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Despite some legal and social advances in 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 lead to exclusion, and this exclusion has adverse impacts on both the lives of LGBTI people as well as on the communities and economies in which they live.

Increasing evidence indicates that LGBTI people suffer lower education outcomes due to discrimination, bullying and violence; higher unemployment rates; and a lack of access to adequate housing and health services and financial services. As a result, LGBTI people are likely overrepresented in the bottom 40% of the 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 especially difficult to tackle LGBTI exclusion, discrimination, and violence. First and foremost, there is a deeply entrenched stigma against LGBTI people. Lack of an enabling legal framework, which often is a result of such stigma, is another important reason. At this time, 67 countries continue to criminalize homosexuality.

A major barrier to addressing this stigma and SOGI-based exclusion is the lack of data on the lives of LGBTI people. Robust, quantitative data on differential development experiences and outcomes of LGBTI people—especially those in developing countries—is extremely thin. This data gap poses a challenge to the World Bank and other development institutions. Most importantly, this data gap puts in jeopardy the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and countries’ commitment to the principle of “leaving no one behind” in the effort to end poverty and inequality.

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

These challenges include:

  1. Access to health services: We know from the available data that LGBTI people often face significant barriers in accessing health services.  In the context of COVID-19, these barriers were greatly exacerbated and prevented many LGBTI people from getting the healthcare services they needed.

  2. Impacts of Social Distancing and Isolation Policies: Many LGBTI people rely on community organizations to receive essential services (i.e., psycho-social support, HIV testing, etc.), access to which was often significantly impacted during the COVID-19 response. Especially older LGBTI people often lack family networks and rely heavily on these community services, putting them at greater risk while these services are suspended during a pandemic or other crisis.

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

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


The World Bank

Global Adviser on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI), World Bank Group

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Washington, D.C.
Laura Ivers