DAVOS (Reuters Breakingviews) - The World Economic Forum, which kicks off this week in Davos, prides itself on tackling some of the knottiest issues facing humanity. But on at least one front – the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people – the assemblage is uncharacteristically shy.
The WEF is addressing the issue in some important ways, to be sure. The 2020 programme is arguably gayer than ever, with at least two official panels, including “LGBTI Rights and the Role of the Private Sector” and “Free to Be (LGBTI)”, which features Xavier Bettel, Luxembourg’s gay prime minister. And a high-profile award is being given to a transgender artist from China. This is all a step up from the “don’t ask, don’t tell” posture of the past.
But with 70 countries still persecuting same-sex relations, and many WEF corporate sponsors publicly supportive of equality, arguably more can be done. At some point, it will become too difficult to balance the desires of the more liberal corporate constituents who ultimately finance the forum without offending, or openly confronting, the leaders of nations whose policies violate the rights of millions.
Indeed, among this year’s attendees are Kais Saied, the president of Tunisia, which criminalises sodomy between men with a penalty of three years’ imprisonment, according to Human Dignity Trust, an international organisation that uses the law to defend the human rights of LGBT people. Also appearing will be Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, the president of Ghana, whose penal code “uniquely distinguishes between non-consensual and consensual sexual intercourse in ‘an unnatural manner’”, according to the trust.
Compare that to the approach of strategic partners like Goldman Sachs, which in addition to promoting LGBT issues has had openly gay and transgender executives. Similarly, strategic partner SAP was championed by Stonewall, a British LGBT advocacy group, as one of its top global employers.
The forum has come a long way in its approach. Last year it announced the Partnership for Global LGBTI Equality, which brings the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights together with companies committed to “leveraging their individual and collective advocacy to accelerate” equality and inclusion. And there’s something to be said for erecting an open tent that encourages people with different views to rub shoulders. But even the gayest Davos yet has a long way to go.
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