What’s the secret to convincing the world to back a movement? Figure out how it could impact the global bottom line.
Economic reasoning is part of what propelled the modern women’s empowerment movement. And now, it’s informing an emerging argument for LGBT inclusion: Unequal treatment of LGBT people, as it turns out, can cause economic harm, leading to lower economic output for individuals, businesses, and even countries. And on the flip side, inclusive policies can boost a country’s GDP.
This argument is taking shape as treatment for LGBT people is deteriorating or stagnating in many places around the world. In Egypt last month, eight men were sentenced to three years in jail after showing up in a video of what looked like a “gay marriage” to Egyptian officials.
Over the last year or so, countries as diverse as Russia, Uganda, Nigeria, and Brunei have implemented new laws that increase penalties for homosexuality or for supporting rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Anti-LGBT arrests, discrimination, harassment, and violence are pervasive—cropping up in schools, workplaces, health-care facilities, and within families.
So how does this translate into economic loss? The link between discrimination and the economy can be direct. Those eight men sitting in an Egyptian jail, for example, will not be contributing to the economy for three years and instead create an avoidable cost for the government. Their skills and knowledge might be less valuable when they get out, and if future employers are likely to discriminate against people assumed to be gay, their options might be limited to work in less productive jobs. In other cases, links are indirect, though still strong: Injuries from physical violence or the mental-health effects of stigma will mean poorer health for LGBT workers, in turn reducing their productivity at work.