World Bank President Jim Yong Kim on April 11 met with 15 LGBT rights advocates in D.C. Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health President Hasan Abdessamad; Jonas Bagas of TLF Sexuality, Health and Rights Educators Collective, Inc., in the Philippines; Clare Byarugaba of the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law in Uganda; Children’s Human Rights Centre of Albania General Director Altin Hazizaj; Miroslava Makuchowska of the Polish Campaign Against Homophobia; Khemraj Persaud of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination in Guyana; Slava Revin of Spectrum Human Rights; Simran Shaikh of the India HIV/AIDS Alliance; Josefina Valencia Toledano of Clóset de Sor Juana AC in Mexico City; K.K. Verdade of the ELAS Fund in Brazil; Beijing Gender Health Education Institute Executive Director Xiaogang Wei and Beijing LGBT Center Executive Director Ying Xin are among those who met with Kim in downtown Washington. The Washington Blade was unable to attend the meeting because of press restrictions that restricted access to the building in which it took place, but a World Bank press release described the gathering as the “first conversation of its kind.” It coincided with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund’s annual spring meetings that took place in Washington over the past weekend. “I want to thank the gay and lesbian activists from around the world for their courage in speaking up on behalf of others in vulnerable situations in their countries, and for pressing home the point that discrimination against any group is unacceptable – whether it is religion, race, gender identity or sexual orientation,” said Kim. “Their stories will inform us as we move ahead with revisions to the World Bank Group’s long-standing safeguards, which were designed to protect the interests of individual people in our projects.” The advocates on the same day attended a roundtable on LGBT-specific issues with 17 World Bank executive directors and board members from the Middle East, Europe, Japan and China. World Bank Alternate Executive Director for the U.S. Sara Aviel, Robert B. Tan and César Guido Forcieri, executive directors for the World Bank in the Philippines and Argentina respectively, co-hosted the gathering.
“Social inclusion is core to the World Bank Group’s mission,” said Aviel during an April 9 reception on Capitol Hill that former Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank emceed. “At its core poverty is about exclusion and that’s exclusion from service, exclusion from resources, exclusion from opportunities. There’s plenty of evidence that shows discrimination is bad for economic growth and development.”
Abdessamad told the Blade on April 11 that he welcomed the opportunity to meet with Kim.
“It is a very important step,” said Abdessamad. “This is what the bank has been missing over the years – to listen to the people and especially people who might be affected by the bank’s policies and projects.”
The meeting between Kim and the advocates took place less than two months after the World Bank postponed a $90 million loan to the Ugandan government that had been earmarked to bolster the East African country’s health care system. This decision came in response to President Yoweri Museveni signing a bill into law that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual relations.
The U.S. last month suspended a study to identify groups at risk for HIV/AIDS that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had planned to conduct with a Ugandan university after Museveni signed the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill. A CDC agreement that funded the salaries of 87 employees of the Ugandan Ministry of Health who supported the country’s response to the epidemic expired on Feb. 28.
Frank noted during testimony he gave during an April 9 hearing on the World Bank the Tom Lantos Commission on Human Rights held that he was among the members of Congress who in 2000 supported debt forgiveness for Uganda.
“Uganda was not so angry about gay people intruding in their business when in 2000, along with three of my colleagues, I was one of the leaders in passing a bill that gave them hundreds of millions of dollars in debt relief,” said the former congressman who retired in 2012. “We put that through and it was serious debt relief for Uganda.”
Aviel applauded Kim’s decision to postpone the World Bank’s loan to Uganda after the Anti-Homosexuality Bill became law.
“We fundamentally believe that there should be zero tolerance for discrimination,” she said. “That’s why we pushed for and supported the decision to postpone the Uganda project a few weeks ago and strongly supported Kim’s strong statements on discrimination.”
Aviel also applauded GLOBE, a group for the World Bank’s LGBT employees, as she spoke during the Capitol Hill reception. She acknowledged the bank needs to do more to not only protect its aforementioned employees, but incorporate LGBT-specific issues into the projects it funds.
“Social inclusion is core to the mission of the World Bank, but hasn’t been as core to some of its practices or operations that it should be,” said Aviel, referring to a 2013 organizational report that specifically referred to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders for the first time. “Now we’re working very hard to make sure the findings and the analysis are operationalized into the work that the bank does.”