World Bank at moral crossroads on LGBT issues

From the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, at the beginning of this week:

Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

I am en route to Washington, D.C., for a full week of meetings planned around the World Bank’s Spring Meeting. It was only a year ago that the Bank had its first LGBT-specific panel looking at LGBT issues as a poverty issue. You can review our report from last year HERE (PDF file).

A year later, there has been a lot of talk about LGBT issues within the Bank but we are not seeing the full weight of this important institution even begin to address the issues or recommendations from last year’s panel. Leadership for LGBT inclusion continues to rely on GLOBE (the Bank’s staff affinity group) and a handful of Civil Society Organizations who have been advocating for these issues, rather than being driven more intentionally from Senior Management.

Lee Badgett
Lee Badgett

Even the historic study detailing the estimated cost of homophobia in India ($31 billion per year) released last month by Dr. Lee Badgett of Williams Institute, was paid for by the Nordic Trust and not the Bank itself. Without a serious commitment to research and documentation, the LGBT community remains invisible and expendable.

President Jim Kim has attracted criticism from both sides on the Bank’s decision not to give a $90 million loan to the failing Ugandan health care system because there were no guarantees LGBT people could have equal access to the benefits of this loan. Kim shared his position this week in the Washington Post (“Here is why the World Bank withheld aid to Uganda.”)

This week, a dozen LGBT leaders from all over the world who represent many of the countries (where LGBT people live in abject poverty and face discrimination every day) will be present for the Spring Meetings and will meet with the President of the Bank and members of Congress. As draconian legislation finds support in Russia, Nigeria and Uganda, we may be only on the threshold of more negative reaction from other countries.

How the Bank and the US government respond represent critical steps towards a more equitable process where specific minorities within countries are given access to health, education and business opportunity, or are fear-driven steps in retreat from controversial issues over sexuality, culture and religion.

Undoubtedly, there will be other even more complex contexts than Uganda, where the noble words on LGBT inclusion and human rights that are part of the Bank’s rhetoric, and from the US government, will come face to face with reality.

These conversations are critical, not only for those of us who are travelling long distances to be in Washington, but for the millions of LGBT people and their families and neighbors who stand in solidarity with them, who are watching to see if the Bank will do the right thing and give them the attention they deserve.

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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