The economic cost of homophobia
Comprehensive Clinic, Slipe Pen Road. Disturbance in the place. Threats of acid and physical violence. A young man waiting to be seen realises that a woman sitting in the waiting area with him has been taking pictures and videos of him without his permission. She wants to post them on Facebook. The young man looks and behaves 'gay' and she had no problem just whipping out her phone and recording this 'spectacle' for the amusement of herself and her friends. Many in the waiting area, including security and health personnel, don't see a problem with her actions and were all too willing to chastise the 'gay bwoy' for his outrage at being so treated.
There is a cost to treating such persons as objects of scorn, derision and disdain that is not countenanced or even readily apparent. The cost is at the level of the individual but also at the level of the society. There is an economic cost to homophobia and various international studies have been done that have attempted to quantify this. Jamaica has not yet woken up to the economic harm much less the personal and social harm done to its sexual minority citizens. Many MSM (men who have sex with men) and other members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender community (LGBT) are not able to live truly productive lives and, at the same time, their productive contribution is lost to the nation or is significantly lessened.
The cost to the individual as a human being may be incalculable, but we know there is a human cost. When gay men, especially effeminate or gay-identified MSM, are shunned, verbally abused, bullied, attacked, chased from their communities, shamed into leaving school early, they live less productive lives and suffer from illnesses like depression and are prone to self harm. Many of them refuse to access the health care they need to deal with these and other issues for fear of the very stigma and discrimination experienced by the young man attending Comprehensive Clinic. The 2012 C-Change-FMI-360-USAID-supported study of Stigma and Discrimination Against Men Who Have Sex with Men in Jamaica, details the experiences of gay men as including depression and suicidal thoughts as the means of resolving endless emotional pain; fear of daily verbal abuse and physical attacks; frustration with having to hide and not live freely; feelings of anger and acts of retaliation toward perpetrators. This latter feeling is not taken seriously in a culture where we are already prone to high levels of interpersonal violence and acting out by unattached/unemployed youth. Stigma and discrimination against MSM add to this pool of potential and actual anti-social Jamaican youth. The anger displayed and threats issued by the young man at Comprehensive Clinic are examples of such responses to feeling stigmatised.
The foremost researcher on the economic cost of homophobia is economics professor Lee Badgett, director of the Centre for Public Policy and Administration at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In 2014, Badgett collaborated with the World Bank to analyse homophobia as a hurdle to development in emerging markets. Looking closely at the case of India, Badgett was able to create a model to estimate the cost of stigma and exclusion of LGBT from social institutions like education and employment. The conceptual model created linked exclusion of LGBT to economic development through, for example, lower productivity and lower output as a result of employment discrimination and lost output. In quantifying the economic cost of homophobia for countries in the global South, she found the cost to range between 0.1-1.7 per cent of a per cent of GDP. In the case of India, Badgett was able to narrow the figure down to 0.1-0.7 per cent of GDP or up to $30.8 billion each year, confirming that individual effects of homophobia translate into important economic impacts. This translates into lower rates of education, poor health, and poverty for LGBT leading to a smaller workforce and higher health care costs. In addition, Badgett found that in India the cost of HIV disparity, depression and suicide, three health issues that are particularly high among LGBT, was between $712 million and $23.1 billion in 2012. She makes a very telling comment that: 'You reduce GDP by that much, you call that a recession, actually'.
Not yet having done the math for Jamaica, as a non-economist I would deploy a simple equation using the range of 0.1-1.7 per cent of a per cent of GDP to arrive at a figure of between US$14.36 - US$244.12 million as the cost to Jamaica for homophobia. We, of course, would need to do the math and see what the actual range is in regards to Jamaica. We also need to do the math to ascertain the costs to our health sector, for example, of HIV disparity, given that the infection is most prevalent and fastest growing among MSM. We also need to do the math of the impact of disenfranchised MSM on the society.
Interestingly, Badgett's research revealed that there is a positive correlation between per capita GDP and the legal rights of LGBT, as measured by the Global Index on Legal Recognition of Homosexual Orientation (GILRHO) and the Transgender Rights Index (TRI). The simplest correlation demonstrated that one additional right on the GILHRO (out of eight rights) is associated with US$1400 more in per capita GDP and with a higher HDI value. So countries with more rights for LGBT have higher per capita income and higher levels of well-being as measured in the HDI. The positive correlation between LGBT rights and HDI implies that the benefits of rights extended beyond purely economic outcomes to the micro-level of individual well-being measured using educational attainment and life expectancy. Currently, Jamaica is not in a position to benefit from these positive effects of LGBT rights as a result of consensual sex between men being criminalised by way of the buggery laws and continued reports of attacks, harassment and threats against individuals based on their real or perceived sexual orientation. These reports are not fully or promptly investigated, according to the 2014/15 Amnesty International Report. All of this happens within a context of stigma and discrimination against homosexuals. Jamaica's 2013 GDP figure was US$14.36 billion, with the per capita figure being US$5,289.97, according to World Bank figures. With the correlation identified by Badgett, we could argue that with an increase in per capita GDP to around US$8,689.97 is possible with an increase in LGBT rights.