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Rutgers professor uses money over morals to push for support of LGBT rights



While homophobia and transphobia have a human cost, Rutgers professor Yana van Der Meulen Rodgers said they also have an economic cost during a talk at the Indiana Memorial Union on Monday afternoon.

Rodgers said many people, including policymakers, may turn a blind eye to the moral argument against discrimination against LGBT individuals. But if the economy is brought up, they are more likely to use money rather than morals to justify reforming policies to protect LGBT rights.

“Policymakers want to see the numbers,” she said. “So here are the numbers that show the economic effect. Here’s evidence they can use to support change.”

Through her research, Rodgers asked if countries that were more inclusive of LGBT people grow more quickly economically and if countries that have human rights violations against the LGBT community have stunted economic growth.

After sifting through 200 peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, United Nations reports, U.S. State Department reports and human rights reports, she said she found LGBT inclusion linked to a stronger economy.

Rodgers also used a database of legal rights in 132 countries from 1966 to 2011 in research that supported a link between more LGBT rights and increased gross domestic product per capita.

In fact, she said one additional right for the LGBT community correlated with a $2,065 GDP per capita increase.

Eli Konwest, assistant director of the Center for the Study of Global Change, said she hopes people will use the data and academic work and apply it to real-life situations through advocacy.

“It’s one thing to say that inclusion helps the economy in a general sense, but it’s another thing to see the data and to see it in action,” she said.

Rodgers said discrimination often takes the form of violence, imprisonment, job loss and harassment in schools.

When LGBT individuals are harassed in schools or discriminated against when searching for jobs, Rodgers said they are less educated and have lower incomes, which leads to more poverty.

“People are not being put to their optimal use,” she said.

If LGBT people are thrown in jails for being part of the LGBT community in other countries, there are also fewer people in the labor force, she said.

“The costs are substantial enough to affect overall economic outcomes,” she said.

She said LGBT discrimination leads to poorer health for these individuals and even to shorter lives, especially when looking at higher suicide rates among LGBT individuals in countries that offer them fewer rights. 

A 2014 American Foundation for Suicide Prevention study indicated suicide attempts among transgender and non-gender conforming people were 41 percent higher than those of their cisgender counterparts. These rates increase by 54 percent if they are harassed at schools and 59 percent if discriminated against at work.

These health issues bring down overall quality of life levels in these countries.

Lynn Duggan, an organizer of the talk and associate professor in labor studies, said an understanding of the economic effect of LGBT discrimination is a powerful tool for activists.

“It’s a power wrench,” she said. “When people have the right to be who they are, the whole economy becomes more productive.”

Konwest said not only LGBT inclusion, but also inclusion across all minorities and marginalized groups is great for the economy.

“When all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, race, are included, it bolsters the economy across the board,” she said.

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