Global homocapitalism

RP 194 () / Article

Temples of global capitalism have become increasingly vociferous of late in their opposition to homophobia. In February 2014, shortly after Uganda’s President Museveni gave his assent to a draconian Anti Homosexuality Act, the World Bank announced that it was delaying a US$90 million loan to Uganda on the grounds that the law would adversely affect health programmes that the loan was intended to support. [1] Bank president Jim Kim justified the decision with the argument that ‘when societies enact laws that prevent productive people from fully participating in the workforce, economies suffer.’ [2] In the same month, the Bank published a study estimating that homophobia and the exclusion of LGBT people cost the Indian economy between 0.1 per cent and 1.7 per cent of its GDP in 2012. [3] Both the Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have contributed to the It Gets Better viral video campaign, launched to dissuade queer young people from committing suicide, with short films featuring LGBT staff speaking about growing up queer and being out in their personal and professional lives. [4] In August 2015 The Economist magazine launched ‘Pride and Prejudice’, which it describes as ‘a comprehensive global initiative tackling the business and economic case for LGBT diversity and inclusion’. Culminating in a public event to be held in London in March 2016, the initiative aims to bring together over 200 leaders from the worlds of business, politics and society to catalyse debate on the ‘economic and human costs of discrimination against the LGBT community’. [5]

In this article I ask why leading institutions of global capitalism have begun to take activist stances against homophobia, and why they have done so now. I want to understand the terms on which the figure of the queer has come to be adopted as an object of concern for the development industry. Rather than pretending to offer a ‘balanced’ assessment of what is being called the ‘business case’ for LGBT rights, I am interested in thinking through how a radical queer anti-capitalist politics might relate to this emerging discourse. Central to the initiatives mentioned above is a common-sense understanding of homophobia as a cultural disposition that might be disincentivized through the deployment of economic carrots (the promise of growth) and sticks (the withdrawal of capital). Revisiting debates over recognition and redistribution politics, I argue that viewing homophobia as ‘merely cultural’ enables international financial institutions (IFIs) to obscure the material conditions that incubate homophobic moral panics, and their own culpability in co-producing those conditions. Positioning themselves as external to the problem they seek to alleviate, IFIs are able to cast themselves as progressive forces in a greater moral struggle at precisely the historical moment in which austerity and capitalist crisis threaten to bring them into ever-greater disrepute. In sum, through a critical survey of recent IFI initiatives on homophobia, I attempt to delineate the emerging contours of what I call ‘global homocapitalism’.

Queering IFIs

Sexuality has long been central to the development agenda, but it has tended to be implicit and framed as the driver of a host of problems, including ‘overpopulation’, reproductive health, sexual violence and disease. Focused on regulation and risk management, the development industry has tended to ignore the more positive and affirmative dimensions of sexuality. And it has, until recently, been deeply heteronormative in its understanding of desire. [6] As Gilles Kleitz puts it, ‘The poor simply can’t be queer, because sexual identities are seen as a rather unfortunate result of western development and are linked to being rich and privileged. The poor just reproduce.’ [7]

Nonetheless, the statements and initiatives cited at the start of this article suggest that something is beginning to change. HIV/AIDS has been pivotal in forcing an acknowledgement of the diversity of sexualities and prompting interventions targeted at communities deemed to be especially at risk. Sexual rights victories on issues such as decriminalization of same-sex conduct, recognition of same-sex marriage and adoption rights, and access to gender transition in countries across Europe and the Americas have in …