A rainbow wave hit Davos

by Sarah Kate Ellis | GLAAD
Monday, 28 January 2019 14:48 GMT

A general view shows the mountain resort of Davos, Switzerland, January 25, 2019. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

LGBT+ organisations were impossible to miss at this year's World Economic Forum in Davos

Sarah Kate Ellis is President and CEO of GLAAD

In the battle for LGBT+ acceptance, policies and laws often follow culture. Today, culture is shaped not just by celebrity and media, but by politicians, brands, CEOs, and philanthropists who have risen to celebrity status.

For this very reason, LGBT+ individuals, organisations, and LGBT-inclusive companies have spent years pushing for greater visibility and inclusion during the annual World Economic Forum held in the Swiss resort of Davos. But, until now, they were relegated to the sidelines. 

Each year, Davos hosts the world’s premiere business, philanthropic and NGO leaders. Social justice movements that are not at the table when these masters of the universe create their global economic agenda thus miss opportunities to persuade global businesses to advance their causes.

The LGBT+ contingent at Davos did not only have a place at the table this year. We were impossible to miss.

As the rise of populism threatens advances in social justice around the world, our inclusion at this meeting of global leaders is critical to keep LGBT+ progress from slipping.

This year, Davos began with WEF and seven strategic partner companies - including Deutsche Bank, Microsoft, Salesforce, and others - launching the Partnership for Global LGBT+  Equality. This historic project is committed to adopting and implementing the United Nations LGBT+ Standards of Conduct.

To witness the Partnership and LGBT+ issues spoken about with pride in front of a WEF banner was remarkable. But it is an image that should be the norm, not the exception.   

The next day, GLAAD and the Ariadne Getty Foundation hosted a roundtable with WEF’s Young Global Leaders. Although no LGBT+ organisation is yet represented within the YGL community, one key item on the agenda was harnessing the power of business to help combat the rise of anti- LGBT+  violence in Chechnya, Tanzania, Brazil, the United States, and other countries.

Members of the Vatican and leaders of the Catholic Church were meeting in an adjacent room as this effective and emotional discussion occurred. Picture that: some of the world’s foremost LGBT+  advocates were feet away from the Vatican, separated only by a wall.

Davos can and should help us break these walls down. It has the unique power to bring unexpected parties together to learn from one another and take a road that leads to a better world for all.

This year’s Davos also saw a standing-room-only LGBT+ panel moderated by CNN International host Richard Quest, featuring Jim Fitterling, CEO of Dow, and Vas Narasimhan, CEO of Novartis, and Shamina Singh, the president of Mastercard's Center for Inclusive Growth, among other top business people.

They sat alongside Krishna Omkar, an LGBT+  advocate who worked on the successful effort to decriminalise same-sex relations in India. Omkar shed light on the successful strategy of getting titans of business to rally behind the scenes, as courts in India decided the fate of LGBT+ people there.

The CEOs spoke about LGBT+ acceptance as not only the right move morally, but wise for the bottom line. A 2015 World Bank study focused on India found that anti- LGBT+  discrimination cost up to $32 billion. In 2017, UNAIDS estimated the global cost of anti- LGBT+ discrimination at $100 billion annually.

LGBT+ organisations are playing by the rules at Davos. We outlined the negative economic impact that LGBT+ discrimination yields, demonstrated that global brands are deeply invested in the issue, and enlisted WEF internal stakeholders like the Young Global Leaders who want to see change.

The rainbow wave was embraced during Davos this year and it has never been more important - and possible - to cement LGBT+ issues as a priority for WEF and its participants year-round.