its colonies. In the 1800s, Mauritius became a British colony, but the British promised the French people living on the island that they would maintain their French laws and customs.
So the anti-sodomy law was upheld, condemning anyone found guilty of sodomy to exile. Later, the punishment was changed to 15 lashes, and since 1898, the sentence has been up to five years in prison. It was only recently that a group of people went to the Supreme Court of Mauritius to challenge this law’s constitutionality. Since Mauritius became an independent state in 1968 with its own constitution that guaranteed fundamental human rights, there is a good argument to say that this old law is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court is currently weighing their decision.
Joel confirmed that in Guyana, colonization had also hindered progress. Guyana was able to hold its first Pride parade on the streets of Georgetown in 2018. English-speaking Caribbean countries like Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago soon followed. However, neighboring Suriname had openly celebrated Pride for many years. This is because they had a different colonial context: Dutch colonization didn’t come with laws that criminalized same-sex intimacy.
How does intersectionality play a role in the lives and identities of the LGBTQIA+ community?
Joel shed some light on the intersection of religion and different cultural backgrounds with LGBTQIA+ identities in Guyana:
“Hindu leaders point to their religious text the Bhagavad Gita, which has language that recognizes a third gender. What we’ve noticed is that culturally Hindu communities are more accepting of trans people and gender diverse people than of gay and lesbian people.”
On the other hand, Black Christian communities in Guyana are more accepting of gay and bisexual people and a lot more resistant to trans issues and gender non-conforming issues.
Another fascinating point about the historical and cultural context of Guyana is that its religious diversity has been positive for LGBTQIA+ people. It has meant that Guyana is more open to recognizing and addressing diversity compared to smaller Caribbean islands with more monolithic cultures and populations that are mostly Black and Christian.
For Anjeelee, however, that same religious diversity makes conversations more complex when it comes to negotiating LGBTQIA+ rights in Mauritius.
When you’re trying to work with faith-based organizations around LGBTQIA+ rights it becomes more complicated, because you need to have a variety of arguments up your sleeve.
Negotiating with many different religious authorities makes achieving progress harder. However, there are some well-written laws that address intersectionality in Mauritius, such as the Equal Opportunities Act and Workers Rights Act, which address discrimination based on real or perceived sexual orientation. They also address the fact that you can face discrimination based on a mixture of different layers of your identity. But some groups, such as transgender people or asexual people, are not protected by these laws so there’s still more to be done.
Tips for allies and interested people
Throughout the month of June, Hotjar is doubling all staff donations to LGBTQIA+ organizations.
Ask questions respectfully
Bear in mind the labor and privacy of LGBTQIA+ people when asking questions.
“Oftentimes people want to degenerate to what kind of private parts you have as a trans person, or what kind of sex you have, and we say up front: Unless this is about having sex with one of us, you really don’t need to know about all of that to be able to understand gender and sexuality,” said Joel.
Having respectful boundaries on conversations makes discussions about LGBTQIA+ issues more useful and meaningful.
Find out more
For more actionable pointers on being an ally, check out last year’s Pride panel: LGBTQIA+ representation in the workplace.
For more information on using gender-neutral language in the workplace, read "Guys": the new 4-letter word (and how we tried to say it less)
The LGBTQIA+ community is still under attack in many parts of the world, even though activists have achieved many wins in recent years.
Cultural and historical contexts play an important role in the acceptance of LGBTQIA+ people, and it’s important to have inclusive dialogues where intersectionality and the broad spectrum of identities are considered.
The panelists thanked Hotjar for providing this space as a meaningful and enlightening way to celebrate Pride.
Genderbread Person v1: A teaching tool for breaking down a complicated concept into bite-sized pieces.
Understanding Asexuality: A Guide by The Trevor Project
Hotjar Pride month panelists
Anjeelee Kaur Beegun (she/her) – Twitter
Anjeelee K. Beegun is a human rights consultant, with a special focus on SOGIESC (Sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics). She is currently a Programmes Officer at EGIDES (L'Alliance Internationale Francophone pour l'Egalité et les Diversités) and the Co-founder of RekonekT, a Mauritius-based organization working towards reconnecting LGBTQIA+ persons with the social systems around us.
She has a background in Public Law and has previously taught Constitutional Law and Administrative Law at the University of Réunion. She has also worked for a Mauritius based organization, Collectif Arc-En-Ciel, where she held the position of Executive Director. She has experience in advocacy, research, training, and strategic litigation around SOGIESC and LGBTQIA+ rights.
She is a Human Rights Campaign Global Advocacy Innovator 2020, an EU Rise & Shine Goodwill Ambassador, and a Mandela Washington Fellow 2022.
Mateusz Sulwinski (he/him) – Grupa Stonewall
President of the Grupa Stonewall association in 2019-2022. He studied international relations and journalism at the University of Adam Mickiewicz in Poznań.
He gained professional experience in PR agencies and cooperated with brands such as Cartoon Network, TNT, and PKO Bank Polski. He worked on the handling of Allegro social channels, the largest online transactional platform in Poland. In early 2020, he left the company to focus on working for Grupa Stonewall.
Currently, he is involved in internet marketing, organizing psychological help for LGBT+ people, contact with the media, and special projects. In his spare time, he plays computer games and visits second-hand shops in search of vintage gems.
Joel Simpson (he/him) – Twitter /SASOD Guyana
Joel Simpson is the Founder and Managing Director of the SASOD Guyana. He holds a Bachelor of Laws Degree from the University of Guyana. He is a Chevening scholar with a Master of Laws Degree in Human Rights Law from the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom.
He has over 19 years’ experience working in gender, human rights, and HIV, including roles such as the UNESCO Human Rights Researcher at the HIV Education Unit at the University of the West Indies (UWI) St. Augustine campus in Trinidad, and Human Rights Associate at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) country office in Guyana.
Simpson is also a former Chairperson and currently sits on the steering committee of the Caribbean Forum for the Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities (CariFLAGS).
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