Estimating the Global Cost of Homophobia and Transphobia


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Since 2004, May 17 has been the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia – a day of remembrance about how discrimination affects sexual minorities worldwide.

Some of homophobia’s consequences are well-known: lack of access to education and health care, violence, unemployment, illiteracy, displacement to urban areas, lack of legal rights, loss of community-based safety nets, brain drain, lack of economic opportunities, lack of access to land, exclusion from informal networks, mental health problems and substance abuse, suicide, imprisonment, lack of cultural representation, and, of course, HIV/AIDS.


However, the amplitude of LGBT economic marginalization and the costs of homophobia are unknown. Those who suffer homophobia in the West are not always economically disadvantaged (think Elton John or most gay middle-class American men). Nevertheless, LGBT people worldwide, as I have experienced on my current trip to Nepal and India, are also very often poor, sometimes profoundly.


Our lack of knowledge in this area constitutes a major impediment to triggering any interest from Bank economists: The modus operandi of our institution remains very clearly committed to the generation of economic growth, and undocumented questions of equity are often seen as distractions. Consequently, the Bank does not advocate the policies needed to address LGBT economic marginalization.


Yet development institutions have been able to calculate the cost of discrimination against women and ethnic, racial and caste groups. Discrimination against a Twa pygmy in the Great Lakes region of Africa, a Dalit woman in India, a Roma in Eastern Europe or an African-American in the United States presents very similar traits to discrimination against LGBT people. As an example, transgender people are stigmatized as illiterate, criminal, and sexually reckless, while their experience of exclusion and discrimination encourages the very behavior that is stigmatized. However, these models relied on collection of sound statistics -- a prerequisite for any successful strategy to advance the rights of victimized groups. Although this can be very difficult in the case of individuals whose privacy must be protected at all cost to avoid state-sponsored violence, a window of opportunity is opening with the registration of “third sex” populations in Pakistan, Nepal, and India.


There is a bit of a Catch-22 here because the World Bank economists and gender specialists will remain skeptical until they see numbers showing the economic cost of homophobia -- but until they allocate resources to research on LGBT population, nothing will happen. This is why it is crucial for LGBT communities in the South to make their voices heard in our institution.


Poor communities that suffer discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression or sexual orientation are often politically invisible and not represented by the small number of affluent LGBT decision-makers. It is essential to make sure that such groups are politically represented within public institutions, and that representatives of such groups are accountable to their communities, empowered to represent them and competent to communicate their interests effectively.


Fabrice Houdart is the country officer for Central Asia and president of World Bank GLOBE, the Bank’s LGBT employee resource group.



Fabrice Houdart

Former Senior Country Officer, Middle East and North Africa, and President, GLOBE

Join the Conversation

May 18, 2012

Salut Fabrice,

While I fully agree with you that we don't know enough about the cost of discrimination towards LGBT people, it is to my view less of an issue of interest than an issue of measurement.

It is easier to obtain information (especially since it is often self-reported) on ethnicity, race, caste and gender than sexual orientation in survey context.

Suppose that a question on sexual orientation was introduced in household surveys. Given the social stigma, it is very likely that the ones who suffer the least from discrimination would be the ones who would truthfully answer the question, leading to a dramatic underestimation of the cost of LGBT discrimination; you could even end up finding better outcomes for (self-reported) LGBT!

It is therefore in my view methodological shortcoming rather than lack of interest that is driving our ignorance on this issue.

May 31, 2012

You are right - gathering information on a population that goes to great lengths to be invisible is hard and in France as an example you cannot ask someone his sexual orientation in a survey (idem for religion or disease).

But we have two new opportunities: one is the Internet and the other one is the introduction of a “third gender” in national censuses in South Asia (Nepal, India and Pakistan). To begin imagining the potential of the Internet, there are 825 million people on Facebook, 12.5% of the world population, and 35% of them disclose their sexual orientation.

In addition, small-scale studies have taken place in the HIV context and were deemed representative.

Of course this is not ideal but we desperately need data.

Burke Patriot
March 19, 2014

Since most of you at the World Bank are socialists you don't believe in free will nor free enterprise so you don't understand that in reality, not hope and wishes, that in a free society businesses have self interest TO DO business with people they don't like. Profit and self interest is the only motivation needed to reduce the abuse of people due to discrimination. There will be businesses who will choose to discrimanate based on the dislike of immoral life styles or even by race. They are punishing themselves by not accepting profits. That lost revenue will go to those who perfer profits over dislikes of individuals and they will be there to take those profits. There is no loss to the economy. It is another socialist statist myth in order to create a larger form of discrimination against capitalism. That would be harmful and wide spread. That abuse is statist controls of the market with more laws that can be used to control private property at a whim by simply pointing a finger and yelling "discrimination!"
Stop using LGBT community as political pawns. Damaging the economy with more restaints and shackles to the ankles of the people who produce and wish to be left alone hurts us all people not just LGBT. STOP the smoke and mirrors. Discrimination against capitalism is an attack of civil rights because it is an attack on civil societies.
In Liberty,