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RGOD2: "Social Assessment and LGBT Inclusion Issues: Advancing from Concept to Policy to Practice"

(Editor’s note: The Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, author of the RGOD2 column published by SDGLN, today make this presentation to the World Bank.)

Sponsors: Reconciling Works: Lutherans for Full Participation and St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation.

Panelists: Rachel Kyte (vice president for sustainable development, WBG), the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle (president, St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation), Khemraj Persaud (program coordinator, Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination / SASOD), Phil Crehan (consultant with the World Bank), and the chair, Philip W. Moeller (Director of International Programs, Reconciling Works).

This session builds on two previous panels within the last year on the inclusion of LGBT issues in social assessments carried out for projects financed by the World Bank. The World Bank is beginning to address LGBT inclusivity in some of its operations. With this in mind, this session will focus on: (i) how should the Bank insert the concept of LGBT inclusivity into operational policy, and in its operations; (ii) what issues would relate to communicating and collaborating on this new direction with client governments; (iii) what is the best way for the Bank to work with the CSO community on these issues; and (iv) how would one address local perceptions of cultural sensitivity and inclusivity for the LGBT community in projects financed by the World Bank.

Ending global LGBT poverty – will the World Bank help?

I begin by thanking John Garrison and the World Bank for the invitation to return and to join with the first ever official LGBT representative voice at the Annual meeting, Khemraj Persuad from Guyana who has been engaged in the training and conversations with the Bank and Civil Society all week. We have come a long way since that first meeting of 20 individuals (representing some of the 26 countries where it remains a criminal offence to be LGBT) who met with Bank Management in July 2012. They shares stories of discrimination, persecution and resilience. Criminalization and stigma meant they did not enjoy quality of citizenship or equal access to healthcare, business opportunities and education afforded to their heterosexual citizens. The St. Paul’s Foundation was honored to be this simple conduit for conversations. The Bank’s management listened to these authentic, largely silenced and invisible LGBT people to share their stories and engage some of the Bank’s systems, mainly these Civil Society dialogues.

We were invited to assemble a panel last April at the Bank’s Spring meetings when LGBT people and respected straight allies engaged in the Catholic health service sector in Uganda and the Malawi government presented a roadmap for deeper engagement. I am personally grateful for the progress so far and the work of GLOBE, the staff affinity network, and another panel held three months ago where the President of the Bank, Dr. Kim, reaffirmed his commitment to LGBT issues. Recent reports on social inclusion indicate the Bank’s desire to include LGBT people in deeper conversation and program planning and accountability. Much has been accomplished on paper and in these personal and informal conversations-it remains to be seen how this inclusive policy will be actualized, particularly in the countries where LGBT people are criminalized and stigmatized.

Why is the faith community engaged in LGBT issues at the Bank?

When asked recently by a secular leader in one of our more progressive Foundations in the USA why a religious leader was engaging the World Bank as part of civil society, I replied “The church and wider faith community is also committed to the alleviation of poverty and injustice also.” We want to partner with you so the right to healthcare, the right to self determination and fulfilling our human potential –which for religious people is about recognizing the image of God in all of us….The Bank needs the religious community as a partner, particularly around gender issues (a moral issue) and equally around LGBT issues. The Bank and its partners will never alleviate extreme poverty, as UNAIDS will never get to zero on HIV issues unless there is a clear roadmap where LGBT people, the Bank and these large faith based NGO’s and the enormous cultural clout that they can influence. If LGBT poverty is not addressed, these goals are mere aspirations and dreams.

I have just returned from Rome where a similarly large institution, like the World Bank has a new leader who seems equally committed to the eradication of poverty, creation of employment and the inclusion of LGBT people and has said so. Now, I am not a Catholic, but the Pope’s recent statements have the attention of the world. He has also identified the most significant barrier to implementing these reforms –the Curia or Senior Management of the Church (to use a familiar term within the Bank). Pope Francis gave an unprecedented interview with one of Italy’s most prominent atheists last week where he described the Curia as “the Leprosy of the Church”. Instead of seeing itself as being the quartermaster resource to help the People of God get on with the job of repairing the world and alleviating suffering and poverty, they see themselves as Generals who are in charge and gatekeepers of power and resources. They have inverted their role as servants of the movement to being Overseers. Pope Francis has created a fresh moral climate, rather like that of President Kim’s recent vision of the Bank as a servant principally to those communities who have been previously excluded from the Bank’s resources, wisdom and technical expertise. Now, yesterday, the Bank’s leader, Dr. Kim when asked about the Senior Management and staffing here was much more diplomatic and described you all as “Encrusted and ageist!”

