A biochemist with training in public health and nutrition, Indian-born Ryan Figueiredo learned of the struggles affecting the LGBTQ community while working with the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPFF), which ensures accessibility to safe reproductive-related services. “I realized that in the discussion of sexual reproductive health, we did not talk about the LGBTQ community. This made me wonder how I can integrate the community in the conversation,” he explains.
"Everyone deserves equal space and love."
Now based in Bangkok, Ryan has founded Equal Asia Foundation (EAF), an organization equipped with the mission of tackling societal issues faced by the LGBTQ community. According to Ryan, one of the most alarming Founder of Equal Asia Foundation Ryan Figueiredo problems that affect today’s society, especially the LGBTQ group, is social isolation. Ryan warns that Thailand, as well as other major Asian cities, is moving towards an aging society and this change may deeply affect the LGBTQ community. “Many countries are going through a demographic transition, meaning a large number of population are becoming old. And we haven’t really began the conversation on how to take care of the elderly in general. But what is scarier is that people in the LGBTQ community are in many ways more vulnerable”.
In Southeast Asia, where the elderly tend to be dependent on the younger generation, an often abandoned or ostracized LGBTQ individual is at a bigger risk of being affected by social isolation. That’s where EAF comes into play, shedding light on the issue and prompting discussions on how to address it in more systematic ways, be it through policy, or on a community or individual level.
Currently funded by the Canadian government, EAF is using an “intergenerational approach” to reduce the generation gap in the LGBTQ community and to prevent social isolation by bridging the two groups (the elderly and the young) together. They are doing this through social media, and by creating non-threatening spaces for the two groups to mingle. “If you go to clubs or bars, how many old people do you see? The old people are left behind because the young usually think they are creepy or predators coming after them. But everyone deserves equal space and love.” Also important to Ryan is that the younger generation acknowledges the struggles and hardships faced by the old. “Everyone’s life is a journey and the rights that the LGBTQ person is enjoying today is because of the works of the old.”