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This article was published on November 8, 2022

Anti-LGBTQ policies cost Europeans billions of dollars every year

Want to start a successful business in Europe? Step one: find a country that values diversity

Anti-LGBTQ policies cost Europeans billions of dollars every year

Imagine watching the prime minister of the UK dump 53 billion Euros’ worth of taxpayer funds into a volcano. Think of all the good that money could do. If you’re a citizen of the UK, think about how hard you work to pay those taxes.

According to the World Bank, that’s about how much queerphobia could be costing the Brits. In Italy, that figure would be closer to 36 billion and in Russia and Spain it’d be a bit lower due to their smaller GDPs.

The equation is simple: unless you live in a country that ranks highly on LGBTQ rights (such as Malta, Denmark, and Belgium) take your nation’s gross domestic product and throw away about 1.7 percent.

The cost of discrimination

The World Bank came up with that figure back in 2015 after using India as a case study. Researchers set out to uncover the true cost of queerphobia, but quickly found the task insurmountable. It turns out that quantifying the damage caused by discrimination isn’t as easy as it seems. And trying to put a monetary figure on the amount of income inclusion and anti-discrimination policies bring in at the national level is equally elusive. Simply put, it’s impossible to know how many people are positively or negatively affected by anti-queer policies in areas where being queer is criminalized or considered socially unacceptable.

In another study, Kees Waaldijk, a professor of comparative sexual orientation law at Leiden Law School in the Netherlands, alongside researchers in Europe and the US, reviewed the laws and economic output of 132 countries around the globe to come up with an index with which to measure the financial impact of inclusive practices and policies. Their findings demonstrated a clear connection between inclusivity and increased financial gain.

In fact, on an 8-point scale measuring inclusivity from excellent to terrible, raising or lowering a nation’s ranking by a single point was associated with approximately $2,000 US per capita. In layperson’s terms: countries that are more inclusive by so much as a single point on the scale generate approximately $2,000 more per year per individual than those that are less inclusive.

Another way of looking at that is to recognize that people living in Turkey, Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan, or any of the other European nations ranking at the bottom of the LGBT equality index, are probably losing thousands of dollars every year, per person, due to anti-LGBTQ bigotry. And that’s on top of whatever money the government is spending on anti-LGBTQ policies and enforcement.

Again, I’ll ask you to imagine the leader of your country dumping billions of Euros’ worth of your tax dollars into a volcano just to keep the LGBTQ community from having equal rights. From a purely business point of view, it seems ludicrous.

Setting the bar

Of the 49 European countries listed on the Rainbow Index, ILGA Europe’s carefully curated rankings for LGBTQ inclusion, only 17 of them rate higher than a “50%” on the Rainbow scale. This particular scale takes into account the employment, living, relationship, healthcare, and legal status of LGTBQ individuals on a country-by-country basis. Essentially, a ranking of lower than 50% indicates that queer people in that particular country have less than half the rights as those who identify as heterosexual and cisgender.

This means that more than half the countries in Europe are leaving money on the table. Depending on the level equality in a particular nation, we could be talking about thousands of dollars per year, per citizen. And in the private sector, especially among STEM industries, that number could be significantly higher.

A 2015 report from Josh Bersin, citing a trio of scientific studies, indicated that businesses worth more than $750 billion US dollars, with a diverse workforce, experienced 2.8 times higher cash flow than their less diverse peers. Yet another study, from researchers at the University of New York, shows that groups featuring diverse members are better at solving problems related to STEM than non-diverse groups.

Limitless opportunity

What this means, for European entrepreneurs, investors, and STEM workers is that businesses hoping to thrive in the European market can gain a competitive edge by simply doing the bare minimum when it comes to inclusion.

On the micro level, entrepreneurs who give themselves and their companies the best opportunity to hire diverse talent stand to outperform and earn more than less diverse competitors. And, on the macro level, startups, scaleups, and companies that form in areas with greater focus on equal rights for LGBTQ citizens will ultimately have higher ceilings than those in areas with larger rights gaps between groups.

There’s also the fact that LGBTQ rights are human rights and, thus, countries that choose to criminalize queerness or continue discriminatory policies and practices also face various forms of penalties from larger governing bodies. Last year, a high-ranking US diplomat to Poland noted that “according to the Open for Business report, the lack of inclusiveness for LGBTQI+ communities costs Poland, Hungary, Romania and Ukraine over $8.6 billion a year.”

Those costs don’t come out of a community discrimination coffer, they come out of taxpayer dollars. That’s nearly 9 billion dollars that won’t go to feeding, housing, and providing medical care for people, fixing infrastructure, bolstering national defense, or boosting the country’s economy through startup funding and other public investments.

The bottom line: discrimination is waste of money

In essence, countries such as Poland, Italy, and Russia that seek to further diminish LGBTQ rights face penalties in triplicate:

  1. They’re losing money due to a lack of diversity
  2. They’re losing money due to the costs of enacting and enforcing anti-LGBTQ policies
  3. They’re losing money due to various forms of sanction from the global human rights community and associated governing entities such as the European Union

You don’t have to be queer to recognize that the high costs of discrimination are bad for business. That’s why it’s important for European entrepreneurs, investors, and STEM students preparing to enter the workforce to consider where, geographically speaking, they’re choosing to invest their time and money.

Just like organizations in the US need to be aware of the status of women’s bodily autonomy laws, racial discrimination policies, and LGBTQ rights on a state-by-state basis in order to ensure they’re associating themselves with governments that are pro-diversity (and, thus, pro-business), those hoping to build STEM industries in Europe should prepare for the future by ensuring they’re located somewhere that human equality isn’t unnecessarily dependent on whether a person chooses to identify as heterosexual and cisgender. 

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