October 13, 2014 at 4:00 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
World Bank criticized for ‘ignoring’ LGBT issues

World Bank, gay news, Washington Blade

Ellen Sturtz, left, and Al, a transgender Iraqi man, speak during a protest against the World Bank at Edward R. Murrow Park in Northwest D.C. on Oct. 11, 2014. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Advocates used the World Bank and International Monetary Fund’s fall meetings that took place in D.C. this past weekend to highlight the economic impact of anti-LGBT discrimination amid ongoing criticism the institutions have not done enough to address the issue.

M. V. Lee Badgett of the University of Massachusetts during an Oct. 9 panel at the World Bank discussed her study that examines the economic cost of homophobia and transphobia and anti-LGBT discrimination in India.

The report, among other things, concludes anti-LGBT stigma and exclusion “can reduce the economic contributions of LGBT people” through unemployment or underemployment.

“Discrimination and exclusion are likely to lead to increased poverty in the LGBT community in India and elsewhere,” reads the report. “Lack of access to jobs, barriers to education and housing and rejection by families, for examples, can put LGBT people in precarious economic positions.”

Melissa Minor Peters of Northwestern University, who has spent two years conducting research on transgender Ugandans, said during the Oct. 9 presentation the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act continues to have an adverse impact on the nation’s LGBT residents.

Peters noted the statute that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed in February punishes those who are found guilty of “aiding and abetting homosexuality.”

She said this provision has prompted landlords to evict their LGBT tenants. Peters added that many LGBT Ugandans “aren’t making it past the age of 22.”

“That’s not good for families, that’s not good for communities and that’s not good for development,” she said.

Advocates from Venezuela, South Africa, Lebanon and the Philippines discussed the World Bank and ways it can support pro-LGBT efforts during a panel the D.C. Center hosted at the Reeves Building in Northwest D.C. on Oct. 8.

Tamara Adrián, a Venezuelan LGBT advocate, cited a study from her South American country that found only four of the trans women who took part in it had a “decent job” that did not involve working as a hairdresser or a sex worker. Adrián noted only 10 respondents said they had access to “decent housing.”

“Exclusion provokes poverty,” she said.

World Bank’s way of ‘doing business is unacceptable’

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim in April met with 15 LGBT rights advocates from Lebanon, Uganda, Albania, Poland, Guyana, Russia, India, Mexico and China during the organization’s annual spring meetings. The activists also attended a roundtable with 17 World Bank executive directors and board members from the U.S., Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America.

The meetings took place less than two months after the World Bank postponed a $90 million loan to the Ugandan government in response to Museveni’s decision to sign the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

The World Bank in 2013 published an organizational report that specifically referred to LGBT people for the first time, but advocates remain largely critical of the global financial institution’s policies on issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

Mmapaseka “Steve” Letsike of the South African National AIDS Council, said during the D.C. Center panel the World Bank has “ignored” LGBT issues and what he described as inclusive development. Jonas Bagas of TFL Sexuality, a Filipino advocacy group, added SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) is an “alien term for the World Bank.”

“The way the bank is doing its business is unacceptable,” said Bagas.

Al, a transgender Iraqi man who currently lives in New York, was among the dozens of LGBT people and others who took part in a protest against the World Bank on Oct. 11 that took place at Edward R. Murrow Park in Northwest Washington.

Al, who declined to give the Washington Blade his last name because of potential reprisals against his family, held a sign that noted the World Bank gave Baghdad $355.5 million in the 2014 fiscal year.

“My people are not having any benefit from it,” said Al.

Phil Crehan, a World Bank consultant, during the D.C. Center panel acknowledged frustrations over the global financial institution’s response to LGBT rights.

He said his “ask” to the World Bank is to meet with LGBT advocates in a particular country in which it is funding projects. Crehan admitted the institution “certainly didn’t meet with” Ugandan LGBT advocacy groups before Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

“There is a poverty component to discrimination,” said Crehan. “The World Bank is an institution that tries to fight extreme poverty, to ensure prosperity.”

The World Bank is among the funders of the Indian government’s program to combat HIV/AIDS in the country.

Kaushik Basu, a senior vice president at the World Bank, on Oct. 9 said lawmakers in his native India should repeal the country’s anti-sodomy law known as Section 377. World Bank Country Director for India Onno Ruhl noted during the meeting that his country’s Department of Economic Affairs two weeks after the India Supreme Court reinstated Section 377 late last year “gave us explicit permission” to study ways to more effectively track HIV among gay and bisexual men.

Ruhl further pointed out in his brief remarks that the India Supreme Court earlier this year ruled the country must legally recognize trans Indians and other gender-variant people.

“You have to eliminate the poverty of everyone,” he said. “Inclusion is an agenda without limitation.”

Satu Santala, a member of the World Bank board of directors from Finland, made a similar point as she opened the Oct. 9 meeting.

“Discrimination is bad for people, for societies and bad for economies,” she said.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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