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  • The sustain:able team

How to include LGBTQIA+ communities in the UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015 the United Nations General Assembly revealed their 17 Sustainable Development Goals, a successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to be used as a guide for sustainable development going forward to 2030 (Scolaro, 2020).

The goals encompass 169 targets with the key idea being we “leave no one behind”.

This highlights that global development can’t be successful unless all marginalised groups and populations are included in development plans (Scolaro, 2020).


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However, the final text had all direct mention of LGBTQIA+ rights stripped from the agreement as several countries refused to sign on if the phrasing was included (Duffy, 2015). This is hardly surprising when you consider that being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community is still illegal in 72 countries and that those arrested can face the death penalty in 5 (Scolaro, 2020). The LGBTQ Policy Journal highlights that as of June 2020 ‘only Bolivia, Ecuador, Fiji, Malta and the United Kingdom have explicit constitutional protections that pertain to both sexual orientation and gender identity’, while anti-discrimination protection for members of the LGBTQIA+ community exists in some form in another 63 countries (Scolaro, 2020).

Anti-LGBTQIA+ policies and attitudes prevent people from accessing necessary services, exclude them from opportunities and also leave them more likely to become victims of violence, hate speech and social isolation (Scolaro, 2020). The LGBTQ Policy Journal references the 2015 United States Transgender Survey which highlighted that ‘transgender individuals were two times more likely to live in poverty and three times more likely to be unemployed, resulting in negative psychosomatic factors, including anxiety, stress, shame and humiliation.’ (Scolaro, 2020).

LGBTQIA+ individuals are predicted to account for 1 to 5 percent of the adult population globally, which means there are millions of people worldwide that are currently restricted from fully participating in the societies in which they live due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity (Scolaro, 2020).

In response to the removal of direct mentions of LGBTQIA+ peoples from the final text of the UN Sustainable Goals, Stonewall, a LGBTQ+ rights organisation, said ‘Although at Stonewall we think the SDGs could have gone further by explicitly calling for LGBT equality, we recognise their exciting potential to advance equality for all.’ (Dorey, 2022).

Kit Dorey from Stonewall created a guide outlining how LGBTQIA+ communities fit into the UN Sustainable Development Goals and highlighted projects that are already making a positive impact in the communities in which they operate (Dorey, 2022). We have summarised the findings from that guide below and the original version can be found here:

UN SDGs Goal 1 - No Poverty

Goal 1: End Poverty in all its forms everywhere

Discrimination in a multitude of forms can prevent LGBTQIA+ people from earning an income, achieving financial security and achieving their goals. Individuals can also be lacking familial support systems that others often rely on. In countries where same-sex couples are not recognised or criminalised they will also be unable to receive state provided social assistance.

To improve the situation more research needs to be undertaken to understand how LGBTQIA+ people are discriminated against, social assistance programmes need to recognise LGBTQIA+ people and efforts should be made to ensure they receive the same opportunities as their non-LGBTQIA+ counterparts.

Micro Rainbow International work worldwide to try and tackle LGBTQIA+ poverty through mentoring, skills training and coaching. They also facilitate start-up capital for individuals aiming to set up a small business. Having steady employment doesn’t just help LGBTQIA+ people financially but often raises their standing in their local communities and garners them more respect from those around them.

UN SDGs Goal 3 - Good Health and Well-Being

Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

LGBTQIA+ people are regularly denied access to sexual and reproductive healthcare and routinely face challenges accessing healthcare altogether due to discrimination, inappropriate services and health-workers lacking awareness of LGBTQIA+ issues and individuals. In some countries women are unable to access health services without an accompanying male relative which puts women in WLW relationships at particular risk of exclusion and judgement.

To combat this LGBTQIA+ inclusive policies should be put in place, health care workers should be educated on the needs of LGBTQIA+ persons and in countries where discrimination and exclusion can bar LGBTQIA+ individuals from leaving their homes, in-home care should be offered. Creating safe-spaces and services that meet the specific needs of LGBTQIA+ people is critical to ensure the wellbeing of the community.

