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Global LGBTI rights: Make it about the economy

Global LGBTI rights: Make it about the economy

The moral case for supporting LGBTI rights isn’t persuading global policymakers.

We have proved discrimination and abuse against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people is a violation of human rights. But around 80 countries still criminalize homosexuality and most others don’t give LGBTI people equality or protection.

The moral argument alone won’t win. It’s time we spoke to world leaders in a language they understand.

We need to highlight how discriminatory laws can cause economic loss, as well as pointing out how LGBTI inclusion can boost a country’s economy.

So how exactly would equal treatment for all translate into economic growth?

Well, putting aside the fact that most of the world’s richest countries are more inclined to offer financial aid to developing countries if their human rights record is up to scratch, there are a number of other links between discrimination and the economy.

LGBTI people are often subjected to disproportionate levels of physical and psychological abuse, as well as feeling isolated and having the pressure of keeping secrets. As a result, they are less productive at work.

Workplace discrimination can force LGBTI people into underemployment or unemployment, resulting in more economic loss.

LGBTI kids can be less motivated in school or even end up leaving school altogether because of bullying or harassment. Those pupils are less likely to receive the necessary training to develop their skills and are less productive to the economy long term.

At all stages, depression and anxiety can lead to lower economic productivity and mean LGBTI people end up costing health and welfare services money.

And in the very worst cases, some are arrested and imprisoned – again costing the state money rather than raising taxes for it.

The idea that being anti-gay or anti-trans costs countries money appears to have been proved by a new study from the University of California and the US Agency for International Development.

Researchers concluded there is a definite correlation between LGBTI rights and economic output.

They used a framework called the Global Index on Legal Recognition of Homosexual Orientation – giving countries points for each set of rights they granted LGBTI people, up to a total of eight points.

At the base line, points were awarded for homosexuality being legal. The top scoring countries offered LGBTI citizens legal protection against discrimination, marriage equality and the right for same-sex couples to adopt and foster children.

The result was clear. For every additional right a country grants LGBTI people, its GDP goes up by $320 (€263) per capita. That’s about 3% increase in the average GDP in the 39 emerging economies the researchers studied.

For instance, Kenya would score a zero on the scale due to the fact the country provides little to no legal recognition and protection for LGBTI people. Kenya’s GDP is that of around $1,318 (€1,081). Whereas Argentina gets seven points on the scale and has a per capita income of around $13,323 (€10,930).

Adding to this, the study also found that countries with anti-discrimination laws, such as the United Kingdom and the United States, have a per capita GDP that is around $1,763 (€1,446) higher than countries that do not have them.

‘LGBT inclusion and economic development go hand in hand,’ says MV Lee Badgett of the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. And from the conclusions drawn from this study, it is clear that she is correct.

It is natural for human rights organizations to focus on the moral arguments but it appears they are failing. With seven countries still having the death penalty for gays, new anti-gay laws in Russia, Nigeria, Uganda and Brunei and the apparent spread of ‘corrective rape’ of lesbians, traditional activism is failing.

These nations, and many more, are under mounting pressure from grassroots human rights organizations, international agencies and progressively liberal governments. But it often seems to make no difference to their anti-LGBTI stance.

Approaching this debate from a human rights perspective is clearly having little to no impact.

LGBTI rights advocates should accept they have won the moral argument and move on. They need to adapt their campaigning efforts to focus on these economic facts – it may well be enough to change the minds of global policymakers.

Read Callum Hunter’s personal blog here.