LGBTQ Human Rights at the World Bank

Produced by the HRC Foundation
An illustrated map of the world, with each country's flag inside its borders.

With investments of over $60 billion around the world each year, the World Bank can serve as a powerful voice for the human rights of LGBTQ+ people, to help stop discrimination and violence that keeps many vulnerable LGBTQ+ people in poverty.

The Problem

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community (LGBTQ) suffer from discrimination and violence in many societies around the world.  In a recent report called Inclusion Matters, the Bank officials wrote that excluded and stigmatized groups such as LGBTQ people “are denied opportunities” and that they are “significantly less likely to receive the benefits of development investments.” This makes it far more difficult for LGBTQ people in many parts of the world to climb the ladder of economic opportunity, leaving many behind in poverty, forcing some into illicit activities and survival sex.

Steps Taken to Address the Problem

The Bank’s leadership has taken a number of steps to address these ongoing problems. In 2014, after Uganda passed its notorious Anti-Homosexuality Act, the Bank delayed a loan to Uganda’s health system over concerns that they could no longer guarantee LGBTQ people would be able to benefit from it equally with their fellow citizens.

In October 2016, the Bank appointed Clifton Cortez to be the first-ever advisor on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). In making that appointment, Bank President Jim Kim stated that “We must end the discriminatory practices that prevent LGBTI persons from accessing jobs, education, health care, financial markets, housing, and other areas necessary for economic growth and stability.”

More Can Be Done

Safeguards. In 2016, just a few months before Cortez’s appointment, the Bank released new “safeguards” that would prevent the Bank from harming vulnerable groups or the environment in their development work. Unfortunately, the new safeguards did not specifically list LGBTQ people as a vulnerable population, and only addressed them in a separate document, leaving the status of LGBTQ people somewhat unclear in relation to the Bank. Despite that, the Bank should still take a number of steps that would safeguard LGBTQ people. For example:

  • If the Bank helps build a school, educators should be required to welcome LGBTQ students and to address bullying appropriately.
  • If the Bank funds construction of a dam that requires communities to move out of the area, they should resettle LGBTQ people in places that are safe for them.
  • If the Bank helps fund a health clinic, it must ensure that LGBTQ people are not turned away or are made to feel stigmatized.

Research. The Bank also has enormous resources to conduct research into the environment that LGBTQ people face in various parts of the world. Some studies have been conducted but much more could be done. In a study released in November 2016, the Bank laid out five key areas where more research is needed: health; economic well-being; personal security and violence; education; and political and civic participation. Any further data in those areas could go a great distance toward helping protect LGBTQ people from violence and discrimination, while helping them to escape poverty.

Leveraging the Bank's power. Bank officials should also raise LGBTQ issues on a more consistent basis in their work around the world. Because of the Bank's significant development assistance budget, Bank officials - and President Kim in particular - have unique leverage to raise human rights issues with host nations, media, clergy, and other opinion leaders in order to make the economic and rights-based cases for inclusion of LGBTQ people. They should also meet with LGBTQ communities while they are in-country to demonstrate support for them and to ensure Bank funded projects are reaching them.

Current Efforts HRC is Undertaking

HRC is working with World Bank leadership (including the 188 countries who serve as the institution’s shareholders), members of Congress, U.S.-based coalition partners, and advocates from around the world to ensure that the Work Bank takes steps to advance LGBTQ human rights, conduct research into the health and general well-being of LGBTQ people, and fully protect them from any harm resulting from Bank-funded development projects.

Last Updated: January 2017

The Human Rights Campaign reports on news, events and resources of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation that are of interest to the general public and further our common mission to support the LGBTQ+ community.

Related Resources

View AllRelated Resources