The Global Economic Costs of Homophobia

LGBT social acceptance, legal rights, and economics worldwide

In April, 2018 the highly respected Williams Institute at UCLA released three new studies on LGBT inclusion worldwide. Social acceptance and legal protections have improved (sort of) but, where homophobia persists, it’s pricey — and not just for LGBT people.

In the study Polarized Progress: Social Acceptance of LGBT People in 141 Countries researchers combined results of 11 cross-national, global, and regional surveys to develop a Global Acceptance Index (GAI) score for social and legal protections for LGBT people in 141 countries.

Perhaps surprisingly, LGBT acceptance has generally increased!

Since 1980, 80 (of 141) countries have seen increased GAI scores while 46 countries have seen a decline. Only 15 countries saw no change.

However, LGBT acceptance has become more polarized. Countries with a history of acceptance have become even more accepting. Countries that were less tolerant have become even more so.

Many Western democracies —such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina— already had high GAI scores and saw modest increases.

That stands in contrast to much of Western Europe, and the standout Latin American country Uruguay, which saw the greatest improvements in GAI scores.

Conversely, intolerant countries in North, West, and East Africa and East, Central, and South Asia saw even further declines in acceptance.

And highly intolerant countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, and Bangladesh saw precipitous declines in their GAI scores.

The U.S is not a global leader in LGBT legal rights and social acceptance — ranking only 23rd in the world.

In the study Examining the Relationship between Social Acceptance of LGBT People and Legal Inclusion of Sexual Minorities researchers asked whether there was a relationship between social acceptance of LGBT people and legal inclusiveness for sexual minorities (i.e. only LGB people).

There appears to be a strong statistical relationship between the two.

Legal protections for sexual minorities (LGB people) generally follow two paths: decriminalization of same-sex sexual behavior leading to either laws covering economic activity (employment, public accommodations, military service, etc.) or to protections for relationships and families (marriage, parenting, adoption, etc.)

Interestingly, countries with greater press freedoms and stronger rule of law saw a stronger relationship between social acceptance and legal protections. But the reverse was true for countries with the least press freedoms and weakest rule of law (i.e. dictatorships, absolute monarchies). Countries with the weakest rule of law were also the most likely to have no LGB-inclusive laws of policies.

There is a strong connection between political democracies and legal protections/social inclusion for sexual minorities.

Finally, researchers found that greater LGBT legal rights/protections are connected to a country’s overall economic performance.

The study Links between Economic Development and New Measures of LGBT Inclusion builds on existing research showing that violence, discrimination, and stigma limit full economic participation by LGBT people: in areas of employment, education, healthcare, housing, politics, and families.

The economic consequences for LGBT individuals and their families are lower income and wealth and higher poverty, homelessness, and dependence on government assistance programs.

But LGBT discrimination also harms national economic productivity.

Using the General Acceptance Index (GAI) scores (discussed above), researchers found a one-point increase in a country’s GAI was associated with an increase in Gross Domestic Product of USD$1,506 per person.

One additional LGBT legal right meant an increase of USD$1,694 in GDP and the countries with the most legal inclusiveness added USD$8,259.

LGBT-inclusive countries fare better economically.

Legal protections and social polices that allow LGBT people to live open, authentic lives also means they can realize their full economic potential. That has consequences for national economies, not just LGBT individuals.

It’s long past time that greater LGBT social acceptance and increased legal protections become part of global economic development strategies.

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Michael J. Murphy, PhD, is Associate Professor of Gender & Sexuality Studies at the University of Illinois Springfield. He is the author of many book chapters, and encyclopedia and journal articles. Most recently, he edited Living Out Loud: An Introduction to LGBTQ History, Society, and Culture (New York: Routledge, 2019). He tweets @emjaymurphee.

Professional homosexual. Professor. Writer. Scholar. Activist. Husband.

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