In the past twenty years, the international community has been increasingly successful in researching and providing support for the inclusion of various marginalized communities such as ROMA people in Europe, people with albinism in Africa, Dalits in India, Batwas people in Congo or, at the global level, women and refugees. The starting point for this support is always a consensus among development practitioners that discrimination against these groups is objectively detrimental to societies. This agreement then generates the space to allocate the necessary resources to address it.
In contrast, the question of whether sexual minorities benefit equally from development efforts still remains clouded by an invisible debate inside international organizations on the permissibility of discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In absence of an agreement, the field of LGBTI & development is characterized by inertia and confusion.
The lack of consensus on whether the “cultural” nature of discrimination against LGBTI people legitimizes it is a real obstacle to tackling it. The fact that there is no open discussion on this topic in the development community – in part because sexuality is still perceived as a frivolous topic and in part because of social conservatism – frustrates progress. As a direct result, no significant financial and human resources are made available to assess the amplitude of the problem and contribute to solutions. This explains why the Arcus Foundation, a charitable foundation which focuses on issues related to LGBTI rights, social justice and conservation and awarded more than $17 million to this issue in 2013, is yet the single largest player in this area.
In this context why should we expect development agencies to launch a study on the living conditions of LGBT people in Egypt? To offer solutions to address discrimination in health services in Gaborone? To call on the Kyrgyz Republic to safeguard homosexual rights to organize?
There is undeniable evolution in the way the international community deals with the issue from the Being LGBT in Asia analysis launched by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in 2014 to the creation of a well-meaning “SOGI Task Force” at the World Bank in 2015. However, the scale and pace of these initiatives is no commensurate to the urgency of the situation. Today hundreds of millions of LGBTI people worldwide are painfully aware that an archaic prejudice is robbing them from the fruits of development.
In addition, development initiatives in this area are almost systematically driven by the efforts of a small-group of dedicated LGBT staff members rather than the weight of entire organizations.
As an example, the widely-discussed stance taken by the World Bank on the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill in March of 2014, described by many activists as “too little too late”, was the product of under-the-radar political pressure on the Bank’s President by openly gay US Representative Barney Frank and lobby by the Bank’s internal LGBT group, GLOBE. As a result, it was actually strongly rejected by the staff internally. Similarly, the third annual Conference to Advance the Human Rights of and Promote Inclusive Development for LGBTI Persons hosted by the US State Department on November 12-14 of 2014 in Washington DC was predominantly attended by LGBTI staff of international and bilateral agencies.
LGBTI issues need to graduate from this mom-and-pop approach to become a widely-accepted and full-fledged development issue. In order for this to happen, first, a strong and open internal debate is necessary to gradually make sexual minorities an integral part of the agenda we stand for as a development community. By mentioning this topic when it makes sense,by acknowledging the existence of sexual minorities in the developing world, development leaders must contribute to change the way their organizations consider this issue and in turn develop interest within their staff.
Until then, LGBTI people worldwide need to continue to demand their fair share of development funds and use their limited influence in international organizations to accelerate the momentum. As US activist and author Larry Kramer said in 2007 “[LGBT people] are not crumbs, [they] must not accept crumbs”.
Please watch Sexual Minorities and Development: A Short Film. The film is produced and directed by: Phil Crehan and Jake Fagan with oversight by Fabrice Houdart.