When the United Nations decided to create a set of global goals to end poverty and inequality by 2030, equality groups pushed for the rights and needs of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people to be taken into account. The result, The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), was agreed in 2015 and signed onto by 193 governments on the basis that they apply to everyone, everywhere and will ‘leave no one behind. Although at Stonewall we think the SDGs could have gone further by explicitly calling for LGBT equality, we recognise their exciting potential to advance equality for all.
‘Leave No One Behind’
The ‘leave no one behind’ principle is especially relevant for LGBT people, who have been repeatedly left behind by national and international development initiatives. Discriminatory laws, projects that don’t acknowledge their specific needs and negative social attitudes have all combined to hold LGBT people back. The impacts of this are felt by LGBT communities in all parts of the world – lower income, worse health, less education, among others. As a result, poverty as a whole will never truly be eradicated until this problem is directly addressed. We believe this is unacceptable. We are calling for governments and development organisations worldwide to keep their promise and to make sure the challenges facing LGBT people are accounted for in their responses to the SDGs. By doing this, we can help achieve our mission for every person to be accepted without exception.
Some Ways LGBT Equality Can Be Achieved
Exclusion and discrimination make it harder for LGBT people to earn money, stay secure and pursue their goals. This discrimination takes many forms, from a trans person being limited to insecure and unsafe employment, to a lesbian being refused access to communal land, to a gay or bi man being denied a loan. Many LGBT people are also rejected from the family support that most of us rely on. Formal social assistance can also discriminate by not recognising same-sex couples or parents. Discrimination can lead to poverty, but the reverse is also true. The poorer someone is, the more they are discriminated against in daily life and the less they can afford the means of escape, such as migration to a safer neighbourhood or more secure accommodation
There are lots of ways that LGBT people are excluded from sexual and reproductive healthcare. This can lead to LGBT people being more vulnerable to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Some great work has been done to address the sexual health needs of MSM, especially needs related to HIV. However, much more is needed, especially to address the needs of trans people and women who have sex with women (WSW). LGBT exclusion from healthcare is unfortunately not confined to sexual and reproductive health. LGBT people are poorly served across the sector, due to discrimination, lack of awareness by health workers, and inappropriate services. For example, trans people seeking to transition medically can find that provision is either harmful or non-existent. Also, in some societies where women are not allowed to access health services independently of male relatives, lesbian and bi women are at a particular disadvantage. In addition, LGBT people, who face greater mental health care challenges often due to exclusion and stigma from family and wider society, can find a lack of appropriate support.
In schools and universities around the world, young people are bullied or excluded by teachers and peers, because they are (or are perceived to be) LGBT or questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity. Some find it impossible to continue with their studies and leave prematurely, while others might suffer in silence and get poor results, in turn affecting their future prospects. For some, the impact of all this on their mental health and well-being will last well beyond their student years. However, when schools and universities promote human rights for all and profile positive LGBT role models, harmful social attitudes can be challenged before they become fixed. All young people are then able to learn in a safe and enabling environment and become equipped for the future.
Lesbian, bi and trans women can experience multiple discrimination and violence, because of their intersecting LGBT status and gender. For example, while women in general are taken less seriously than men when reporting crimes to the authorities, they will be taken even less seriously if they are identified as a lesbian or bi. Sadly, instead of helping, development programmes can reinforce the inequalities that LBT women face, by only providing support to opposite-sex couples and families. In addition, these programmes often work with a narrow definition of ‘gender’ that is not trans-inclusive. However, Goal 5 calls for an end to all discrimination and violence against women and girls, which includes lesbophobia, biphobia and transphobia. Countering these problems requires a careful approach: working with the whole community to address gender stereotypes, but also prioritising support for LBT women, as they are most affected by gender-based discrimination and violence.
Discrimination against LGBT people is often reinforced by laws, policies and practices that either fail to take LGBT needs into account or deliberately exclude them. These laws, policies and practices reinforce negative social attitudes, and encourage backlash against the LGBT communities calling for equality.
Goal 10 calls for everyone to take a stand and promote full equality. In particular, Target 10.2 prohibits exclusion on the basis of ‘other status’ – a catch-all term meaning that whatever your status, whether you are LGBT, disabled, a migrant or part of any other protected group, the SDGs apply to you. In support of this idea, the UN has made it clear that LGBT people must be afforded dignity and human rights (UN Human Rights Council Resolution 17/19).
The high rate of LGBT homelessness is directly linked to discrimination. Rejected or abused by family and bullied by friends, many LGBT people are forced to leave home. Prejudice from landlords can also mean that many LGBT people fi nd themselves on the streets. While homeless, LGBT people, particularly young people and the elderly, are more vulnerable to physical violence, sexual abuse and physical and mental health problems. A lack of appropriate support services and poor understanding of their needs by providers can lead to them being unable to get help. In some Northern countries, this problem has been worsened by budget cuts to important services in a way that particularly impacts LGBT homeless people.
Any form of violent attack against anyone is unacceptable, but LGBT people in many countries face the additional challenge of police and security services refusing to take their reports of violence seriously. In some contexts, the police and security services that are meant to protect instead attack and harass LGBT people, especially where there are discriminatory laws in place. Where LGBT people cannot rely on the state’s protection, they do not report violence and death threats for fear that they themselves might be arrested. Homophobic, transphobic and biphobic attitudes in the media and legal system, along with laws that prevent civil society groups from speaking out, mean that LGBT people are highly vulnerable to fundamental human rights abuses. However, when police and security services are trained in how to deal sensitively with LGBT hate crime, it can then be possible for them to provide the proper support.
- Fund local LGBT groups and support them to address the needs of their communities.
- Inform staff and delivery partners about the Sustainable Development Goals and the principle of ‘leave no one behind’, along with training and support to make sure they take appropriate action.
- Use LGBT-specific indicators and gather data to monitor properly the impact of your programme on LGBT people.
- Put in place clear LGBTinclusive policies for staff and beneficiaries. Make sure that your partners (whether public, private or third sector) have also adopted such policies.
- Highlight success stories where LGBT individuals and groups have been included, and share good practice.
- Always consult with local LGBT groups in both the design and implementation of any support programmes, to make sure their needs are met and no harm is done.
- Empower LGBT people to hold their governments and other service providers to account.
Stonewall International, ‘SDG Guide’ Available at: https://www.stonewall.org.uk/system/files/sdg-guide.pdf [Accessed 24 June 2021].
Open For Business, ‘LGBT+ Inclusion and the UN Sustainable Development Goals’ Available at: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5bba53a8ab1a62771504d1dd/t/5f6b4f3a978b0513584d2280/1600868211690/SDG-LGBT+inclusion.pdf [Accessed 24 June 2021].