Success in the face of adversity
Fabrice Houdart remarks at IE for Equality LGBT+@Work Conference

It is sometimes tempting to see Pride, particularly corporate involvement in Pride, as superfluous, and be blasé about it. In fact, I read an article earlier last month titled “the unbearable annoyingness of Pride”. Yet, keeping our movement alive remains key to an elusive global LGBTQ+ liberation. I would like to focus today’s remarks on (i) the urgency for social change outside of the most tolerant areas; (ii) the role of the private sector in a “post-human rights world”; and (iii) constantly raising the bar for equality.

(i) On the urgency of social change: the unsustainable gap.

The vast majority of LGBTQ+ people live in places where they do not have a fair shot at a life of dignity and economic opportunity. In a connected world, the gap between the most and least tolerant places in the world – separated from each other by the cost of a plane ticket or a visa – is unsustainable. Concretely, you cannot tell a young lesbian in a secondary city in North Africa or a trans woman in Arkansas that she will have to wait for three generations to see her kind experience respect for her most basic rights. Like you do, they have access to the same news, movies, or songs that tell them, they are entitled to respect and dignity. As a result, they either have to migrate, which is never a happy voyage, or despair. This means we need to accelerate the sluggish pace of social change in many parts of the world. It will require new strategies, new allies, and a renewed commitment by the most privileged LGBTQ+ people.

(ii) On the economic and business case in the post “human rights” world.

Geopolitical realignments, an economic transition, and the rise of populist nationalism have unleashed a global backlash against the concept of human rights. Last year, even the United States, which championed the framework back in 1947, even proposed to redefine them. In many parts of the World, it is perceived with suspicion as Western power instrumentalized this agenda to justify imperialism. In this context, the voice of the private sector, perceived as more neutral and universal, has weight. It has weight in calling out countries like Ghana, Singapore, or Hungary when they intentionally use LGBTQ+ people as pawns in political games. But it also has weight when it demonstrates by living its values in the workplace how inclusion is always good for business and the economy. Inclusion, justice, fairness are not western values, they are universal.

(iii) Finally, it is worth remembering that even in the most tolerant places, our journey is far from over.

Our work at Out Leadership this year highlighted the abysmal representation of LGBTQ+ people on corporate boards – a topic that remains taboo in Europe. Representation matters and inclusion among rank-and-file employees is not the panacea. We need more LGBTQ+ people in senior roles including in the Boardroom. By setting a fair work culture from the top, we have a chance at creating a more inclusive workplace. And through an inclusive economic world, we have a chance at achieving a world in which no LGBTQ+ children must lie to their parents, teacher, or priest about who they truly are.

To end these remarks, I will stress that discrimination tends to morph over time and that progress is never linear. It is true of ani-Semitism in France, it is true of racism in the United States, it is true of the plight of Dalit people in India, Batwa people in Congo, or Roma people in Europe, therefore we must avoid complacency. A better world is within reach, let’s make sure we continue to aim for it.

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