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Inclusive Economies, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity and Expression

June marked LGBT Pride Month, and a key question emerged for the Diversity & Inclusion Ambassador Group here at The Rockefeller Foundation as we reflected on LGBT issues alongside our goal of advancing inclusive economies:

Has the recent increase in attention to LGBT issues both within the U.S. and lower-income countries catalyzed greater investment in addressing the barriers that LGBT people face in developing secure livelihoods?

We invited two guests for a Diversity & Inclusion Speaker Series event to help us think through this question and educate us about their work. Fabrice Houdart manages the World Bank Group’s emerging policy and programmatic efforts around LGBT issues, including case study research that aims to quantify the impact of homophobia on economic growth. Carrie Davis leads policy and programming at the LGBT Community Center where she has implemented innovative, new programs on livelihoods and employment for LGBT populations—and especially youth—in New York City.

The event began by acknowledging the significant, recent dynamism around LGBT issues both in lower-income countries and in the United States. In lower-income countries, such as Nigeria and Uganda, there has been a rise in the introduction of new, anti-LGBT policies but also an uptick in the visibility of local activism and an unprecedented willingness of world leaders and international development institutions to address these issues. In the U.S., it has primarily centered on marriage equality and, more recently, public attention to the experiences of transgender people.

The momentum, however, has not generally translated into greater investment in and experimentation around strengthening livelihoods for people who are marginalized based on their sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Both speakers emphasized that funding and policy focus largely remains on health and human rights issues, which neglects the ways in which both areas are interrelated with economic wellbeing.

For example, Carrie mentioned that because LGBT-related resources are in many cases tied to being HIV-positive, the Center has encountered lesbian, gay, and particularly transgender people who are homeless and trying to seroconvert (shift from a negative HIV status to positive one) in order to receive more housing and economic support. Fabrice discussed the challenge of situating sexual orientation and gender identity within an inclusive economic growth framework—without more data that clearly describes the scale and economic costs of homophobia and transphobia, many do not understand how LGBT issues fit within the paradigm.

Estimated Costs of Homophobia
Image credit: The World Bank, Sexual Minorities and Development

Carrie and Fabrice’s comments highlight the schism between the conversations about livelihood issues for at-risk LGBT populations versus relatively more advantaged people within the LGBT community. The idea that “diversity is good for business” is common among many top US organizations, including as it pertains to LGBT people. Many top organizations recruit at events targeted to LGBT students, support professional LGBT networks, and have LGBT employee affinity groups. This has not catalyzed greater attention to or investment in the livelihoods of less advantaged LGBT people who likely experience other, intersectional forms of marginalization based on race, socioeconomic status, and other factors or who live in countries where same-gender sexual conduct is still criminalized.

Participants in the conversation discussed the challenges in crossing the gap between being personally committed to LGBT equality versus integrating a sexual orientation and gender identity or expression lens into programmatic work. The history of gender mainstreaming within parts of the international development sector highlights both the power and the risk of taking on an issue as cross-cutting—mainstreaming brought gender into policy and program areas where it had never before been formally represented, but in other cases the framework was used to justify not dedicating separate, specific resources toward gender.

We are grateful to Fabrice and Carrie for sharing their work and insights with us, and we look forward to continuing the conversation here at The Rockefeller Foundation. For more information, check out Fabrice Houdart’s blog post about quantifying the costs of homophobia and transphobia, and read Carrie Davis’ comments to the UN about livelihoods and transgender populations.

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