Our work to achieve greater corporate engagement in LGBT equality
4Ward Americas Symposium where activists, business people, academics from the Americas focused on practical solutions to improve the lives of LGBTQI people.

I was in Florida this week on the occasion of the two-day 4Ward Americas LGBTQI Human Rights and Business Symposium at the Miami Conference Center. The Conference gathering activists, business people and academics from around the Americas focused on practical solutions to improve the lives of LGBTI people.

I spoke on Friday about Out Leadership’s work to achieve greater corporate engagement in the fight for LGBT+ equality on a panel featuring the NGLCC as well as the Miami Dolphins. (I took the opportunity to discuss the Miami Dolphins’ ownership by Stephen M. Ross and called for more accountability in the authenticity of companies’ engagement along LGBT+ people).

This Conference took place at a time when many of us feel powerless in the face of a perceived backtracking on human rights of LGBT+ people globally as well as in the Americas.

This past November, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the United Nations independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, vehemently called out conservative politicians and churches in Latin America which are inciting hate speech against LGBT people, fueling a roll back on legal gains. Madrigal-Borloz believes some hateful campaigns are being financed by religious and political groups inside and outside Latin America, including from the United States, where conservative Christians are battling LGBT+ rights gains including through the so-called “freedom of religion bills” Out Leadership repeatedly denounced. The Symposium had a “mini field trip” planned to go to the Holocaust Memorial across the street from the Miami Beach Convention Center – a reminder that hate speech almost systematically leads to violence.

Overall, progress on human rights of LGBT+ people in the Americas is continuing and the trend remains upward. In 2019, the Courts have advanced human rights of LGBT+ people tremendously on this continent. As an example, last year Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court ruled that sexual orientation and gender identity should be included in the nation’s anti-discrimination law, providing a new layer of protection for LGBT+ people. In Ecuador, on June 12, 2019, the Constitutional Court approved the Equal Civil Marriage Act, allowing gay people to marry. More anecdotally but still in positive news, the son of new Argentinian president Alberto Fernández attended his father’s inauguration ceremony this week wearing a Pride flag in his suit’s pocket.

However, while Latin America has been for a long time a pioneer on legal rights of LGBT+ people, popular attitudes often lagged. Therefore, the recrudescence of anti-LGBTI speech in politics in parts of the continent is extremely worrying. It taps into a tradition of violence and discrimination against LGBT+ people which was best illustrated in a recent study which claims four LGBT+ people are murdered every day in Latin America and the Caribbean. Pride marchers were recently attacked by “pro-life groups” in Paraguay.

Outright Action International, on the Board of which I serve, has called for Haiti’s government to investigate the suspicious death of the country’s leading gay rights activist, Charlot Jeudy, 35, a few months ago. Aaron Morris of Immigration Equality has documented how violence is directly linked to growing waves of pink migration from Central America.

During the Symposium, I reiterated the point that we do not have to rely exclusively on courts and politicians to address this urgent issue and that the private sector can play a positive role.

In the words of the former High Commissioner Zeid on Human Rights Day last year, “human rights are too important to be left to States alone — too precious to all of us, and to our children.”

The reality is that, as consumers, employees, investors and businesses, we hold a great deal of responsibility and power to shape the future of many communities. This is particularly true when it comes to the travel and tourism industry which has become a vital source of income for many regions and entire countries, particularly in South America.

In 1950, there were about just 25 million tourist international arrivals per year, 70 years later this number has increased to 1.3 billion arrivals . And this trend is continuously accelerating arrivals increased 7% in 2017. It is estimated that the Travel and Tourism sector now accounts for 10.4% of global GDP and 9.9% of total employment: that is one dollar in ten and one job in ten!

And within this gigantic industry, LGBT Tourism, a market segment which registers higher expenditure and longer stays in comparison to others, is considered a vitally important economic segment. This point was particularly meaningful as a delegation of private/public sector tourism representatives from Tunisia was attending the Symposium at the invitation of the city.

Beyond its economic impact, tourism is also an activity central to the human rights agenda because of its direct effects on the social and cultural fabric of societies. As travelers and businesses in the industry, we can be global ambassadors for human rights of LGBTI people.

The relationship between consumers and brands has been flipped on its head — consumers now demand from brands that they adopt and promote sustainable values. That’s a hard pill for traditional marketers to swallow but it calls on companies to adapt or disappear.
A first step for companies is to make a public commitment to LGBT rights and adopt standards for themselves and their supply chain. These include having the right policies in place, assessing the impacs of their activities; integrating human rights into corporate cultures and management systems, and monitoring, evaluating and reporting performance – all activities that Out Leadership carries out with its member companies. Today some of the largest players in the industry have publicly expressed support for the Global LGBTI Standards of Conduct I co-authored and launched in September 2017.

Companies like IGH, Hyatt, Hilton, ClubMed, Marriott, AirBNB, American Airlines, Lufthansa, Virgin, Avianca, the Lalit Hotels, Sonders Beach, Royal Caribbean, LVMH’s StarBoard and many others have publicly expressed support for these Standards committing to do more to respect and promote human rights of LGBTI people. Carnival Cruises was the latest to join a week ago.

While ultimately the primary responsibility for human rights resides with governments, the weight of tourism in the global economy provides us with a unique opportunity to counteract the global backlash on human rights.

We have the agency to contribute to shape the world we want through our commercial relationships. As I mentioned in a recent interview, in a global context of populism and nationalism, the private sector will be a key ally in keeping the momentum on LGBTI equality we have known since Stonewall and accelerate much-needed social change in South America.

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