World Bank may join fight against anti-LGBT bias

LGBT activists meet with World Bank staff on July 26. (Photo by Eric Scharf)
LGBT activists meet with World Bank staff on July 26. (Photo by Eric Scharf)

The World Bank is studying whether to lend its massive clout to efforts to end discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in developing countries.

LGBT activists met Thursday with World Bank staff in Washington to seek their support in guaranteeing equal access for LGBT people to health services and jobs in 76 countries where homosexuality is illegal.

The staffers said the World Bank has begun considering ways that its programs inadvertently may be harming sexual minorities and is studying possible changes.

The 15 or so advocates who accepted the invitation to the World Bank meeting are among 26 in Washington as part of the Spirit of 76 Worldwide program of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which sponsored their travel to the International AIDS Conference so they could describe their first-hand experiences of how anti-homosexuality laws in 76 countries lead to discrimination and a denial of AIDS services to LGBT people.

Activist Angeline Jackson from Jamaica said her country’s anti-buggery law contributes to widespread discrimination in employment, especially since sexual orientation is not mentioned in Jamaica’s anti-discrimination law.

“Lesbians are fired for looking too butch. Men have lost jobs because they look too effeminate,” she said.

The World Bank has “safeguard” provisions aimed at assuring that its programs will do no harm, such as environmental damage or displacement of indigenous people, but those safeguards currently do not require recipients of World Bank funding not to discriminate against LGBT people.

As a result, no such requirement applies to the World Bank’s current $11.5 million project aimed at fighting HIV/AIDS in Jamaica, but that might change in the future.

Motoko Aizawa, the World Bank staffer who is leading efforts to revamp the bank’s social safeguard standards, said the activists’ comments were “timely and relevant to the areas the World Bank is looking at” in its update of its safeguards. She said she looked forward to continuing the conversation with the activists as her work progresses.

The leader of an anti-AIDS program in Uganda said he faces the problem of doctors who are uninformed about the particular challenges of treating and counseling gay and bisexual men. Last year he proposed a training curriculum to address that problem, but it needs to be approved by the minister of health, who has not acted on it.

The official Ugandan plan for fighting AIDS does not mention men who have sex with men, and the country faces “no consequences” when it ignores that issue, said the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, president of the St. Paul’s Foundation.

The World Bank has allocated $130 million to a project aimed at strengthening Uganda’s health care system.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.


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