When Luiz Loures saw his first AIDS case in 1982, treatment didn’t exist, and discrimination against LGBT people was rampant. He faced weeks when he could not leave the hospital because he could not count on his stigmatized patients receiving care. Today, medical responses have progressed, but the impact of homophobia remains: “We know how to deal with HIV, but exclusion is the challenge,” Loures said at an event yesterday at the World Bank on the economic cost of homophobia.
With anti-homosexuality laws, and homophobic discrimination in much of the world, transmission rates are rising among men who have sex with men everywhere, while they and other sexual minorities face numerous barriers in accessing the care they need, said Loures, who is deputy executive director of UNAIDS. “Exclusion,” he said, “is much bigger than the virus itself.”
That exclusion comes at a cost, some of which was calculated by Dr. M.V. Lee Badgett, Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts. She presented findings from India on the economic impact of homophobia, estimating that country’s economy loses between $1.25 billion and $7.7 billion annually thanks to wage discrimination against LGBT people, lower productivity due to bullying in the workplace, and lower tax revenues for the government due to lower labor participation, all resulting in reduced economic growth.
A 1.7 percent loss to GDP is a conservative estimate, of the cost, she said. At the same time, “spending on LGBT people and organizations is a very small part of international development assistance,” said Badgett, with only .04 percent of all development assistance devoted to providing services for LGBT people.
Loures noted that only .02 percent of HIV resources go to men who have sex with men, despite the clear need for more services. “We can’t get to the end of the AIDS,” he said, “by leaving people behind.”
Over the past thirty years, he added, millions of people have been saved because of gay men and their allies who advocated for HIV treatment and care at the beginning of the epidemic. With more than 77 countries in the world penalizing homosexuality in some form – over half of the United Nations General Assembly – and seven countries with the death penalty for homosexual acts, the challenge is big, said Loures. But, he added, “the bottom line is to save lives. We don’t negotiate on this.”