Post 426.

AS IT’S a month when LBGTI+ community presence and pride is commemorated, it’s good to think about how a less discriminatory world is being envisioned and created. 

Over the last decades, there has been a turn to economic justifications for ending inequities and protecting human rights. For example, the economic case for counting the contribution of women’s housework to GDP, for creating greater parity in women’s corporate leadership, and for ending violence against women and girls were all strategies for improving gender equality. 

There are problems with this approach, of course. It seeks to market public goods such as inclusivity on monetary terms, making justice for marginalised or less powerful groups seem to need legitimation by how others, the majority or those more powerful, will benefit. We’ve been talking about the risks of such neoliberalism for decades in the feminist movement. What if climate destruction or war makes economic sense, what are the implications of wealth being our dominant ethical measure? 

Another hard lesson is that change remains difficult even when there is a clear economic case – such as in relation to LBGTI+ rights. It signals to us not to cede terrain to narrow economistic definitions of each other and our societies as rationally profit-seeking. For example, countries may rather lose foreign exchange than become safer for LBGTI tourism. Religion, family socialisation, patriarchal stereotypes, resilient biases and misplaced fear all play roles here.

Although there are correlations between stable economies and safer societies, wealth by itself doesn’t stop prejudice. In these contexts, nations have also consciously embraced social norm change. Even as a business case is made, therefore, so too must a case for societies in which non-discrimination, peace and justice are core ideals and are valued on their own terms. God doesn’t say to love your neighbour as you wished to be loved because it will make us all prosper. It is an individual and social good because it’s the right thing to do. 

That said, the recent report, The Economic Case for LBGT+ Inclusion in the Caribbean, estimates that “LGBT+ exclusion in the English-speaking Caribbean costs between USD 1.5 billion and USD 4.2 billion per year” which is “between 2.1% and up to 5.7%” of our regional GDP. The report focuses on diminished human capital and labour output, health disparities, experiences of violence, and constraints on tourism in 12 Caribbean countries. Tourism is highly problematic, with significant ecological and human costs even as it brings income, so I won’t be championing it here. 

I’m more compelled by the argument that “LGBT+ skilled workers migrate and stay in more open societies – leading to lost human capital, productivity and output, as well as reduced competitiveness” here at home. Discriminatory laws and negative attitudes deplete labour productivity and employee mental health, create conditions for workplace harassment, and add to the immense “brain drain” that’s already a major loss for the region. 

For those who remain, there are “numerous economic development challenges for the LGBT+ Caribbean community – including within the family, schools, labor markets, healthcare, housing, and financial services.” That’s not to say that we can’t live here, but that so many could be contributing more than allowed, including through both public and private sector commitment to non-discrimination and through improved access to justice. 

The State has a key role and, since 2014, the

has recommended that the Attorney General amend the Equal Opportunity Act to include sexual orientation as a protected status. This is because of the economic and psychological cost of stigma and exclusion on LBGTI+ people and their families, particularly those who are part of transgender communities. 

The religious bodies are one litmus test of whether making an economic case works. As the report puts it, “two-thirds of all participants noted the stifling impact of the Church on the inclusion of LGBT+ people in society, particularly its hold on governmental laws and policies to uphold a status quo of exclusion. For example, it has been widely reported that the Church exerts influence over elected officials to scrap bills from becoming law that would give protections to LGBT+ people.”

The Model LGBTI+ Workplace Policy for Trinidad and Tobago, produced by CAISO: Sex and Gender Justice in partnership with the Equal Opportunity Commission and the British High Commission, Port of Spain, is an excellent guide for highlighting how workplaces can address harassment and discrimination. Doing so is good for business and labour, and upholds the good of fair opportunity. Countering stigma with pride, civil society presses on.