• Carr Center for Human Rights Policy


The first International LGBTQI+ Activism Summit took place at Harvard on April 28th, 2023, hosted by the Harvard Kennedy School. This groundbreaking event brought together nine global activists dedicated to expanding LGBTQI+ rights in challenging and dangerous contexts and provided a unique opportunity for these courageous individuals to receive training and engage with esteemed Harvard faculty members and fellows.

The event was co-sponsored by the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy and the Center for Public Leadership at the Kennedy School, with support from the Open Gate and David Bohnett Foundations. The lead organizer was Diego Garcia Blum, a Social Change Fellow at the Center for Public Leadership.

The day-long summit began with a session entitled "Systems, Social Change, and the Impact of Myths and Misunderstandings of LGBTQI+ People" by Diego Garcia Blum. Participants gained valuable insights into the drivers of social acceptance for LGBTQI+ people, the complex dynamics of progress and backlash in social systems, and the role of myths and misconceptions in hindering progress.

“The conditions for LGBTQI+ individuals remain perilous worldwide, with 66 countries criminalizing same-sex relationships and seven of those imposing the death penalty. In these regions, LGBTQI+ people face harassment, persecution, and violence from both society and state authorities,” says Diego Garcia Blum. “The International LGBTQI+ Activism Summit was envisioned to train and empower the brave activists who are fighting for LGBTQI+ dignity and human rights where this work is difficult and often dangerous.”

Dr. Tim McCarthy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education led a session on "Developing Communication and Messaging Strategies." Activists discovered effective ways to convey their messages and advance their causes through persuasive communication techniques.

Professor Cornell Brooks from the Harvard Kennedy School conducted a session on "Speaking to People of Faith." This workshop equipped participants with the tools to foster dialogue and understanding with religious communities. Professor Marshall Ganz, also from the Harvard Kennedy School, led his renowned "Public Narrative Workshop," leading the activists through the power of storytelling and its ability to inspire collective action and mobilize support for their advocacy efforts.

The summit also addressed strategies for building alliances across borders and leveraging the influence of the United Nations to drive change, with sessions from Professors Kathryn Sikkink and Mathias Risse.

The training sessions adapted the robust curriculum at HKS on movement building, organizing, and strategizing for human rights to the context of advancing LGBTQI+ rights. It also included sessions created for this summit that focused on analyzing the systemic drivers of social acceptance for LGBTQI+ people. The participants praised the summit for its transformative impact, empowering them with valuable frameworks and knowledge.

This groundbreaking event is the first of its kind at Harvard and brought together activists from countries including Ethiopia, Malaysia, Lebanon, and elsewhere. With over 1,000 applicants from more than 110 countries seeking to attend the Summit, the high demand showcased the urgent need to equip activists in dangerous contexts with the invaluable frameworks, practices, and skills taught at Harvard. The summit not only challenged and reinforced ideas, but also provided evidence and data that empowered participants to become more informed and innovative leaders.