Perspectives: Randy W. Berry

Randy W. Berry

U.S. State Department Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons


Business has a unique opportunity (September 2015)


“Discriminatory laws are also detrimental to business and economic development, threatening the stability that businesses desire, risking the safety of their employees, and jeopardizing productive economic relationships that can advance business interests all over the world.”


While governments play a leading role in upholding and affirming the human rights of all persons regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, the private sector is increasingly becoming involved in championing values of equality and diversity – not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is good for business. Through its ever growing global reach, we believe business has a unique opportunity to play an expanding role to advance these efforts.


Nearly 80 countries criminalize consensual, adult same-sex activity, or use other laws to marginalize and persecute LGBTI persons. These laws targeting LGBTI persons attack their dignity, undermine their safety, and violate their human rights. In some cases, same-sex acts can be punished with the death penalty. Some political leaders are taking advantage of ignorance – ignorance that breeds intolerance and high levels of homophobia. Advancing intolerance to score political points also means distracting attention from other significant challenges, such as poverty, corruption or lack of access to healthcare.   Governments that neglect or oppress sections of their population are failing to use the full potential of their citizens and hampering their own prosperity. These discriminatory laws, along with continued harassment and violence against the LGBTI community, are also detrimental to business and economic development, threatening the stability that businesses desire, risking the safety of their employees, and jeopardizing productive economic relationships that can advance business interests all over the world.


Studies have shown the economic costs of anti-LGBTI discrimination laws, and how LGBTI exclusion hampers development and progress. In too many countries, LGBTI people face societal and workplace discrimination that denies them equal access to education and health care and discourages them from pursuing, obtaining, or retaining good-paying jobs. Too often, LGBTI employees will turn down a transfer overseas to a country that is intolerant and hostile to the LGBTI community.


Considered globally, LGBTI employees constitute a sizeable and dynamic workforce. In order to maintain a diverse talent pool, companies need to promote policies and work environments that enable them to recruit the best and brightest, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. This means providing a workplace where LGBTI employees feel comfortable, safe and valued. Though we have seen some progress, too many LGBTI employees still face obstacles to being themselves and spend time and effort hiding their identity in the workplace. People are more productive when they bring their whole selves to work. A diverse, open workplace will increase creativity and spark innovation and new ideas.   It is important for senior business leaders to prioritize non-discriminatory, inclusive policies and practices and that these policies are followed consistently throughout the company’s global operations.


In my travels, I have seen the positive steps that some multi-national corporations have taken to come together and develop a framework of guiding principles that encourage LGBTI-inclusive programs and policies. These are important steps toward creating a stronger workforce, building a better business and strengthening the community around you.


That is why publications such as this one by Open for Business are essential in detailing the business case for LGBTI inclusion; not only to advance this important conversation, but to generate meaningful action. Business leaders work with government leaders on many issues – the passage and implementation of non-discriminatory laws should be a part of those discussions. With data analysis showing that countries with greater levels of human rights for LGBTI persons also tend to have higher levels of economic development than countries with fewer rights, it is in the interest of all people, across every sector, to advance the legal rights of LGBTI persons and to push back on discrimination that encourages harassment and violence.


As Special Envoy, I recognize the unique responsibility governments have in pursuing change and equal protection for all. At the State Department, we advance these issues in a variety of ways, including through our diplomatic engagements, working with multilateral institutions and through the Global Equality Fund, a public-private partnership of governments, foundations and businesses supporting civil society organizations and activists on the ground working to advance the human rights of LGBTI persons.   But now, more than ever, as our world is increasingly interconnected and interdependent – economically, socially and culturally – it is the responsibility of all of us – government, civil society and business to take a stand against discrimination and injustice. I stand ready to work with businesses as strong drivers of positive change, so that opportunity, prosperity and dignity are enjoyed by all.