While traveling to the United States in 2018, Rikki Nathanson learned that the secret police were looking for her in her home and office in Zimbabwe. At that time, the famous transgender activist knew that she could not go back.
More than four years ago, Nathanson was arrested by Zimbabwe police at gunpoint for using a female bathroom. She told Al Jazeera that she was forced to take off all her clothes to “verify her gender”, was imprisoned and repeatedly beaten. But when a magistrate asked the prosecutor Nathanson how to create “public nuisance”—the allegations she faced—the case was dismissed.
Nathanson said: “The arrest and subsequent events were extremely traumatic, degrading and humiliating.”
Later that year, she filed a lawsuit with the government of Zimbabwe for her arrest. But her terrible experience continued in the next few months and years. She said that someone followed her repeatedly, her phone was tapped, and the “mob” broke into her home twice and beat her a second time.
Therefore, when she attended OutRight Action International’s 2018 summit in New York, she decided to seek asylum and give up the life of returning home.
This is not a choice Nathanson made lightly. She is a successful transgender activist in Zimbabwe, well-educated, and an active member of society. But like many other members of the LGBTQ community in countries where anti-LGBTQ laws are strict and often dangerous, she knows that her choice is to face harassment and abuse there, hide her identity, or escape.
Nathanson estimates that in recent years, thousands of LGBTQ people have left Zimbabwe, where sodomy is criminalized, and there is no way to change a person’s gender in official documents. When they go, they often bring skilled labor and money, otherwise the money will flow into the troubled economy of this southern African country.
Rights groups and economists say that as the global economy strives to recover from the COVID-19 blockade and restrictions, it is best for governments and businesses to consider this issue.
Some economists estimate that because of homophobic and exclusive laws and practices, countries lose billions of dollars each year.
By limiting a person’s access to work, education, and health care—and by setting up other barriers—anti-LGBTQ laws prevent people from fully participating in a country’s economy. This means that discriminatory legislation will drag down economic growth and harm the interests of the entire country.
According to Lee Badgett, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a senior scholar at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, it is estimated that the economic loss caused by anti-LGBTQ laws and discrimination is as high as the annual GDP. Value (GDP) measures 1% of total economic output. Williams Institute.
Badgett, co-authored in 2018, studied the economic data of more than 120 countries/regions from 1990 to 2014. The study found that an increase in GDP per capita of US$1,506 is associated with an increase of one percentage point in countries on the global acceptance index to estimate the acceptance of LGBT people.
Badgett and other researchers used different metrics in a 2019 study and found that the homosexuality law recognizes an additional point of the global index, which is composed of eight types of legal recognition and protection, and is related to the increase in real GDP per capita About 2,000 US dollars.
These and other studies use “different types of measurement [to] Tell the same story… the economy is reduced by homophobia and transphobia,” said Baggett, who also wrote the book “The Economic Case for LGBT Equality.”
According to Human Rights Watch, the domestic laws of at least 69 countries criminalize same-sex relationships. Most of these countries are located in Africa, the Middle East and the Caribbean. Nine countries have enacted laws criminalizing gender expression.
Badgett told Al Jazeera that in many countries, the economic impact of homophobia and transphobia began at an early age. School bullying due to social stigma and other factors has led to lower grades and higher dropout rates for LGBTQ people.
LGBTQ social exclusion can also affect people’s physical and mental health. Together, this reduces productivity and the skills needed to make the economy prosper.
Badgett said that countries that exclude LGBTQ people are depriving economists of what economists call “human capital,” adding that anti-LGBTQ laws and stigma “take up energy.” [LGBTQ people] Otherwise it can be used to participate in the economy”.
‘Good for business’
Researchers say that LGBTQ inclusion is not only good for the government and the economy, but also good for businesses.
According to Brunswick Group partner and Open for Business founder Jon Miller (Jon Miller), this works on multiple levels, and this is an alliance of companies advocating LGBTQ rights.
Miller told Al Jazeera that, for individuals, “being better in an LGBT-inclusive environment”. “You get more from people. They are more motivated [and] They devote themselves to work. “
At the same time, LGBTQ-inclusive companies are “more innovative, more entrepreneurial, able to work better across departments, [and] Can better attract the most talented people, and then retain those talented people”, Miller added.
In a 2019 report, Open for Business found that Kenya loses approximately US$1.3 billion each year due to LGBTQ discrimination.
Although same-sex relationships are still criminalized there, Miller said that the debate in parts of Kenya changed overnight after the report was published.
“It goes from the basic conflict of ethical systems to people starting to think,’If we want to develop our technology cluster in Nairobi, if we want to improve the country’s entrepreneurial spirit, are these repressive laws suitable for the purpose?'”
Miller said that even in countries that rely on extractive industries, such as mining or oil and gas, there is a strong business case for LGBTQ inclusion.
Miller cited an example of Gulf countries trying to diversify their economies from fossil fuels.
“They all want to establish an industrial sector that belongs to a high-value, creative knowledge economy,” he said. Therefore, these countries must consider how to create “a culture of entrepreneurial, creative and innovative ecosystems so that this economic activity can begin to flourish,” he said.
Researchers say that more inclusive countries are better able to recover from the economic shock of COVID-19 and future shocks.
“You can never fully protect yourself from economic shocks, but what you can do is try to ensure that when this happens, you are in a resilient position where the economy can quickly rebalance,” Miller said. “Inclusive societies are better able to gain a firm foothold and return to the growth track after experiencing real negative economic events.”
Experts say that the economic and business case for LGBTQ inclusion is clear, but ultimately more research is needed because many authoritarian countries lack reliable data on LGBTQ communities.
For her part, Rikki Nathanson was granted asylum in the United States in 2019. In the same year, the Zimbabwean court ruled in her case for improper arrest and awarded her 400,000 Zimbabwe dollars (approximately 1,100 U.S. dollars at the time).
She said it was difficult not to return to her home country to visit her family and friends. But in the end, she said, this is a loss for Zimbabwe.