It’s Time to Fund the President’s Global LGBTQI Commitments

As the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) prepares President Biden’s first budget for federal spending in fiscal year 2022, the Administration should seize the opportunity to increase funding to protect and promote the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) people globally. Whereas this fiscal year’s development assistance was a relatively paltry $16 million, a minimum increase to $60 million is needed to implement the President’s LGBTQI commitments globally. 

Such increase would match the clear intent of President Biden’s Memorandum on Advancing the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Persons Around the World. The memorandum outlines how the U.S. will “lead by the power of our example” to end violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression, or sex characteristics and advance global LGBTQI rights. Issued early in Biden’s presidency, the memo specifically identifies development assistance as a vessel to “protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination.” Now is the time for the Biden Administration to fund and operationalize those commitments.

As COVID-19 continues to fall disproportionately hard on the global LGBTQI community, the pressing need to fund LGBTQI organizations has only intensified. Many LGBTQI people depend on informal-sector jobs and have lost their livelihoods during the pandemic; are at increased risk for gender-based violence, food insecurity, and homelessness; and face even greater barriers to receiving needed services. In some countries, the LGBTQI community has been scapegoated and falsely charged for spreading COVID-19; in others, governments have effectively excluded LGBTQI people from relief or used lockdowns as a cover to crack-down on their rights. 

Funds to support LGBTQI people and the frontline organizations that serve them have so far been alarmingly scarce. Of all the supplemental COVID-19 relief funding administered by USAID, to our knowledge zero was allocated for LGBTQI organizations or populations. In April 2020, Outright Action International launched its COVID-19 Global LGBTIQ Emergency Fund — the world’s largest global COVID-19 response fund for LGBTQI communities — which received nearly 1,500 applications totaling about $12 million in urgent funding requests in its first three months. Despite strong fundraising efforts, Outright Action International was able to fulfill only 6.6% of these requests. 

While allocating immediate COVID-related relief funds is necessary, sustained and significant annual budgetary investments are critical to protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination. To address this need, the President’s FY 2022 budget should allocate at least $30 million to the LGBTQI-specific Global Equality Fund (GEF) at the State Department and another $30 million to the USAID-based Protection of LGBTI Persons Program. The GEF, which is funded at $10 million for this current fiscal year, only is able to meet 6% of funding applications and expects to receive at least $50 million in urgent requests. Similarly underfunded, USAID’s LGBTQI program received just $6 million this fiscal year, which comes nowhere close to meeting the demands identified by USAID missions and experts around the world. These low funding levels for qualified proposals and urgent needs are vastly lower as a percentage than funding for many other human rights issues and marginalized groups.    

Investing in marginalized LGBTQI communities is not just the right thing to do, it is also a good return on our development investments. Studies have demonstrated that socioeconomic exclusion undermines development and a country’s macroeconomic growth, whereas inclusion supports them — and is directly correlated to increased GDP per capita and higher value in human development. If the U.S. intends to lead by example, the Biden-Haris Administration’s first budget must adequately fund its commitments.  The President’s first budget will be an immensely powerful statement of his Administration’s four-year policy priorities — and neither LGBTQI funding nor our communities can be sacrificed. 

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