Protecting and advancing the mission-end poverty

Both leaders are to be commended for their call to serve the most vulnerable, but unless the Curia, senior Management and the programs which emanate from these noble institutions embrace this servant leadership model, their common vision will only be a dream. We know there is more than one culture functioning and sometimes competing within the World Bank as much as there is in any church, and it is normal for opposition and inertia to surface in this climate of reform and refocusing the mission. The leader must not only hold up, protect and articulate the mission, but also be able to show clear examples of the kinds of reform and inclusion—new and radical types of inclusion that takes the institution into new territories. It is from the margins and edges that new energy and commitments, ideas and models of mutual collaboration will come and the life blood of the church and the Bank depends upon Senior Management’s ability to see it coming and harness it for the common good. Businesses that coast on past glory or successful products will not survive in a global economy and Pope Francis realizes that if the Church does not start focusing less on issues of sexuality and more on poverty reduction and social cohesion and mutual responsibility, young people under 30 will have nothing to do with mainstream Christianity.

Christianity and Islam do not have good records on LGBT issues and we know from statements from religious leaders in many of these countries, religious and cultural biases (I would claim even sometimes pure sectarianism) remain significant barriers to dialogue and access to services. Decision-making at the Bank is by consensus and cannot ignore religious and cultural attitudes that span the international community are present here.

Homophobia within the Bank-creating a safe and informed workplace

It is good to see that internally, the Bank has created inclusive personnel policies and procedures for LGBT staff, most of whom spend their professional lives working on poverty reduction issues for non LGBT people -heterosexuals, but it can be difficult for LGBT people within the Bank to apply these policies to LGBT people globally because this is seen as a gay agenda. There is a parallel fear in places like Uganda or Russia, than any discussion on LGBT issues, even HIV, can lead one to being accused of “Promoting homosexuality”. Some LGBT people within the Bank remain in the closet, afraid of discrimination. There is still stigma associated with his issue and for members of staff who take the lead in bringing this to the attention of the Bank’s management, it is not surprising they can be seen as either having an agenda or doing work that is not only unpopular and not fully mainstreamed yet in the life of the Bank, and outside their primary professional focus area. As a representative of Civil Society, we can comment from the outside on some of these complexities and hope that more non LGBT people, particularly in Senior Management, might learn about the social and economic deprivation of millions of LGBT people who have only just stepped over your thresholds, but are not yet a part of your budgets, your research, your in-service training, your program planning and evaluation, or your accountability systems.

Learning from the experience of the U.S. Government

There is a parallel situation to this steep learning curve for the Bank on LGBT poverty issues with the US Government’s recent foreign policy changes on LGBT issues, from December 2011. Government Departments were given 100 days to create policies and missions were to come up with plans to support LGBT activists and people engaged in controversial work like HIV prevention specialists who were being arrested or even liked because they were working with LGBT people. This all sounded wonderful and, on paper, these policies looked good, but when you stood in the shoes of activists and HIV workers in places like Uganda, Cameroon or Zambia, the persecution of LGBT people actually increased, HIV workers were more harassed, imprisoned and even killed. Murders were not investigated or given due process and the largest criticism was the US government funding to anti gay religious organizations continued. Contracted to provide HIV prevention and care to everyone, including vulnerable populations these organizations blatantly refused to provide services to LGBT people. In Uganda’s case, when we reported to USAID and PEPFAR staff in the embassy in Kampala that these contractors were not serving people they were paid to serve, donors looked the other way. We asked for a meeting between the LGBT service organizations and the contractors and this has still to be realized. We finally had to form a Consortium of some 14 organizations who are working on the front lines of these health issues. The US Government can find $750m a year to fund The US Catholic Conference of Bishop’s work around the world or $250m to World Vision, but we could not find $5,000 to help the Consortium meet or go on a retreat. For years, these grass roots organizations have been excluded from the normal contract RFP processes and yet they are doing extraordinary work with communities who represent three or four times the average rates if HIV infection. Two years after Secretary Clinton’s historic speech, the US Government has still not provided funding for sensitivity training of local nationals who work for agencies like USAID and PEPFAR, so the gatekeepers of these funds remain more influenced by the anti-gay propaganda of their pastors and politicians that by information provided by service providers who have experience with working with these populations. HIV is now a global pandemic for Men Who have Sex with Men, (MSM) but we will never get to zero infection and zero stigma while basic training and access to funding issues are systematically ignored. Funds continue to go to abstinence only programs around the world, simply because religious and cultural ideology and inertia trumps evidence- based approaches.

A desperate need for research and empirical data

The lack of informed research is also a major barrier to reduction of stigma, HIV infection or poverty among LGBT people. This year, the CDC Representative in Uganda told the Consortium in my presence, there were only 8,000 Men Who have Sex with Men in Kampala based on a CRANE study and the implication from this data was “Why upset all these religious contractors when there are so few MSM’s in Kampala?”. We deeply questioned his data. But this is part of the institutional homophobia that needs to be transformed if we are to target effective prevention and treatment. Research is desperately needed so informed policies and strategies can go forward. There is a possibility without serious intervention, that one of two LGBT people will be HIV positive by 2050 if we do not create evidence-based interventions and harness the knowledge and experience of Consortia serving vulnerable populations. This inequality and misinformation is a waste of our God given potential and is killing people.

