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Development amid Violence and Discrimination: Sexual Minorities in Latin America

Phil Crehan's picture

As more Latin American countries enact laws protecting sexual minorities, violence and discrimination remain prolific.  Preliminary evidence shows that exclusion lowers education, health, and economic outcomes.  With the World Bank’s new focus on social inclusion within the twin goals of ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity, I see numerous points of intervention for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in this region. 

On January 28th the Latin America and Caribbean Poverty, Gender and Equity Group joined my project “Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Development” to discuss this cross-sector and nascent agenda.  A host of experts from the region had the very first World Bank conversation on sexual minorities in LAC.

“The LGBT community is targeted for exclusion in many, if not most, cultures” (Inclusion Matters).  Senior Social Development Specialist Maria Beatriz explained how Inclusion Matters is the first Bank document to conceptually and empirically link LGBT exclusion to the Bank agenda.  LGBT people tend to be unwanted as neighbors and face high levels of violence in school.  “All this negativity and antipathy, does it have development impacts?  …We can say yes.”

Rosa Celorio is an Attorney for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights within the Organization of American States.  In recent years OAS agreed to uphold LGBT rights and fight discrimination, and as of February 1st has a working Rapporteurship.  This newfound focus was a result of many national and international legal protections that combined to create a pro-LGBT current.  She hoped the World Bank can join this current: “when the World Bank speaks on any development issue, the world hears”.     

Gloria Careaga and Carlos Quesada highlighted violence and statistics in the region.  Gloria is the Secretary General for the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, and noticed that even in more progressive countries violence is still pervasive.  Mexico and Brazil, for example, have the highest number of transgender killings irrespective of their pro-LGBT policies.  “The violence is not ending”.  Carlos, Advisor on the Rights of LGBT people for Global Rights, noted how civil society is at the forefront of gathering statistics on violence against LGBT people.   In Brazil, Homofobia Mata has already totaled 32 deaths of LGBT people since the start of 2014.  Since the Ministry of Human Rights in Brazil lacks the capacity to gather LGBT data, civil society must fill these gaps.  Similar initiatives exist in Colombia, Honduras, and the Caribbean. 

For the Bank, gathering socioeconomic data will be crucial to understanding the realities of LGBT people.  In addition, sexual minorities could be consulted during a Systematic Country Diagnostic in the creation of a Country Partnership Framework.  In terms of operational inputs, the Bank could consider community-based development initiatives that include sexual minorities, like the PNPM Peduli project in Indonesia.  Education projects could combat homophobic bullying and thus increase the graduation rates of sexual minorities.  Health projects could have a sexual orientation and gender identity component that ensures equal and appropriate access of services.  And finally, social accountability mechanisms could be created to work in conjunction with pro-LGBT government initiatives, like “Brasil Sem Homofobia” in Brazil.                 

As pro-LGBT laws are created in Latin America, violence and discrimination continue.  We need to move past preliminary evidence and delve into the abyss.  This is now the time for the World Bank to utilize its comparative advantage to promote pro-growth policies in key Latin American countries.  Can the Bank rise to meet this growing need for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people?                  

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