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RGOD2: Banking on the Pope and the World Bank

Pope Francis made headlines on Thursday when he talked about how the Roman Catholic Church’s preoccupation with sexual issues needs to end. Abortion, gay marriage and contraception cannot define the only issues that concern the church.

In an amazingly blunt interview with a Jesuit magazine America, Pope Francis defined himself as a sinner and set the record straight on not being a “right winger.” What is becoming a consistent message from this new Pope is that the church needs to redefine its focus and serve people rather than police or judge them. A seedling opportunity to engage creatively and in partnership with a more inclusive and welcoming faith community has been created for the first time in two generations.

If you are younger than 30, the only experience of Catholicism (under the last two Popes) has been extremely authoritarian, right-wing and anti-sexually obsessed. Pope Francis is concerned that this recent generation of young people will not only “throw the baby out with the bathwater” and reject Christianity as a viable shared value system if this religious movement cannot reframe what it offers to future generations. Large institutions do not go through these kinds of self-reflective processes very often and the last time Catholicism went through one was in the 1960s at the Second Vatican Council. The time before that was about 500 years ago in response to the Protestant Reformation.

A 21st century reformation to reach more people

A similar self-reflective process is happening to another global institution that LGBT may be equally surprised to hear about – The World Bank. Jim Kim, the new president of the World Bank, has made a commitment to serve populations not yet reached by the mission and services of the World Bank.

This mission is to alleviate global poverty, and the World Bank works in every country where LGBT people are criminalized and often has overlooked the implications of these anti-gay laws upon a small but talented segment of the population. In the past decade, the Bank has “leaned into the wind” of gender equality and has developed a viable economic model that is revolutionizing the role girls and women play in their countries. They have been able to engage largely conservative and patriarchal governments and to convince them it is the best economic interests of their country to encourage a different way of looking at gender roles and equality. There is enough research and evidence to show the impact economic empowerment of women has upon the whole society.

We are not talking about micro-loan programs, (we still default to thinking micro in relation to women’s work and possibilities). The Bank and significant other global institutions are now thinking macro. The ceiling needs to be raised for women and the Bank is one of the most significant advocates for gender equality on the planet, simply because it makes good economic sense for societies hoping to pull their citizens out of poverty to self-sustaining development.

LGBT voices at the table

Last year, 20 LGBT and allies from countries where it is illegal to be LGBT, met with senior management at the Bank and talked about lack of access to healthcare, education (many were kicked out of school prematurely) and lack of business opportunity because they were seen as a threat to society and potentially criminals.

The Bank invited St. Paul’s Foundation to continue these preliminary conversations and with the support of the local LGBT employee network, GLOBE, Dr. Philip Moeller and John Garrison (who is responsible for making sure civil society organizations engage with the Bank), the conversations deepened. What could the Bank do to alleviate poverty among millions of LGBT people around the world? There was interest in expanding the gender equality work to include LGBT people, including social protections and perhaps including some form of economic evaluation of LGBT people in particular countries where, for example, the government and Bank are in significant negotiations for loans to improve infrastructure, i.e. schools or hospitals. The Bank might now ask why a government was deliberately excluding and penalizing a small minority within their citizenry based on sexual orientation.

These social assessments are extremely important and the Bank can require changes in policy and government attitudes as a negotiation tool. The Bank is also a depositary of experience and knowledge with so much of its economic decision-making authority is grounded in significant research. Senior management at the Bank can study a particular issue in great depth and make recommendations to their complex and politically-diverse board of directors who then make decisions by consensus. Controversial issues usually do not make it to the board, so LGBT poverty still has to be demonstrated, research and presented in a way that the Bank’s directors can move beyond seeing LGBT as a moral or even a sexual issue.

Last April, St. Paul’s Foundation was invited to present a panel on the economic effects of homophobia and with support from the Ford Foundation and St. Paul’s donors, the panel shared their experience and recommendations at the Bank’s Civil Society gathering. The full report is HERE. This was the first time LGBT issues were addressed by civil society organizations connected to the Bank. John Garrison also invited us to select an LGBT representative to attend the IMF and World Bank annual meetings from Oct. 5-12. We had 12 applicants who were eager to be considered for this first time opportunity.

Kemraj Persuad from Guyana selected

We are pleased to announce the selection of Khemraj Persaud, the Programme Coordinator at SASOD in Guyana. He holds a master of science in International Relations and Management from Oxford Brooks in the UK, is also an accountant by training, and has worked on World Bank and IMF - funded projects at the Caribbean Community Secretariat.

Persaud is also a member of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD). He is also part of the Caribbean Forum for Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities (CariFLAGS) and the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC). He served as the Youth Reference Group of the Global Forum on MSM and HIV. He is a dedicated worker for LGBT rights and almost missed his deadline for the opportunity because he was leading training program for LGBT people in rural Guyana.

His country is also an interesting cross-section of African, Indian and multicultural intersections that need to be richly included in this work if LGBT people and organizations are to make any headway with institutions like the Bank. At 26 years old, Persaud will represent this community extremely well and he is looking forward to being with us in Washington, D.C. in a few weeks time. He will spend most of the week learning how the Bank and IMF work and then how he can build the networks and processes needed to reduce LGBT poverty globally. No pressure!

A new day

This is a very exciting project and everyone who applied for the volunteer position, even though they would not be attending the annual meetings, wants to help and perhaps shape the spring meetings in April. There is clearly a need for the Bank to figure out how the experience of gender equality can help the roadmap to LGBT equality through poverty reduction.

Research on the cost of homophobia needs to be coordinated and introduced to a variety of disciples and leaders within the Bank. Partnerships need to be strengthened with civil society organizations to advocate for including LGBT people in their country’s social assessment and social protections. Creative and innovative projects need to be funded where we can study the economic systems needed to invest in LGBT and LGBT friendly businesses. A global LGBT Economic Development Agency needs to be created and the recommendations of our April report need to be implemented by the Bank.

Persaud represents future leaders in a globalized economy where someone needs to begin to join the dots and build the networks so the barriers to sexual discrimination are identified and systematically removed. He is part of that generation Pope Francis is praying for and that has been failed by institutions that were supposed to protect his best interests – both his economic and his human/God given potential. Our institutions are aware, in a totally new way that we are missing our mission by simply not engaging and including Khem’s gifts, experience and insights. The Pope’s willingness to engage us in a very different conversation is significant. The trickle-down effect through cardinals, bishops, priests, religious orders and non-government healthcare organizations who shape policy and service delivery systems to alleviate suffering and poverty, will be profound – but only if we all work at it.

RGOD2, written by the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego, looks at faith and religion from an LGBT point of view. Ogle is known around the world for his work in support of LGBT rights and HIV-prevention efforts. He is president of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation. Donations to the foundation can be made by clicking HERE.