OPINION: Even in lockdown, cities lead the way on global LGBT+ equality

by Jon Miller | Open For Business
Wednesday, 20 May 2020 12:06 GMT

A participant attends a protest against violence that took place against the LGBT community during the first pride march in Bialystok earlier this month, in Warsaw, July 27, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The world’s cities are in the frontline of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Will support for LGBT+ equality be put on the back burner – or worse?

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Jon Miller is chair of Open For Business and a partner at Brunswick Group

It was a moment of hope for the LGBT+ community in Poland, which is suffering a sustained anti-LGBT+ campaign.

Last June, the mayor of Warsaw joined the city’s Pride parade – a strong signal of solidarity, and a reminder of the important role that cities can play in advancing the human rights of LGBT+ people.

It’s a familiar pattern: in cities like Belgrade, Buenos Aires, Manila, Mexico City, and Kingston, Jamaica, mayors have supported equality – often taking action on LGBT+ issues even in the face of opposition from national politicians.

In a number of cases, the rights of LGBT+ people have been won first in cities, and subsequently recognised at a national level.

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However, in recent weeks many of the world’s cities have found themselves in the frontline of the global COVID-19 pandemic, reeling from the health impacts of the virus and struggling with the economic shocks of the lockdown. Activists have been concerned that LGBT+ issues would be put on the back-burner – or worse, that attempts to scapegoat LGBT+ communities by some politicians will lead to a rollback of rights in some cities.

Encouragingly, there’s no sign of a reversal of support for LGBT+ rights in most cities – quite the opposite. According to a new report by Open For Business, a coalition of global companies advancing global LGBT+ equality, there’s a clear trajectory of increasing support for equality in cities around the world, albeit with some notable exceptions.

The report shows that, around the world, many cities are becoming more inclusive, diverse and competitive – including cities in countries which are challenging for LGBT+ people, such as Cairo, Istanbul, Kuala Lumpar, Seoul, and also Warsaw. In total, 27 cities improved their scores in the Open For Business City Ratings.

WHY ARE CITIES SUPPORTING LGBT+ RIGHTS?

Many city leaders can see for themselves that an open and diverse city is more economically vibrant, more innovative, more creative and culturally dynamic, and more likely to become a hub for high value businesses. They know that a strong, visible LGBT+ community sends a message that a city is a progressive, globally connected place to live.

Diversity feeds a “clustering effect” for young talent, according to research by the economist Enrico Moretti: “It’s a type of growth that feeds on itself — the more young workers you have, the more companies are interested in locating in that area and the more young people are going to move there.”

LGBT+ inclusion seems to play an important role here as a signaller of openness, diversity and culture.

This type of inclusion is often part of a set of economic policies that aim to make people of all backgrounds and skills feel welcome. When artists, technologists, investors, designers, activists, engineers, and entrepreneurs mix, and when different cultures and subcultures intermingle, then more innovative ideas are likely to emerge.

This makes urban life more interesting, and urban economies more dynamic.

POSITIONING FOR ECONOMIC RECOVERY

The picture is not positive everywhere, with many cities heading in the wrong direction. Polarisation is intensifying in eastern Europe, as governments use the pandemic as a pretext to intensify their anti-LGBT+ campaigns.

Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban are currently among the most inclusive and competitive cities in Africa, but there has been a marked increase in anti-LGBT+ violence and employment discrimination.

Other cities that are becoming less inclusive include Dubai, Jakarta, Manila, and Rio de Janeiro. In Singapore, there have been some high-profile recent cases of trans discrimination, and attempts to decriminalise consensual gay sex were thrown out of court on the grounds of “safeguarding public morality”.

The leaders of these cities should take note: now is the time to be embracing LGBT+ communities, not stigmatising them. 

As the economic shocks from the lockdown really start to hit home, LGBT-inclusive cities may be better placed to weather the storm. Creating inclusive societies isn’t just the right thing to do; as the evidence shows, it’s an important part of an economic strategy focused on resilience and recovery.