‘Scapegoating LGBTQ+ migrants is both morally repugnant and economically damaging’

Paul Donovan, an Author and chief economist at UBS, highlights the concept of scapegoat economics when it comes to LGBTQ+ immigration, and recognising the economic benefit that queer immigrants can bring.

The 21st century is when everything changes. Artificial intelligence is just the latest in a dizzying whirl of technological innovations that will benefit humanity, but it will also undermine people’s social, economic and political security. Confronted by this bewildering complexity of modern life, the natural instinct is to look for a simple solution that can restore that sense of security.

And that opens the way to scapegoat economics.

First, blame rising economic uncertainty on a minority group. Second, campaign to reduce the influence of that scapegoated group – often by dehumanising them. Obviously, this does not bring about any economic improvement (quite the reverse), but the failure of scapegoating to provide the longed-for security can simply encourage even more prejudiced behaviour.

Paul Donovan is an author and the chief economist for global wealth at UBS. (Supplied)

In a year of elections across developed and emerging economies, two groups of scapegoats are being repeatedly identified: the queer community and immigrants. Both are convenient targets.

The LGBTQ+ community has inched towards equal treatment in recent years, increasing its visibility. That, alongside the long history of dehumanising queer people, makes the them an easy target.

Immigrants have long been scapegoats, easy to treat as “other”, who potentially exhibit visible differences in language, culture and appearance.

Queer immigrants are at risk of a double dose of prejudice.

This is morally repugnant. It is also economically damaging. LGBTQ+ immigrants are a positive economic force who tend to raise living standards in their destination country.

The spectrum of LGBTQ+ immigration

The motives for LGBTQ+ immigration fall across a spectrum. At one extreme, people are fleeing for their lives: Afghan queer men and women escaping along the Rainbow Railroad, or Ghanaians seeking asylum.

At the other end of the spectrum are queer people moving from one broadly safe country to another, generally for purely economic reasons.

In between there are a mix of motives, maybe couples who cannot marry at home and who want the same social status as straight couples, hoping for more equal treatment and greater economic opportunity. Migration can also be within a country: queer people leaving Florida for more inclusive states, for instance.

Queer refugees face a challenge. Sexuality is not a visible characteristic, so how can someone claiming asylum “prove” they are LGBTQ+? This is not typically an issue for migrants whose motive is mainly economic, but for those seeking to escape persecution in their homeland, it can be a problem. It is a bigger obstacle for queer migrants who are not out at home – an LGBTQ+ man from Afghanistan who is closeted might not be able point to personal discrimination, but that does not in any way lessen the potential danger he faces.

However, all queer migrants have a potential economic advantage. The LGBTQ+ community has global characteristics. Social media allows members of a dispersed minority to find one another, even across international borders.

This is not to ignore genuine concerns about racism and xenophobia within the LGBTQ+ community. Queer people can be prejudiced (being gay does not guarantee you are a nice person). But both local and migrant LGBTQ+ people are part of a common community, with at least some shared experiences.

The queer migrant has both a potential source of support and an easier route to integration into the society of the destination country. That network and integration can give them an economic advantage. Queer economic migrants to the US have been shown to cluster in states that have more inclusive policies, and where there are more likely to be LGBTQ+ networks.

The economic potential of LGBTQ+ immigration

Out LGBTQ+ economic immigrants bring additional economic benefits. To borrow from The White Lotus star Jennifer Coolidge: “The gays just know how to do stuff”. Evidence suggests that self-identifying queer migrants are often better skilled and in higher-value jobs than straight migrants from the same country.

The sort of entrepreneurial character that induces someone to uproot themselves and move across a border tends to be a positive economic trait, whether the migrant is straight or queer.

For queer migrants, that character is overlaid with the fact that out LGBTQ+ people are disproportionately found in higher-educated and higher-skilled groups. Being a queer immigrant is a signal of economic value.

Scapegoat economics is more likely to increase than to decline in the coming years. The LGBTQ+ and immigrant communities are both probable targets. The more inclusive local queer networks are, the more likely it is that queer economic migrants will be able to integrate and flourish economically. And economies are likely to acquire more productive workers if they can make themselves attractive to these migrants.

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