Traditionally, the entry points to examining discrimination against those with non-normative sexual or gender identities has been through HIV prevention work and human rights activism. However, recent research has begun to examine the impact of social, economic and political barriers and how they shape these marginalised groups experiences of a double-bind of prejudice and exclusion; such as struggles in accessing education, healthcare, employment discrimination, housing and the greater role migration plays in their lives, particularly amongst sex workers and trans people. Alongside this, international efforts to reduce poverty often amongst development actors have normative conceptions of sexuality coded into poverty alleviation policies, in ways that further compound and exclude those individuals marginalised as a consequence of their sexuality or gender identity.
We can also see that in those countries with discriminatory laws, policies, institutions and public opinion against sexual and gender minorities, it is even harder to make the case for interventions. The lack of an evidence base to illustrate the effects of this marginalisation also ensures that the case for economic benefit, often found as an important outcome of tackling this discrimination is harder to make in national and international contexts. Although recent qualitative studies produced by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and the World Bank have examined the ‘cost of homophobia’ in India, which are having an impact on global debates. Anecdotal evidence indicates that extreme poverty amongst these communities is even starker in rural contexts, hence the levels of migration to urban centres where surveillance from family and peers is reduced, but to date there hasn’t been a critical mass of research in this area.
Crucial to social change is the ability to participate in civil and political life. Individuals with non-normative sexual and gender identities, particularly those who are unable ‘to pass’ face barriers in accessing public and political spaces with the resulting restrictions this creates in taking a full role as citizens. For those societies where there are legal restrictions and discrimination around civil society, homosexuality or sex work, for example, there are even less opportunities to engage. This can be further compounded by entrenched structural barriers to women’s engagement, which can have a distorting effect on the nature and priorities of social movements advocating change, for example, amongst the LGBTI communities, where male and richer advocates are more empowered to set agendas. Even within societies that provide space for inclusion of sexual and gender minorities, there are difficulties in resourcing engagement with policy-making that opponents to equality, such as well-funded religious actors, are able to provide.
The growth in online spaces with their potential for anonymity, mass organising, information sharing and cross-border publicity are increasingly providing avenues for engagement in public policy and advocacy. Ensuring security and freedom of speech however, are rising up the political agenda.
For many, international fora such as the UN Human Rights Council, the Association for Women In Development and the Commission on the Status of Women are becoming sites of constructive contestation in which dialogue takes place that recognises some of the intersecting challenges facing gender advocates as well as sexual minorities. Research is also showing that participation in economic and political blocs, such as the European Union, has had the impact of creating cross-border social movements that can bolster sexual and gender political activism.
Some useful resources on this issue include: