This post has been updated recently on 1 June 2023.
Since 1970, the month of June has been dedicated to celebrating and commemorating members of the LGBTQ+ communities, and promoting their equality, dignity, and visibility. While an important time to celebrate, Pride is also a moment to take stock of the challenges still faced by LGBTQ+ people around the world.
To this day, the true cost of LGBTQ+ discrimination is hard to grasp. Even though average levels of acceptance and rights have increased globally since 1981, as of December 2022, 67 countries around the world still criminalise same-sex consensual activity. At least nine countries have national laws criminalising forms of gender expression that target transgender and gender non-conforming people. As of 2023, only 34 countries have legalised same-sex marriage. Transgender people in 14 countries around the world still live in countries which criminalise their gender expression.
Even where there have been legal and social strides towards inclusion, discrimination and stigma still translate into reduced opportunities for members of the LGBQT+ community. A 2019 study on the economic cost of lesbian, gay, and bisexual discrimination in South Africa, where laws prohibiting same-sex sexual behaviour were ruled unconstitutional in 1998, found that monthly earnings of gender-nonconforming heterosexuals and gay and bisexual men were 30% lower than gender-conforming heterosexual men. Prejudices and biases meted in the social and work sphere unfairly get in the way of members of the community fully reaping the rewards of their own capabilities.
In many countries, LGBTQ+ people are still seen as a threat to traditional notions of family, society, and nation. Recently, while countries such as Costa Rica and Botswana have taken steps towards LGBTQ+ equality, others such as Uganda and Hungary still face setbacks.
This non-accepting climate became even more evident with the COVID-19 pandemic which heightened vulnerabilities. Recent reports show how LGBTQ+ communities worldwide face specific challenges arising from the pandemic, such as disruptions in accessing healthcare, an elevated risk of domestic and family violence, and abuse of state power.
Studies have shown LGBT inclusion and economic development are mutually reinforcing, and yet LGBTQ+ people have to overcome an array of challenges every day just for choosing to live as who they are. They face additional economic and health constraints which render them more vulnerable to abuse and thereby at a loss to access policies and opportunities available to the rest of the population.
Why is this important when it comes to research?
Challenges faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community as well as the status of laws and policies to protect them will help set the tone for a conversation on the importance of considering this reality when conducting research. Most notably, data on gay and lesbian families and individuals remains sparse for economic research in both developed and developing countries.
Gender-diverse people face different kinds of social and economic inclusion and exclusion than other marginalised groups. LGBTQ+ people are limited in their freedoms in ways that create economic inefficiencies, including reduced productivity and discrimination that hinder their participation in the labour market.
Rachael Goodman, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Gender and the Economy, and Sarah Kaplan, Director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy at the University of Toronto, argue three ways researchers can start paving the way for more equitable economic and social research:
- Take time to understand local categories and norms. There are differences in how societies recognise gender and how people express their gender identities.
- Include gender-diverse people in ways that do not reinforce marginalisation. Simply adding gender-diverse people does not necessarily erase the discrimination or barriers to full social inclusion they face.
- Talk to gender-diverse people and members of the community before designing projects. It is important to let people speak for themselves.
The role of researchers
Researchers are uniquely placed at the beginning of research processes to develop projects and present results that systematically include members of vulnerable and marginalised communities and guide the design of effective public policy. When certain communities’ voices are not heard, they can end up being marginalised, with resulting policies that do not accurately represent them, or worse, make them invisible. For instance, many developed European states still impose conditions before permitting trans people to change their documents, including a requirement to obtain a mental health diagnosis. Building truly inclusive economies and societies means including them in the policy and research processes from the beginning.
Providing evidence that is more inclusive of people including their sexual orientation and gender identity, and takes stock of the specific issues they face, will ultimately allow for better access to health, education, housing and employment, as well as improved livelihoods and labour relations.
Researchers need to ensure that their work is guided by the needs and experiences of the people involved, rather than only by traditional academic cultures and expertise. Considering the specific economic, policy, and political challenges faced by LGBQT+ communities around the world, listening and including their voices and experiences, and understanding how they impact development efforts means that governments, organisations, and academics can be better allies in the fight for more inclusive societies.
Resources to help you get started
If you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community looking to get involved in academia, or someone who wishes to be more informed about LGBTQ+-specific issues and create more inclusive research, here’s a list of resources that might be of interest to you:
- Here’s a list compiled by the Global Philanthropy Project with LGBTQ+-focused grants and scholarships and here's another directed more towards international students.
- The Human Rights Campaign has put together an array of resources for everyone on myriad aspects of LGBTQ+ lives, from coming out to aging, from being set internationally to being amongst communities of colour. They also have a LGBTQ+ scholarships database.
- The LGBT Foundation has prepared this important good practice ethical guide to researching LGBT communities and issues.
- In June 2019, the American Economic Association set up a committee on the status of LGBTQ+ individuals in the economic profession and offers a range of resources including a newsletter focussing on LGBTQ+ research and researchers and a series of webinars. This year, they will be launching the first of its kind, Queer Economics PhD Student Mentoring Conference.
- The European Committee for LGBTQ+ Economists conducts annual mentoring programmes and conferences (including virtual events).
- Discover Economics has curated video highlights of LGBTQ+ economists discussing their work in the fields of academic business, and politics.
- The Point Foundation has a variety of scholarship and mentorship opportunities for students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programmes in the US.
- Another study, published in Research & Ethics in 2017, looks at some of the ethical challenges of conducting studies with vulnerable populations including LGBTQ+ communities.
- Interested in law and history? This interactive map created by the United Nations’ Free & Equal campaign tells the story of the right to love (if you’re gay) worldwide.
- Prof. Dario Sansone has put together LGBTQ+ research papers investigating labour, health, education, household wealth and dynamics, institution and politics, discrimination, legalisation, along with some data sources.
- A report card prepared in 2020 by Human Rights Watch brings some (rather bleak) examples of the injustices lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people still face in many parts of the developed and developing world.
- What is the economic cost of anti-LGBTQ laws? This article from Al Jazeera explores studies looking at the impact of including LGBTQ people in the economy and workforce.
Have we missed anything? If you know of any additional resources or initiatives that address some of the topics covered in this blog, please reach out to the authors.