LGBT - lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender - issues are closely interlinked with various aspects of international development: The combat of poverty, promotion of health and democratic rights, to mention a few central areas. When marginalisation and social exclusion, even criminalisation, prevent LGBT persons from participating in society on equal terms, important benefits of development are lost to the individual - and to society as a whole.
It is well known that there is a strong correlation between marginalisation and being poor. In many parts of the world LGBT persons are subject to marginalisation and social exclusion, and as a consequence of the stigma that is culturally imposed, LGBT persons are prevented from participating in society on equal terms, for example by having limited opportunities to for earning a livelihood and providing for themselves.
Cultural and legal injustice lead to economic injustice, resulting in a situation of widespread poverty among LGBT persons as documented by Sida (Swedish International Development Agency) in the study “Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Development” (2005).
And attitudes to matters of sexual orientation and gender identity affect other aspects of development work.
To enjoy the benefits of development, protection against abuse and the right to control over your own body and sexuality are fundamental.
This is not least obvious in efforts to promote health. The LGBT perspective is often missing from national health-care plan in places where homosexual acts are generally condemned or considered a criminal offence. Many national AIDS programs fail to address the situation and special needs of LGBT people when it comes to HIV prevention and care. Where there is no specific LGBT expertise in an HIV/AIDS care program, LGBT people may not dare turn to care institutions for fear that their sexual orientation will be exposed or questioned, or that they may even be refused care. Also, when the virus is depicted as heterosexual, risky behaviour could increase among sections of the LGBT community.
As of 2012, Denmark has development cooperations with two countries where homosexual acts can be punished with death sentence: Yemen and Sudan. And homosexual acts are still criminalised in a number of countries in which Danish development organisations are active, for example: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Kenya, Uganda etc.
Most of the criminal laws focus on same sexual conduct, not homo- or bisexual ‘identity’. In many cases, the legislation only adresses male homosexual conduct, and mainly gay men are targeted by the law through arrests. However, the absence on laws against female-to-female relationships does not mean that women are not targeted by state and police persecution.
It is sometimes argued that "anti-gay" laws are not reinforced in a number of countries, and that decriminalisation therefore need not be the main concern. But the existence of the laws continue to legitimise violence, harassment and many forms of discrimination against individuals because of their sexual orientation. As Sibongile Ndasha, a human rights lawyer at Interights, states:
"Decriminalisation may not end homophobia but taking the laws away will make a difference to people whose daily lives are interrupted and live in fear of being outed and blackmailed. For individuals and organisations operating in a legally sanctioned homophobic space, living without the stigma and clout of illegality makes a world of difference."
The case of South Africa has also been used to argue that decriminalization may not be a priority for the rest of the continent because serious violence continues in South Africa despite decriminalisation. The key lesson is that rights cannot be won in parliament and in courts alone.
There are indeed other violations such as lack of access to basic rights, the fear of being outed, discrimination in employment or in accessing health care that will not be addressed by decriminalisation. Decriminalisation and the prevention of discrimination are complementary in the fights against stigma and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.