Technology has the power to give activists fighting gender, racial, economic, and social oppression a radically competitive edge: dialogue among visionaries is expedited; security is increased; activists are equipped to create and amplify their own stories. For LGBTQI people, visibility on and offline can be an important strategy to secure rights. However, for many, technology can be threatening, leaving activists exposed to surveillance, abuse, and even death. It is crucial to ensure that activists have the tools they need to advance human rights, build movements and stay safe.

Held in 2016, Astraea's Kenya CommsLabs centered healing and sustainability as essential tools for movement building.

Photo credit: Held in 2016, Astraea’s Kenya CommsLabs centered healing and sustainability as essential tools for movement building.

What are CommsLabs?

Astraea’s CommsLabs is a radical global movement-building initiative that equips LGBTQI activists with the tools, skills and knowledge they need to securely organize and advocate in online spaces. Through a series of regional or country-based convenings, each Lab connects local LGBTQI activists, trainers, healers and technologists in an effort to address the online and offline threats facing LGBTQI communities, and seize the opportunities technology presents.

CommsLabs is designed to equip activists with the holistic tools needed to increase their impact at a grassroots level, supported by a network of allied technologists and trainers. Through the Labs, LGBTQI activists develop the skills and strategies to effectively and safely exchange information and advocate for fundamental human rights. At the same time, CommsLabs is building a network of linked activists and technologists from the Global South and East working independently and together to foster the next generation of LGBTQI human rights advocacy.

To date, Astraea has held three CommsLabs convenings: Colombia in July 2014, which brought together 35 LGBTQI activists from Peru, Honduras, Ecuador and Colombia with 12 trainers; Kenya in November 2015, in which 30 activists from Kenya and South Africa and 15 trainers took part; and South Africa in July 2016, at which we hosted a similar cohort of 35 activists and 13 trainers in order to further develop projects from CommsLabs Kenya.

The Astraea CommsLabs project aims to:

      • Increase digital security, media, communications, technology and healing, self and community care skills among trans activists, especially those working in political environments that repress freedom of expression and human rights and/or in isolated areas where physical meeting spaces are not possible and the internet facilitates the exchange of information – while also increasing the risk of danger.
      • Develop and strengthen online and offline communications and organizational strategies that are accessible, secure, holistic, sustainable and relevant to local trans activists.
      • Build, adapt and remix technologies and online advocacy strategies to support current trans organizing and ensure security.
      • Build foundations for long-lasting holistic security, communications and technology improvements and sustainable organizational wellness strategies through follow-up grants.
      • Develop and strengthen a global network of activists and technologists working for the defense of trans and LGBTQI human rights, both online and off.

CommsLabs aims to catalyze innovation, supporting the development of critical advocacy and communications tools that can help fuel change.

Click one of the stories below to read more about the CommsLabs experience.