The Pandemic Has Highlighted the Development Challenges of the LGBTI Community

The LGBTI community faces unique challenges during the pandemic. Photo: Jasmin Sessler
The LGBTI community faces unique challenges during the pandemic. Photo: Jasmin Sessler

By Oliver Chapman

Development institutions are beginning to address the issues of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.

COVID-19 has shown community support systems are incredibly important as people deal with shocks and move into recovery phase. Without such informal systems, the economic shock from lockdowns on poor communities throughout the region would’ve been even more catastrophic. But such systems can also exclude. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons from poor communities are particularly vulnerable. They can suffer stigma that ultimately deprives them of basic necessities, especially in times of crisis.

The Asia Pacific LGBTI Civil Society Organization APCOM has collated testimonies during the pandemic from their community-based partners throughout the region. The group reports that medical services for HIV/AIDS – which disproportionately affects the LGBTI community – has been decimated by the lockdown, meaning medical assistance is suddenly suspended to people in urgent need.

The particular challenges for transsexual members of the community is reinforced by a World Bank study of over 3000 people in Thailand, which examines economic exclusion faced by sexual and gender minorities. The survey found that transgender people faced a greater degree of discrimination than gay men and lesbians for most indicators. Visible identification as a different gender from that assigned at birth appears to be a particular cause of discrimination across a variety of services and economic interactions. Additionally, the requirement to prove identity can be particularly problematic for transgender people.

  The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown have put the LGBTI community under unique pressures.

As we know from development institutions’ more prolonged engagement with issues surrounding gender, discrimination not only diminishes social and economic disadvantage at the individual level, but also for entire economies. In an earlier research paper published by the World Bank on the economic effects of anti-LGBTI discrimination, lost productivity, human capital wastage through exclusion from education and training systems, and lost output from health disparities, all are shown to cause net economic loss. As data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity related issues becomes more comprehensive, it is clear that practical policy responses will emerge in relation to the education, health and employment sectors in particular.

Many organizations are mainstreaming sexual orientation and gender identity as one of the social impacts assessed as part of their work. This is a very positive change that is taking place despite cultural sensitivities, and shows what can be done to take forward a truly inclusive approach to development.

Collecting sexual orientation and gender identity disaggregated data can be challenging because LGBTI people are difficult to identify and often choose anonymity for reasons of safety and to avoid stigma. The team I work with at ADB has assembled a panel of people from academia and civil society who have experience of finding ways to overcome these barriers through innovative qualitative approaches and anonymized surveys.

As development institutions rise to the challenge of tackling sexual orientation and gender identity-based discrimination, it is clear that more and better data collection, and sound policy responses, can make a significant contribution to our objectives of fostering inclusion, addressing poverty, and reducing inequalities.

The material in this report is part of the May 17 International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOTB), which is marked by collaboration between ADB, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. An ADB virtual event on May 20 (at 4pm Manila time) will highlight the gap in data which is required to effectively deliver inclusive development. The panel at the event also includes a representative of Nepali civil society who has worked with the Nepal government on a ground-breaking approach to sexual orientation and gender identity-disaggregated data in Nepal’s national census. For more information on the event and to register go to this link.