What springs to mind when you hear the word ‘aid’? Maybe it reminds you of afternoons staring out of your school window while your Geography teacher explains the ins and outs of the World Bank’s global policies (or maybe that was just me!), or perhaps you think of big charities like Oxfam who are more visible and in the media (as they were over Christmas advertising their ‘Oxfam Unwrapped’ presents, like the donate a goat gift). Whatever aid makes you think of I’ll put my money on the fact you weren’t thinking about gay men and lesbians. Well, that’s exactly Stephen Wood’s argument. He’s a research office for the Participation, Power and Social Change department of the IDS (Institute of Development Studies) and he is one of a group of social researchers and activists trying to convince us that sexuality is exactly what we should be thinking when someone mentions the topics development and aid. Apparently David Cameron also agrees they are linked and a couple of years ago made the controversial threat to cut development aid to countries that criminalise homosexuality (see here).
Stephen Wood and others argue that development aid and development policy pay little attention to sexuality and even when they do it’s largely a matter of lip service. The consequence of this is that the urban poor of the global south who are LGBT are often marginalised three times – being poor, being LGBT and by being excluded from aid policies and programmes. This was reiterated in the abstract of a paper published last year based on the experience of the Filipino urban poor (see link ) which included the following quote: ‘GALANG’s (Filipino LGBT organisation) work with lesbians, bisexual women, and trans men (LBTs) living in urban slums indicates that while marriage is of course an important issue, it is hardly foremost in the minds of many Filipino LBTs who are systematically deprived of decent jobs, humane housing conditions, and adequate health care’. The LGBT community living in shanty towns are often (perhaps surprisingly) pretty clued up on (largely) Northern campaigns for marriage equality, but by and large have other, more immediate concerns to worry about, such as clean water and access to their local hospital or treatment at their GP surgery.
Due to their marginalised position in society LGBT individuals in the global south are more likely to be represented amongst the urban poor (difficulties getting jobs because of discrimination is one reason for this), but they are also disadvantaged by aid programmes and policies that are heteronormative (see definition here) and often ignorant to the needs of the LGBT community. For example, poverty alleviation policies focused on education, the family and housing often rely on unspoken assumptions that the communities they are working with are heterosexual and behave in stereotypically straight ways (getting married, having children etc.) and are out of touch with the lives and desires of those that are LGBT. (Read more on the topic here).
This is, perhaps, nowhere more apparent than in development work focused on HIV prevention/sexual health. Whilst the LGBT community in many areas of the global south often struggle to access the healthcare they require in relation to their sexual health and are often at the bottom of the list when it comes to priorities for development interventions. Health care workers, doctors and educators are often unaware of LGBT issues and sometimes insensitive and homo/trans-phobic in their approach to delivering sexual health initiatives. As a result, in some settings self-treatment, such as with hormones amongst the trans community is common and can lead to complications associated with mis-dosing and unsafe injection practices. In other cases trans people may resort to informal and private health care providers, for treatments to modify their bodies, at considerable cost with variable outcomes. In other cases the stigmatisation of a man talking about anal sex with another man is so great that those that are gay or bisexual don’t feel comfortable talking to doctors or nurses, don’t test and are unaware of their HIV/STI status. The good news is this is slowly changing and is evident in an increasing number of projects that are led by gay men and the trans community and oriented around their needs. For example a recently launched development programme aims to unite and communicate across Asian LGBT via social media called ‘Being LGBT in Asia’ was funded by the UN Development Program and US Aid Program.
Recipients of Being LGBT in Asia Development Aid
Of course, ideas of poverty, wealth and the experience of the LGBT community are not restricted to the developing world. In the UK today poverty can represent an added barrier to those who are LGBT. For example, the anonymity afforded by many middle class LGBT young people who chose to move to another city to be themselves is often impossible for those from poorer families. In addition, even paying the bus fare accessing local sexual health or counselling services can be difficult for someone LGBT and unemployed, for example; yet this group exhibits higher levels of mental health issues, sexual health needs (in some areas) and requires more support in these areas than the general population. Also, in some ways stereotypes related to gender and sexuality are often more strictly reinforced within poorer communities, which can make being open about sexuality a tricky or even dangerous task. The mentoring and counselling offered as part of the GMI Partnership considers wealth an important aspect of the experience of gay and bisexual men and one factor which can impact sexual behaviour. The relationship is not straightforward and is something that our clients are able to explore, confidentially with a trained counsellor or mentor. If you would like more information on these services please see the following link .