Have LGBT Citizens Been ‘Left Behind’ In Development?

According to Stonewall, “equality groups pushed for the rights and needs of lesbian, gay, bi[sexual] and trans people to be taken into account.” Stonewall states in one of their reports, “we think the SDGs could have gone further by explicitly calling for LGBT equality, we recognize their exciting potential to advance equality for all.”

The United Nations (UN) formed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that were introduced in 2015 and were created to eradicate poverty and inequality by 2030. The SDGs consist of 17 global goals that superseded the former seven goals underpinning the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs). As described through the UN, the global goals referred to here as the SDGs were agreed upon in 2015 where 193 governments signed onto on the shared idea that the global goals are applicable to each of them and will “leave no one behind.”

For greater context to the extent of LGBT rights across the globe, Bond, a U.K. network for organizations working in international development, reported that “72 countries criminalize same-sex relationships. In 45, the law applies to women as well as men. Most governments deny trans people the right to legally change their name and gender.” 

Bond further added “the situation is not just legal inequality. LGBT people are subject to physical and sexual violence. They are held back, discriminated against and excluded in ways that negatively impact their financial security, health, education, and daily wellbeing” adding, “despite all this, governments, donors and charities often exclude LGBT people. This can be due to insensitive program design, discriminatory policies, and practices, a lack of inclusive funding opportunities, or lack of awareness and sensitivity by practitioners.” 

In May 2018, a group of UN and international human rights experts met to celebrate the 70th year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the 70th year of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of ‘Man’ where they “urge[d] states and other stakeholders to adopt all necessary measures to ensure that the obligation of all States to address violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity remains firmly included in the 2030 agenda, and to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) persons, communities and populations in the design, implementation and evaluation of all related policies.” 

However, the UN further documents that development across the globe must pay greater attention to ensuring that development is inclusive of LGBT groups/communities to make sure that ‘no one is left behind’, adding: “actions must be taken to tear down the systematic barriers that exclude LGBT persons from the benefits of the development agenda. For example, the rates of poverty, homelessness and food insecurity are higher among LGBT individuals than in the wider community, a situation that bears direct relation with SDGs 1, 8, 10 and 11, the targets of which include ensuring ‘that all men and women, in particular, the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services’ and creating ‘sound policy frameworks at the national, regional and international levels, based on pro-poor and gender-sensitive development strategies.’”

It is evident that through the global goals, LGBT rights weave across some of the SDGs addressing inequality and poverty reduction among more. Nevertheless, it does raise the question of why LGBT was not framed explicitly in the targets. I believe there are a variety of problems with not presenting the community among the others referenced, and in the case of LGBT, it is of the assumption that LGBT rights are aligned to ‘other status’ via the SDG goal 10 – reducing inequalities; with the target details being “reducing inequalities in income as well as those based on age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status within a country.” Therefore, this provides a chance to reposition the goal 10 target details and frame ‘LGBT’ explicitly, free from being ‘othered.’

The Baring Foundation reports that “the Sustainable Development Goals leave plenty of room for supporting LGBT people to claim their rights. There is now officially no excuse for aid and development spending that continues to leave lesbian, gay, bi and trans communities behind.”  This shares a sense of comfort, but with all that is ongoing with LGBT rights, including the freedom to assemble and expression (Pride), I ask, are global civil society organizations and intergovernmental institutions (UN) efforts in this area reflected through robust resources and provision? Is there a need for greater transparency on what is being (or not being) resourced to support LGBT communities across the globe? And further, how are LGBT issues being considered in mainstream programs addressing poverty reduction, education, health, and gender equality and equity?

Bond reported that “the SDGs and the “leave no one behind” agenda have created a chance for the development sector to create an approach that is inclusive of LGBT people. Let’s not miss this unique opportunity.”

Jonathan Stephen
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The Organization for World Peace