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Sexual orientation and gender identity

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Despite some legal and social advances over the past two decades, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people continue to face widespread discrimination and violence in many countries. This discrimination and violence leads to exclusion, and this exclusion has negative impacts on both the lives of LGBTI people as well as the communities and economies in which they live.

Increasing evidence indicates that LGBTI people suffer lower academic achievement due to discrimination, harassment and violence; higher unemployment rates; and a lack of access to adequate housing, health services and financial services. Therefore, LGBTI people are likely over-represented in the poorest 40% Population. In Serbia, for example, a World Bank study finds that LGBTI people experience lower socioeconomic outcomes due to discrimination, with the at-risk-of-poverty rate increasing from 16% to 20% for those who experience discrimination.

In many countries, it is particularly difficult to combat LGBTI exclusion, discrimination and violence. First and foremost, there is a deeply ingrained stigma against LGBTI people. Another important reason is the lack of a favorable legal framework, which is often the result of such stigmatization. Right now, 67 countries continue to criminalize homosexuality.

A major obstacle to combating this SOGI-based stigma and exclusion is the lack of data on the lives of LGBTI people. Robust, quantitative data on the differential development experiences and outcomes of LGBTI people, particularly those in developing countries, is extremely rare. This lack of data poses a challenge for the World Bank and other development institutions. More importantly, this lack of data jeopardizes the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and countries’ commitment to the principle of “leaving no one behind” in efforts to end poverty and inequality.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the particular challenges sexual and gender minorities face in crisis situations and can serve as a guide for future SOGI-inclusive crisis responses. The unprecedented disruption to public life due to COVID-19 in countries around the world has had devastating effects on service delivery and the ability of already marginalized LGBTI people to access needed services. According to a Joint report of the World Bank and the Equal Rights Association for the Western Balkans and Turkey (ERA)Although COVID-19 can affect anyone, it has disproportionately affected vulnerable groups, including LGBTI people. The pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities, making it more difficult for people from vulnerable groups to access essential services, including health. The challenges this presented were both immediate and longer term, as the impacts on the economy as well as service delivery are likely to be felt long after the pandemic has passed.

These challenges include:

  1. Access to health services: We know from available data that LGBTI people often face significant barriers to accessing health services. In the context of COVID-19, these barriers have been significantly exacerbated and have prevented many LGBTI people from accessing the health services they need.

  2. Impacts of social distancing and isolation policies: Many LGBTI people rely on community organizations to receive essential services (i.e. psychosocial support, HIV testing, etc.), including access has often been significantly impacted during the COVID-19 response. Older LGBTI people, in particular, often lack family networks and rely heavily on these community services, putting them at greater risk when these services are suspended during a pandemic or other crisis.

  3. Potential increase in existing disparities: Existing inequalities in education, employment and health for LGBTI people have widened as a result of the COVID-19 response.

  4. Government negatively targets LGBTI people: Some governments have used the COVID-19 response to roll back the rights of vulnerable populations, including by specifically targeting LGBTI people.

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