OPINION: Hate doesn’t pay: Anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination harms individuals as it erodes economies

by Nguyen Pham | San Francisco Pride
Thursday, 7 September 2023 07:00 GMT

LGBT themed clothing to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the1969 Stonewall uprising, considered the birth of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) movement are seen on display outside the Levi's Store at Times Square in New York City, U.S., June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

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

Anti-LGBTQ+ laws not only affect the community, they have a wider effect on local and national economies

Nguyen Pham is president of San Francisco Pride, a non-profit organization founded to produce the annual SF Pride Celebration and Parade

In a year marred by a record-shattering surge of more than 600 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in state legislatures, discrimination clearly has political capital. But how does it translate into the most American of all ideologies: capitalism? 

Here in the United States, the vocal minority behind the spate of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation should take note. Their attempts to distract from their political inefficacy hurt their constituencies' bottom lines. 

The consequences of institutionalized discrimination have far-reaching effects that dig deep into communities’ pockets. Alongside being simply wrong, anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination poses significant economic costs that can cripple businesses, industries, and entire nations. 

One glaring example of the economic toll of discrimination is how major retailers sometimes yield to pressure from anti-LGBTQ+ customers by removing Pride merchandise from their shelves, much like how Target withdrew certain products from their stores earlier this year.

And in Malaysia, where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by 20 years in prison, last month's Good Vibes Festival disappointed attendees and dealt a blow to numerous businesses and vendors in Kuala Lumpur. The Malaysian government canceled the event following an incident in which British pop-rock singer Matty Healy of The 1975 kissed his male bandmate on stage as a protest against the country's strict anti-LGBTQ+ laws. This knee-jerk, prejudicial cancellation resulted in significant revenue loss for businesses that had anticipated a bustling weekend of concerts.

The impact doesn't stop at lost sales. Some regions are facing a "brain drain" due to rampant discrimination. A striking example is Russia, where a surge in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and discriminatory policies, along with the ongoing offensive in Ukraine, has driven hundreds of thousands of talented workers, particularly in the tech sector, to seek refuge elsewhere. This exodus of educated, forward-thinking individuals not only hampers innovation but also erodes the potential for economic growth in the country.

The implications are universal. A recent study, The Economic Case for LGBT Equality, has found homophobia and transphobia could cost as much as 1% of a country’s gross domestic product. In certain countries, that equates to hundreds of billions of dollars in economic losses.

On the flip side, a bevy of research demonstrates that legal protections for LGBTQ+ individuals provide significant benefits for those individuals and their broader communities.

Consider the case of Ireland legalizing same-sex marriage, a progressive step that marked a milestone in civil rights and translated into economic success. This correlation between societal openness and economic prosperity sheds light on the substantial gains that result from adopting progressive stances on social issues.

A longstanding illustration of this connection can be found in the heart of San Francisco, a city renowned throughout the world for its vibrant LGBTQ+ community. 

The heartbeat of San Francisco's local economy thrives on the bedrock of intellectual freedom and resilience. On a broader scale, individuals yearn to bring their authentic selves to every endeavor they pursue.

It's remarkable how manufactured barriers fueled by homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia impose limitations that curtail people's ability to unleash their unbridled authenticity. These constraints are like artificial chains, stifling the capacity to flourish fully and functioning as a double-edged sword. Not only are you held back from being your true self, but the fear of additional ostracization, exclusion, or labeling forces you to retreat even further.

This very personal doom loop cycle impedes the optimal contribution you could otherwise make – a setback hindering economic growth and productive potential.

The economic consequences of discrimination are multi-layered. Not only does discrimination suppress individual potential, but it also drains the vitality of entire communities. Embracing inclusion and diversity unleashes a wealth of creativity and economic participation that fuels progress. As responsible citizens and conscientious consumers, we must choose to take a stand against intolerance through deliberate actions.

One such action is supporting businesses that champion diversity and advocate for civil rights. By patronizing LGBTQ-owned businesses and engaging with organizations that combat discrimination, we can send a clear message that inclusivity is not just a societal virtue but an economic imperative. The journey toward economic prosperity begins with the eradication of discrimination and the embrace of true inclusion.

Make no mistake: LGBTQ+ people cannot be legislated out of existence. And when we thrive, our economies thrive.

Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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