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A UN campaign animates real life stories of LGBTQI+ migrants

The United Nations’ Free and Equal campaign and the International Office for Migrations teamed up in 2021 to launch a campaign focusing on the lives and experiences of those who are often left unheard – LGBTIQ+ migrants. The thematic campaign features three animated videos based on real stories of LGBTIQ+ migrants – as told by themselves, as well as sharable images and a landing page with tips for allies and governments.

We spoke to some of the team behind this campaign to get some more information, and we harvested nice bonus advice.

A conversation with Sasa LAZIC, consultant to the Free and Equal campaign, and Rahma Gamil Abdelfattah SOLIMAN from IOM

Rahma, Sasa, tell us more: how was this campaign conceived?

The Free and Equal campaign had been working already in collaboration with others, like with UNESCO on school bullying or with Cindy Lauper’s True Colors Foundation. The F&E team met with IOM people during a global gathering and the conversation sparked a strong enthusiasm for doing something jointly. Then of course COVID-19 delayed things a lot but we eventually managed to get the campaign off the ground.

What were the main ideas behind this campaign?

First we were adamant it was going to be story-based. And the stories had to be true stories of real people.

The second principle was that we didn’t want to blame and shame any particular country, nor religion for that matter.

Free and Equal campaigns work to win over hearts and minds and you don’t do this by attacking your target audience, which would make you lose the empathy.

So all references to origin and religion are made in general terms, like in the sentence “When you are gay, brown and live in a religious conservative society”.

We also wanted to underline that the issue was displacement in a broad sense, and not necessarily only migration beyond borders. So for this reason one story is about an American girl, and two out of our 3 stories are actually about internal displacement within the USA. This is not maybe not always clear in the videos as we also wanted the videos to be short, below 1 minute, so we didn’t have the space to unfold the full content of each story.

Only Muhab’s story is actually about international migration.

How were these stories chosen and then crafted into these videos?

As we said, these stories had to be real. Collecting these stories via IOM country offices didn’t work so we eventually turned towards people we personally knew and whose stories had moved us personally, so we thought they would also have the capacity to move others.

Of course we wanted diversity so we reached out to a trans man, a lesbian woman and a gay man.

The videos were made externally by a professional company. We chose the animation format so we could protect the identity of people. We nevertheless made sure it wasn’t going to be cartoonish. We also made sure that the people whose stories were told were part of the production process and had a word to say. After all these are their stories and they have to be able to own them

What are the main messages that this campaign wants to deliver?

First, that migration is also an opportunity, not only a hardship. The target group were people who might be supportive of LGBTQI+ people but maybe not so much of migrants, so we wanted to raise awareness that migration is not always the consequence of far away wars. There are many forms of displacement and migration, and some of them are very close to home.

We also wanted to raise the awareness that while most migrants find support from their communities in the places where they settle, LGBTQI+ people on the contrary find even more challenges, which often leads them to avoid their communities and therefore end up in really dire situations, as the videos show.

The last message is therefore about the importance of the LGBTQI+ community as a support system that replaces the traditional ones and of the value of solidarity.

How was the campaign rolled out so that you managed the impressive viewing figures?

Indeed, the cumulated views of the 3 videos in all languages is a stunning 10,76 million views!

It was mainly disseminated via FB paid ads, as one has to do these days. We also rolled it out via IOM offices, mainly in Latin America, and the local segments of the F&E campaign in 17 countries. We made sure the videos were produced in all UN languages plus Portuguese. The Chinese version was of course mainly circulated on Weibo.

Have you learnt any important lesson from this campaign, that you want to share?

First, that stories have to be true if you want them to draw empathy. Then you have to let people tell their stories in their own words.

Then, it’s also important to run the final formats of the stories through some testing, as there might be sensitivities in your target audience that you might not be aware of, especially if you deal with stories that intersect different identities such as gender, religion, race, etc.

Last, activism has to also connect to your personal life, if you want to give it the emotion and the energy it takes to make a good campaign.

All assets are available in ArabicChineseEnglishFrenchRussianSpanish and Portuguese.