The economic case for supporting LGBT rights

The moral case for supporting LGBT rights isn’t persuading global policymakers. It’s time we spoke in a language they understand.

The moral case for supporting LGBT rights isn’t persuading global policymakers. It’s time we spoke in a language they understand.

The moral case for supporting LGBT rights has been made. We who believe in a world free from discrimination and abuse understand that LGBT rights are human rights. However, with almost eighty countries continuing to criminalise people because of their sexual orientation, it’s beginning to look like the moral case alone will not win this debate.

It’s time we spoke in a language that policymakers understand. It’s time we put forward the economic case for supporting LGBT rights.

Despite some recent successes in the global LGBT rights movement (such as the legal recognition of same-sex marriage throughout much of the West), LGBT people across the world are facing a rapidly deteriorating situation.

Over 2.7 billion people live in countries where it is illegal to be gay. A total of seven countries mandate the death penalty for homosexuality – often by means of stoning or hanging. Corrective rape is routinely carried out across the globe against perceived and actual lesbians – the intended consequence of the rape being to turn the woman heterosexual.

LGBT arrests, forced homelessness, harassment and violence continue to increase as new ‘anti-gay laws’ are implemented in countries such as Russia, India, Nigeria, Uganda and Brunei – to name a few.

Despite mounting pressure from grassroots human rights organisations, international agencies and progressively liberal governments, global LGBT discrimination is increasing, particularly in developing countries

Approaching this debate from a human rights perspective is clearly having little to no impact in persuading domestic policymakers to abolish discriminatory laws, let alone persuading them to protect LGBT people from violence and abuse.

We need to begin speaking in a language that policymakers will understand. We need to highlight how discriminatory laws can cause economic loss, as well as pointing out how LGBT 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, the link between discrimination and the economy can be divided into two categories: direct links and indirect links.

The direct links are obvious: if LGBT people are arrested and imprisoned for an indefinite period of time; rather than contributing to an economy by working and paying taxes on purchases, etc. they instead end up creating huge financial costs for their governments.

On the other hand, if a person has been sentenced to death, they will of course never help an economy grow.

The indirect links are less obvious but just as convincing. Given the fact that LGBT people are often subjected to disproportionate levels of physical and psychological abuse, workplace productivity is likely to be restricted due to physical injuries and psychological trauma.

Adding to this, workplace discrimination can often force LGBT people into underemployment or unemployment, which in turn compromises the full productive capacity of each LGBT individual, resulting in economic loss.

This is also the case regarding discrimination against LGBT students in schools by teachers and other students – LGBT students are less likely to receive the necessary training to develop their skills and knowledge to generate any real economic growth.

This line of thinking has been backed up by a recent study from The University of California and the US Agency for International Development, whereby it was concluded that there is a definite correlation between LGBT rights and economic output.

Using a bespoke framework entitled the Global Index on Legal Recognition of Homosexual Orientation, along with a provisional index on transgender rights, the study found that for every additional right a country grants its LGBT citizens, an estimated increase of $320 per capita in GDP is possible – that’s about a 3 percent increase in the average GDP per capita in the 39 emerging economies that were studied.

How the Global Index on Legal Recognition of Homosexual Orientation works is pretty simple. Countries are ranked on a scale of zero to eight – zero indicating a country that grants no legal rights to its LGB citizens, and eight representing a country that grants full legal equality for LGB people.

This would include the legal recognition of same-sex relationships between consenting adults, protections against discrimination in employment and the legal ability of same-sex couples to adopt children, etc.

For instance, Kenya would score a zero on the scale due to the fact that the country provides little to no legal recognition and protection for LGBT people. Kenya’s GDP is that of around $1,318, whereas Argentina that ranks a seven on the scale, has a per capita income of around $13,323.

“LGBT inclusion and economic development go hand in hand,” says M.V. 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 in fact correct.

LGBT rights advocates should now begin to adapt their campaigning efforts to bring focus to this fact – it may well be enough to bring about a change in how global policymakers treat LGBT people.

Callum Hunter is a freelance writer and human rights activist – follow him on Twitter

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