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This article reflects on experiences and lessons from an LGBTQI project implemented by Oxfam and its partners in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and a third country in Asia where LGBTQI work is strongly criminalised. It argues that protecting and promoting the rights of LGBTQI persons, so that they can live a decent life without violence, needs a systemic shift in social norms and attitudes, even in contexts where laws and policies promise equality. Development policymakers and practitioners can usefully channel funding and other forms of support to LGBTQI leaders, groups, and movements who are best placed to lead the social change needed. The article shares a wide range of strategies used by the project and calls for development organisations and funding agencies to work with LGBTQI organisations in solidarity and sustain their vital activism, long term. It focuses in particular on the key strategies of supporting the development of safe spaces, both in ‘real life’ and online. These spaces are extremely important for psychosocial well-being, challenging social norms, fostering collective consciousness, and collective action. The article also focuses on advocacy to place LGBTQI issues in the spotlight, internationally as well as nationally.

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