There is a lot of community based information gathering and some of it has academic oversight, but if the Bank was to seriously provide part of its extensive research skills to these problems (lack of access to healthcare, business opportunity and education) we would have the data need by the Senior Management of the Bank to inform Directors and ensure the Bank was on mission by listening to LGBT people and their service and social support systems to include their needs. This is not rocket science. Without the sensitivity training for Senior Management at the Bank and direction from the President to mainstream LGBT issues with informed and reliable data, places like Uganda will be allowed to continue their inefficient and discriminatory practices and rewarded through US government and the continued support of the international community and the Bank. These are difficult conversations for in country Directors and Bank staff. Resistance, inertia and even sabotage are to be expected, so what is the plan for the Bank to push through this? What is the plan to organize a stigma inventory and self reflective within the organization itself around LGBT issues at all levels of the Bank and how can Civil Society walk with you and support you in this challenging new topography?

LGBT - a moral issue the Bank can no longer ignore

Coalition building is one way LGBT and ally organizations are finding support and voice to engage institutions like the Bank or PEPFAR. We need a Coalition that would be composed of staff and Civil Society representatives with a clear mandate from the President to report back to him before next year’s April Spring meetings. GLOBE should no longer be expected to be the conscience of the Bank for LGBT people and LGBT staff members should not be stigmatized for talking or working on this issue as the Bank commits to the next stages of implementation of inclusion and social protections. It will be no longer appropriate for Bank staff or leaders in Civil Society to say “This is not our issue, or the data is just not there to support my department’s time and energy.” Madame Lagarde (Managing Director of the IMF) in her comments to the Civil Society partners yesterday, referred to gender equality as a moral issue as well as an economic one. She noted it was a duty of the Bank to guard the moral issue in the face of those who would deny gender equality is a moral issue. It has taken the Bank ten years of informed advocacy and demonstrated project implementation to convince the international community that cultural and religious attitudes to the role and place of women in society should not be seen as the principle moral determinant, given the overwhelming evidence that access to education, health, capital and world markets can significantly reduce poverty. The principle of the right to equal access to health, education and sustainable opportunity in business over religious and cultural values towards LGBT people has already been championed by the Bank for women. The Bank has a moral obligation to extend its experience and wisdom with gender equality to other populations, knowing the cultural and religious issues will not fully support this implementation. It is likely that a couple of significant challenges using the Bank’s own safeguard and review systems will also reinforce the need for all aspects of the Bank to pay attention to how these policies will hit the ground. An LGBT organization in Nepal –the Blue Diamond Society has issued the first call for an Inspection Panel to review the Bank’s sponsored employment training program there. Even though a third gender is recognized in Nepal, this Bank sponsored training program only offers courses to man or women. It is in no-one’s interest to spend half a million dollars conducting a review of programs in several countries where LGBT people are not full and equal beneficiaries of good quality poverty reduction program. I would rather take that half million dollars and give it to Khemraj to help professionalize their research on how rural LGBT people in Guyana can get freed from stigma, HIV and poverty. Instead, it would be better invested in Coalition building in places like Uganda, where capacity building and a road to access mainstream funding could lead to cooperation with faith based NGO’s than fighting each other. Young leaders like Khem in Guyana who have done extraordinary community information gathering desperately needs the tools – the research methodology the Bank has to offer. When President Kim talks about the Bank being a reservoir of knowledge and experience, the question should be to Khem and others simply “How can we help you?”

Cultural competencies for Senior Bank personnel in LGBT issues

Country managers should be comfortable and informed enough to be able to visit Khem and the extensive networks of the underserved and invisible the Bank is seeking to serve. She should be comfortable about taking to a transgender former sex worker about how business infrastructure provided by the Bank is assisting her. He should be comfortable about asking Ministry of Health what is specifically being done the MSM epidemic and be able to convene meetings of front line activists and service providers to see if poverty and disease is actually being reduced. You cannot give $40m to a country for health care infrastructure and watch a government jail your HIV prevention leadership, whatever their sexual orientation. This is a moral issue and an economic one. It does not make sense to waste this kind of potential.

Pope Francis challenge to the clergy and leadership of the church was to “Smell your sheep” and not to lose touch with the people we are called to serve. I am sure President Kim can find an equally basic principle to steer this leadership to renew the Bank’s vision, mission and direction. As he meets with Pope Francis late this month, I am sure they will have a lot to talk about and to work on together.

RGOD2, written by the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego, looks at faith and religion from an LGBT point of view. Ogle is known around the world for his work in support of LGBT rights and HIV-prevention efforts. He is president of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation. Donations to the foundation can be made by clicking HERE.