UN SDGs Goal 4 - Quality Education

Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

Globally LGBTQIA+ students are restricted or excluded from education due to bullying and discrimination, causing them to drop out early or underperform. Experiences at school and university can have lasting effects on a person’s mental and physical health long after they have stopped being a student.

To ensure Goal 4 is met, staff need to be provided with guidance and education on how best to help LGBTQIA+ students, schools need to adopt zero-tolerance policies on homophobia, transphobia and biphobia, and teaching curricula need to be inclusive of LGBTQIA+ individuals including sexual and reproductive health classes.

UN SDGs Goal 5 - Gender Equality

Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Gay and trans women can experience intersectional discrimination and violence due to their LGBTQIA+ status and gender. Development programmes can in some instances reinforce inequalities by only providing support to heterosexual couples and families and by having narrow definitions of gender that exclude trans individuals.

Gender based violence typically targets people who don’t meet gender norms or expectations and therefore men and non-binary people who don’t conform to gender stereotypes can also be targeted.

Several actions can be taken to help achieve Goal 5 including ensuring that all programmes address the particular issues faced by women who identify as LGBTQIA+, prioritising funding grants that are led by LGBTQIA+ women, expanding gender definitions to be trans-inclusive and challenging harmful gender norms.

UN SDGs Goal 10 - Reduced Inequalities

Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries

In some countries, discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people is reinforced by legal, political and social frameworks that either overlook or deliberately exclude LGBTQIA+ people.

Stonewall highlights examples of discriminatory laws including:

  • ‘Requiring trans people to undergo force sterilisation before they can change their legal gender

  • Failing to provide opportunities for trans people to change their legal gender

  • Making same-sex relations illegal

  • Forbidding LGBT(QIA+) groups to form non-governmental organisations and publicly campaign for their rights

  • Excluding same-sex couples and trans people from accessing social services

Goal 10, Target 10.2 prohibits the exclusion of any person based on ‘other status’, a phrase used to include any status, including LGBTQIA+, and highlighting that full equality must include all.

To achieve Goal 10 it is important that funds and support are put in place to end discriminatory laws, policies and practices and that everyone is aware that the phrasing of Target 10.2’s ‘other status’ is used to include LGBTQIA+ within anti-discrimination frameworks.

UN SDGs Goal 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities

Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

The high rate of homelessness in LGBTQIA+ communities is a direct consequence of the discrimination that people face, whether from family, friends or landlords. Homelessness leaves people more vulnerable to violence as well as mental and physical health problems which they may then find it difficult or impossible to seek help for, given their LGBTQIA+ status.

To combat this there needs to be affordable and safe housing that meets the needs of LGBTQIA+ people whether through social housing, housing associations or private landlords.

UN SDGs Goal 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

Violence against any individual is unacceptable but, in some countries, LGBTQIA+ individuals will face significant challenges if trying to report crimes to police or security services. In countries where discriminatory laws are in place, LGBTQIA+ people do not fall under the state’s protection and therefore are unable to take any incidents of violence to the authorities. This leaves LGBTQIA+ individuals highly vulnerable to suffering fundamental human rights abuses.

To combat this police and security services should undergo training and develop policies to better support LGBTQIA+ groups, understand and address hate crimes and provide support for those who come forward to report instances of violence.



  • Dorey, K. (2022, June 16). The Sustainable Development Goals and LGBT Inclusion. Retrieved from Stonewall:

  • Duffy, N. (2015, August 5). LGBT rights stripped from UN development goals. Retrieved June 16, 2022, from Pink News:

  • Scolaro, B. (2020, June 24). LGBTI and the Sustainable Development Goals: Fostering Economic Well-Being. LGBTQ Policy Journal. Retrieved June 13, 2022, from

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