The UN talks of inclusivity and equality, but its failure to include LGBTQ community in its SDGs raises questions.
The 2030 agenda for sustainable development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. However, the execution of some of these goals has not always been inclusive of the LGBTQ community, and a provision for their rights, which remains a social challenge, is inadequate. This pride month, let’s look at some SDGs that have left the queer community behind.
SDG 1: No Poverty
As a result of stigma, discrimination, and exclusion, LGBTQ persons are in general more vulnerable to poverty than heterosexual people. LGBTQ persons are often formally barred from accessing financial resources, land, and forms of social protection. Transgender individuals are particularly susceptible to living below the poverty line, as those whose current gender does not match their government-issued documents may be unable to secure land or the property necessary for starting a business. Even in high-income countries where laws and policies that protect the human rights of queer people have been introduced, social discrimination and violence continue to fuel poverty relative to the general population.
SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being
Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men and transwomen continue to bear a disproportionate burden of new HIV infections worldwide. The reasons for their heightened vulnerability to HIV are multifactorial, in part due to entrenched structural barriers including criminalization, stigma, discrimination and violence. Lesbian, bisexual, and other women who have sex with women encounter a key HIV transmission risk when they experience sexual violence. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated LGBT+ people’s pre-existing social and economic inequalities resulting in: loss of income; food insecurity; disruptions in access to healthcare including HIV treatment; poor mental health; increased family and domestic violence, putting LGBT+ people at the heightened vulnerability of homelessness.
SDG 4: Quality Education
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. Only 66% of countries have achieved gender parity in primary education, 45% in lower secondary, and 25% in upper secondary. Only 12% of the poorest males and 8% of the poorest females complete lower secondary school. While these measurements highlight disparities based on gender and wealth, there is a lack of data on educational disparities associated with sexual orientation and gender identity. Nevertheless, it is clear that the completion of studies is shaped by discriminatory policies and harmful cultural norms.
SDG 5: Gender Equality and Empower All Women and Girls-
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.
SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
When analyzing the global landscape of workplace protections for LGBTI persons, only 46 per cent of countries have federal anti-discrimination policies pertaining to the workplace, with an additional 12.5 per cent offering partial protections. Achieving decent employment for trans people requires specific attention. A US survey found that trans people experienced unemployment at twice the national unemployment rate, with trans people of colour experiencing unemployment up to four times the national rate; 90% experienced harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job; and 47% had an adverse job outcome, such as being fired, not hired or denied a promotion because of being transgender or gender non-conforming.
SDG 10: Reduce Inequalities
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 a 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. The term another status is meant to have a flexible application and capture the experience of social groups that are vulnerable, have suffered, and continue to suffer marginalization. However, the use of the term ‘other status’, linking the LGBTQ community is often disputed.
SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
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 people, attack and harass LGBT people, especially where there are discriminatory laws in place. When 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.
Although progress has been made in recent years, including the decriminalization of homosexuality in India and Botswana, LGBTI remains illegal in at least 72 countries, with five countries holding the death penalty. Outside of national policies, the anti-LGBTI attitudes of government officials, employers, and other service providers prevent LGBTI persons from accessing critical services and further perpetuate stigma. At the individual level, LGBTI persons endure various forms of violence, harassment, hate speech, and often face isolation from friends, family, and social groups. LGBTI persons are also often systematically excluded from various walks of life, which denies them several opportunities, therefore it is crucial that the Sustainable Development Goals, which work at a global level to improve the overall standard of living and put an end to discriminatory practices, take into account the specific struggles that the LGBTQ community faces, especially this pride month.
(Also Read: Sustainability is a club, and you’re not invited.)
Dorey, K. (2016). The Sustainable Development Goals and LGBT Inclusion.
Daly, F. (2020). LGBT+ Inclusion and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Scolaro, B. (2020). LGBTI and the Sustainable Development Goals: Fostering Economic Well-Being - LGBTQ Policy Journal.
THE 17 GOALS | Sustainable Development. (2021).