11/17/2014 10:40 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

USAID Leads as the United States Strengthens Its Commitment to the LGBT Community

Last week the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) affirmed in a number of ways that ensuring the rights of LGBT individuals around the world is a part of their mission. At the Global Conference on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights and Inclusive Development held this year in the United States, there was representation from over 30 nations. USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah keynoted the closing session of the conference with a strong commitment to the LGBT community. He said, "The United States is committed to seeing that children around the world who want to become doctors, entrepreneurs or even politicians don't get sidelined." He went on to say, "The consequences of discrimination are unacceptable, and the United States is pioneering efforts to ensure that our foreign policy is infused with the fight for the rights of LGBT individuals." Other speakers included Lars Bo Moller, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of Denmark, and Frederic Jensen, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of France.

A few days earlier the Williams Institute and USAID, partners in the LGBT Global Development Partnership, released a study showing that if a nation provides more legal rights to the LGBT community, it can result in a higher per capita GDP. One of the study's lead authors, M.V. Lee Badgett, a Williams Distinguished Scholar and Director of the Center for Public Policy and Administration at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, presented the findings of the study during a panel discussion at the University of California Washington Center.

Other members on the panel included Carla Koppell, Chief Strategy Officer at USAID; Dr. Claire Lucas, Senior Advisor at USAID; and Brad Sears, Executive Director of the Williams Institute. Sears led off the program and then introduced Dr. Lucas with the comment, "Claire Lucas is a force of nature, and without her help we wouldn't be presenting this study today." Dr. Lucas spoke about the lead role that USAID has played in the Global Partnership, and about the continued support she has received from agency administrator Rajiv Shah. She recognized some at USAID, mentioning Christopher Jurgens, Division Chief of Global Partnerships, and Matthew Corso and Anthony Cotton for their help in moving forward this important work. Regarding the analysis Dr. Lucas stated, "The fact is simple: Growing economies depend on a healthy, inclusive workforce, and folks can't contribute if they are commonly excluded from schools, jobs, health care and subject to other harms such as violence and police abuse." Carla Koppell then spoke about the importance of this work to USAID, saying, "It is now part of their growing tool kit which is used to assist countries around the world in everything from growing their economies to improving healthcare outcomes."

The study found a link and relationship between LGBT inclusion and economic development in emerging economies. The authors of the study, aside from Badgett, are Sheila Nezhad, Kees Waaldijk and Yana van der Meulen Rodgers. They looked at and analyzed the impact of social inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people on economic development in 39 countries. They wanted to see whether denying LGBT people their human rights because of their identities was likely to have a harmful effect on a country's level of economic development. They looked at several theoretical frameworks such as the human capital approach, "where inclusion allows LGBT people to achieve their economic potential when they are allowed to get their education and training and are treated equally in the labor market," and the capabilities approach, which "suggests that greater rights and freedoms improve individual well-being by expanding individuals' capabilities to be and do what they value."

The study took both micro- and macro-level approaches -- micro to the determine barriers to freedoms for LGBT people, and macro to define "inclusion" as the legal rights of LGBT people measured through two newly developed indices, one for LGB people and the other for transgender people. The result was that the analysis on the macro level revealed a clear and positive correlation between per capita GDP gains and the legal rights for LGB and transgender people across countries when measured by the Global Index on Legal Recognition of Homosexual Orientation (GILRHO) and the Transgender Rights Index (TRI).

While this is only a beginning in studying this issue, it seems clear that giving people their rights and allowing them to participate fully in society, particularly economic society, is beneficial to countries. One audience member suggested that future studies look at how this adds to the impact on per capita GDP when compared to the impact of more women being educated or improved healthcare outcomes. Judy Dlugacz, CEO of Olivia Companies, a partner in the Global Partnership, suggested researchers might want to look at how tourism can impact a country's per capita GDP with particular focus on how LGBT visitors react when countries recognize their rights and welcome their tourist dollars and also allow LGBT entrepreneurship to flourish, attracting more tourism dollars.

The ongoing work of USAID will continue to be a positive force in gaining rights for LGBT persons around the world. Studies such as this will prove that full inclusion of LGBT persons in society has a positive impact not only for LGBT persons themselves but for all people.