The Council marks “International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia”

IDAHO - GLOBE event, Council for Global Equality

L to R, Joel Gustave Nana, African Men for Sexual Health and Rights; Jaevion Nelson, Jamaican human rights advocate; Val Kalende, Ugandan LGBT rights advocate; Mark Bromley, Council for Global Equality; Philip W. Moeller, Lutherans Concerned/North America; and David Wilson, World Bank. photo courtesy of the World Bank

May 17, 2011, Washington, DC – The Council was pleased today to mark the “International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia,” also known as “IDAHO,” by co-sponsoring a panel discussion at the World Bank to highlight “The Effect of Homophobia on Development.” The panel was co-sponsored by the Council, UN AIDS, World Bank Globe, and the Inter-American Development Bank Globe.

IDAHO is celebrated worldwide on May 17 as the date in 1990 when the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. One of the themes this year is “As I Am,” which is a response to the daily homophobia and transphobia that seek to deny the individual worth of LGBT people. That theme has a vital development message, and the panel today highlighted the importance of recognizing the individuality of the various communities we seek to support through our development investments. It also comes at a time when leaders in the U.S. Congress are calling on the Secretary of the Treasury to oppose any financial assistance from multilateral development institutions to countries that “persecute people on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or religious beliefs.” (Read more about the Congressional effort here.)

With presentations by human rights defenders from Cameroon, Jamaica, Uganda and the United States, along with World Bank officials, two broad themes emerged from today’s discussion. First, we know that the poor are vastly more vulnerable to human rights abuse, and that this cycle of violence is even more acute for marginalized LGBT communities who are regularly denied the opportunity to participate as full members of society and are thereby denied the opportunity to participate fully as either beneficiaries or agents of development. Second, participants commented on a recent Sida report that argues that development efforts that ignore sexuality, including homophobia and transphobia, “risk exacerbating exclusions and inequalities,” thereby undermining investments and impacting the return on investment of our increasingly strained development dollars.

As highlighted in the discussion today, it is clear that homophobia and transphobia do in fact exacerbate social exclusion and undermine development investments in certain sectors. This is certainly true with respect to global health, and we heard from several panelists who are working on a response to HIV/AIDS within vulnerable communities. Several panelists noted that this exclusionary risk is also true for broader development initiatives that would seek to expand access to education, vocational opportunities, social services and credit. Moreover, the existence of homophobic and transphobic violence can also tarnish the image of a country as a tourist or business investment location, thereby limiting private investment opportunities, as discussed by the panelist from Jamaica.

Finally, there was an interesting discussion focusing on the role of grassroots faith groups that are so often key partners in development in many developing-world contexts. Such groups clearly have the potential to exclude and further marginalize LGBT individuals, and that is a particular concern where educational opportunities and social services are regularly provided through local churches, mosques or in other religiously-identified settings. Increasingly, however, affirming faith-based groups are also reaching out to include vulnerable LGBT communities as part of a broader human rights mission. We heard examples of this from both Uganda and Jamaica.

The Council was pleased to mark IDAHO with such a substantive discussion at the World Bank, and with many brave colleagues fighting homophobia and transphobia in some of the most hostile legal and social climates around the world.

Related item: View a statement issued by the United States Mission to the OSCE on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

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