People who belong to minority groups based on their sexual or gender experiences or identities or often face discrimination and stigmatization. Because the motivations behind social exclusion are frequently invisible, testimonials (oral, written, audiovisual, digital, artistic) that shed light on such issues can be an important strategy for social and cultural intervention. Testimonials offer an opportunity for people to make their voices heard. They can also allow individuals to speak about the experiences of a larger group and express community concerns. Numerous individuals and groups use testimonials to raise awareness, educate, or undertake creative projects with the aim of promoting social change.
For sex workers, testimonials have become key tool for advocacy on a community level in contexts where prostitution is criminalized and are useful in raising awareness about working and living conditions. People living with HIV, who can be subject to criminal prosecution if they do not disclose their HIV status to sexual partners, have also developed a specific “testimonial culture.” Often experienced as a “coming out,” the disclosure of HIV status bears some similarities to disclosure experiences with regards to sexual orientation by people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer as well as to the disclosure of gender self-identification by transgender and intersex people.
Although each of these groups uses testimonials as an intervention strategy, no research has been done in Canada or elsewhere to compare different ways in which testimonials are used and allow for experiences and knowledge to be shared.
Bringing partners and expertise together
Each of the partners in Testimonial Cultures brings important experiences, reflections, and knowledge to the table with regards to the use of testimonials as a strategy for social and cultural intervention. Areas of expertise within the partnership include:
- Research on media discourse on HIV/AIDS and the testimonial culture of people living with HIV/AIDS in Quebec
- Social mobilization initiatives by and for sex workers and the use of experiential and community knowledge in the context of outreach and public education
- Development and evaluation of educational strategies for schools based on the use of testimonials to demystify homosexuality and promote the social inclusion of sexual minorities
- Creation of supportive queer community spaces where people can reflect together and fight various forms of oppression and social exclusion with regards to sexuality and gender by giving testimonials and discussing political and social issues
- Use of oral history methods and life story analysis in order to better understand the experiences of people displaced by war, genocide, and other human rights violations.
Our research-action group aims to explore answers to the following questions:
- What are the different ways in which project partners use testimonials and under what circumstances do they use them?
- What similarities can be found among the different ways in which testimonials are used?
- What are the challenges of giving testimonials and what impact do they have in terms of social change and the improvement of individual and collective living conditions?
- How can community action be supported such that people who belong to minority groups based on sexual or gender identity or experience can truly be integrated into Canadian society?
To explore answers to these questions, we have set out the following objectives:
- Partnership: Bring together activists, researchers, and community groups involved in different “testimonial cultures” to compare practices and exchange expertise.
- Knowledge mobilization: Share knowledge and develop a collective understanding of the advantages, challenges, and consequences of using testimonials as a strategy for social and cultural intervention.
- Social change: Bring together a range of groups with similar interests and concerns and strengthen the ability of people from minority groups with regards to sexual or gender experience or identity to take action against the discrimination and stigmatization they experience.