Sexual, gender, and bodily diversity are characteristics of every society, every culture, and every country around the world and across time. As stated by President Biden in his February 2021 Memorandum, “All human beings should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear no matter who they are or whom they love.” USAID is committed to advancing the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) people around the world and meaningfully including them in development programming.
Violence, discrimination, stigma, and criminalization negatively impact the lives of millions of LGBTQI+ people around the world and contribute to poverty and social instability. LGBTQI+ people face criminalization in nearly 70 countries—several of which can impose the death penalty. In many parts of the world, intersex people suffer from irreversible, harmful, and medically unnecessary medical interventions, often without fully informed consent. Transgender people face high barriers to legally change their name and/or gender marker, and are somtimes required to undergo forced sterilization or compulsory psychological treatment. Lesbian, bisexual, and queer women are victims of targeted sexual violence in some countries. Around the world, so-called “conversion therapy” and other efforts to change sexual orientation and gender expression subject LGBTQI+ people to psychological, physical, and verbal abuse.
Compounding these realities, LGBTQI+ people are often excluded from social benefits systems; lack explicit, unambiguous protections in anti-discrimination legislation; and are not afforded legal recognition of their relationships and families. LGBTQI+ people are often not represented in political parties or among elected officials. LGBTQI+ people may also experience rejection from families, religious communities, and other social networks. These factors limit their rights and access to essential services such as education, employment, and health care, and pervasive discrimination and exclusion prevent meaningful inclusion in broader development efforts.
Despite this, there are brave, smart, strategic, passionate, and resilient LGBTQI+ leaders and civil society organizations in nearly every country and region who work tirelessly to advance the rights of all people across the diverse spectrum of sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, and sex characteristics. It is due to their efforts that meaningful change is possible.
When working to advance the human rights of LGBTQI+ people, USAID abides by two foundational principles: “do no harm” and “do nothing about them without them.” “Do no harm” means that we take measures to ensure that our efforts do not put LGBTQI+ individuals or groups at increased risk of harm or raise their public profile in a way that could lead to backlash. “Do nothing about them without them” means that we thoughtfully consult with LGBTQI+ individuals and groups before and throughout any engagement designed to support them and their priorities.
To help operationalize the inclusion of LGBTQI+ people into USAID’s development approach, USAID released the LGBTQI Vision for Action, a document that reflects USAID’s commitment to protect LGBTQI+ people from violence, discrimination, stigma, and criminalization and advance their human rights; and Suggested Approaches for Integrating Inclusive Development Across the Program Cycle and in Mission Operations, a document that identifies ways to include marginalized and vulnerable groups in USAID’s work.