BY MITCHELL DELANEY
An increased focus on legal recognition for same-sex couples has taken place all around the world. The first legal recognition of same-sex couples occurred in 1989 in Denmark, and since then, the number of inclusive policies and laws across Europe, North and South America, New Zealand, and South Africa has dramatically increased. These advances nevertheless do not sufficiently address fundamental concerns of grave legal, social, political, and economic barriers facing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, especially in developing countries. Previous development agendas targeting vulnerable populations have failed to capture the hurdles that place LGBT people into poverty, and impede their capacity to rise out of it. Thus, the post-2015 Development Agenda would be importantly advanced and critically improved by the institutionalization of sexual orientation (SO) and gender identity (GI). A practical focus on data collection, with specific indicators for SO and GI, will form the necessary basis to provide evidence-based support for the economic, social, political, and legal benefits of this more inclusive agenda.
The report, Inclusion Matters: The Foundation for Shared Prosperity, published in October 2013, is the first from the World Bank that consistently and explicitly considers SO and GI issues, acknowledging SO as one of the most common areas of exclusion at “substantial social, political, and economic costs.” Similar efforts include soon-to-be-published research from the World Bank and the Nordic Trust Fund (NTF) for Human Rights, estimating that a failure to address SO and GI in policies against workplace discrimination, health disparities in HIV, suicide, and depression could cost between US$1.9 million to upwards of US$31 billion per year in India alone. The first panel discussion on SO and GI at the United Nations was hosted in March 2012; subsequently, the Ministerial Declaration on Ending Violence and Discrimination against Individuals Based on their Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity was endorsed by eleven countries and European Union representatives in September 2013. These efforts represent the first—and crucial—steps toward finally addressing the challenges faced by LGBT people worldwide.
Yet, much remains to be done. The systematic collection of data for formulating policies and monitoring progress toward the institutionalization of SO and GI in the development agenda is a critical next step. The US Institute of Medicine recently stated that the lack of data on SO and GI is one of the greatest health challenges for the LGBT population. Where data does exist, it highlights significant stigmas, disparities, and disproportionalities faced by LGBT people when compared with their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts, in a wide range of issues including health status, substance abuse, access to health care, homelessness, discrimination in employment, and poverty levels. The challenges are even more severe for people who simultaneously belong to or identify with the LGBT community and other marginalized groups, based on race, ethnicity, age, or disability. More systematic collection of data would serve to surface such inequalities, and support the formation of appropriate policy responses. For instance, current estimates place LGBT people at 3.5 percent of the overall US population; yet 20-40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT, indicating a case of disproportionate representation within a specific population segment. Only when supplied with adequate knowledge can policymakers formulate targeted responses appropriate to such specific marginalized groups.
Inadequate data also perpetuates the marginalization and exclusion of LGBT people from the development process, as lack of evidence to the contrary allows countries to continue dismissing the LGBT community entirely, or deny that SO and GI are critical issues. The assumption that homosexuality is a Western idea encapsulates this attitude, even as news around the victimization and criminalization of LGBT people abound.
For instance, only a month after the research of World Bank and NTF was announced, a controversial ruling of the Indian Supreme Court upheld the criminalization of homosexuality. Cases of violence towards LGBT people occur weekly– and many more cases go unreported. Just within the month of February 2014, a dozen gay men in Nigeria were killed by vigilante mobs with government complicity, and Uganda passed strong anti-gay legislation asserting that homosexuality is a choice and curable. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rightly acknowledged, “gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world.”
While systematic research and data collection represent signify progress, future development efforts must institutionalize SO, GI, and other vulnerable populations into all areas of development policy. The Beyond2015 Global Civil Society Campaign notes that the post-2015 development framework will “only have legitimacy if it responds to the needs of all citizens, in particular those most marginalized who face ongoing exclusion from development processes.” Beyond the imperative of decriminalization, concerns of the LGBT community must be integrated into the broader development agenda. Today’s single-issue conversations about SO or GI must be expanded to address LGBT disparities horizontally and emphatically across all areas. Concrete examples of this, using the eleven themes of the World We Want Platform, illustrate that there is a place in every theme for addressing the economic, social, legal, and political challenges facing LGBT people.
The post-2015 development agenda serves to guide efforts toward tackling the most fundamental challenges of development—alleviation of poverty, respect for human rights, elimination of violence, and the protection and advancement of excluded persons—calling upon new thinking to address pre-existing priorities and challenges. Discussions about SO and GI must not be limited to the silos of HIV and marriage inequality; rather, LGBT people must be included in every conversation within the development process in order to achieve a world of prosperity, equity, and dignity.
One: The representatives endorsing the declaration include the US Secretary of State, the foreign ministers of Argentina, Brazil, Croatia, El Salvador, France, Israel, Japan, The Netherlands, New Zealand and Norway, and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union.
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