PHNOM PENH (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Phally barely scrapes together enough money to survive by selling fried papayas on the streets of Phnom Penh.
The 27-year-old gay man would like to expand his small business to sell chicken wings and desserts.
But it has been impossible to get a loan, adding to a long list of problems he is facing in his native Cambodia, where discrimination against sexual minorities is deep-rooted and anecdotal evidence suggests many gays live in poverty.
Poverty eradication is one of the new global development goals agreed by world leaders last month but there is no specific mention of sexual minorities and the global extent of poverty among this group is little known due a lack of data.
To help people like Phally, Micro Rainbow International, a non-profit organisation which aims to lift lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people out of poverty, has set up a crowdsourcing platform to help individuals boost their income and economic opportunities.
“Poverty among LGBTI people doesn’t get a lot of attention,” Sebastian Rocca, chief executive of Micro Rainbow told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“There is little data yet but it is clear from our work that in an environment where poverty and prejudice are widespread, like in Cambodia, many LGBTI people are finding it hard to make a living and face rejection and violence from their families.”
In 76 countries, many of which are in Africa and Asia, gay and transgender people are criminalised and persecuted, according to Micro Rainbow.
Micro Rainbow provides support for LGBTI people to set up small businesses, and also works with companies to break down discrimination and offer training opportunities.
Much attention has focussed on changes in the law to end discrimination against gay people but legal changes do not automatically translate into acceptance by society, said Rocca.
“Look at South Africa – best laws in the world but lesbians get raped every day,” he said. “Just changing the laws is not enough. We need to change social attitudes as well.”
By improving economic opportunities for gay people, society’s attitude will also change, in particular in poor countries, where having a small business can often mean much-needed extra income for the family, Rocca said.
“When we helped a lesbian to set up a food cart… everything around her changed. Her family no longer rejected her, they started to work in her small business with her. Her younger brothers, who were rubbish collectors, were able to go to school because she paid the fees,” said Rocca.
Apart from Cambodia, the organisation works with governments and local citizen groups in Brazil and Britain, and it plans to expand to Uganda, Zimbabwe and the Philippines.
Rocca said even countries with relatively progressive anti-discrimination laws, such as Brazil, had high levels of cultural prejudices, making it hard for gays and lesbians to find jobs and exposing them to violence.
A survey among LGBTI people carried out by Micro Rainbow in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas found 61 percent of respondents were unemployed and lived in poverty.
Rocca cited a “gay affluence myth” as one of the reasons why poverty among sexual minorities has not been getting a lot of attention.
“There is this myth that we need to revise that gays and lesbians are rich and childless, at least in Western countries, and that’s not helping to focus attention on poverty among our community.”
(Reporting By Astrid Zweynert; Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)