OPINION: The global LGBT+ community will only get through the coronavirus pandemic together

by Leanne MacMillan, Jesse Sperling and Pedro Paradiso Sottile | Kaleidoscope Trust, Stonewall, and Comunidad Homosexual Argentina
Thursday, 30 April 2020 08:01 GMT

Activists, wearing protective masks amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, protest against an initiative to tighten the nation's already restrictive abortion rules in Krakow, Poland April 15, 2020. Jakub Wlodek/Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS

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

With marginalised groups hit hardest by COVID-19, grassroots LGBT+ organisations need support to help people through this crisis

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Jesse Sperling is deputy director of Kaleidoscope Trust, Leanne MacMillan is director of global programmes at Stonewall, and Pedro Paradiso Sottile is executive director of Comunidad Homosexual Argentina

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended almost all our daily lives. None of us are immune to its unprecedented global impact. But that’s not to say that we all feel the effects of this virus in the same way.

Contrary to the idea that this virus is ‘the great equaliser’, the pandemic is bringing into sharp focus the harsh reality that inequalities – such as those based on race, class, gender, ability and sexual orientation – mean marginalised communities are amongst the hardest hit.

Nowhere has this been more painfully evident than in the disproportionately high number of BAME people dying from coronavirus in the UK.

The reality is that LGBT+ people are among the most vulnerable in many societies. In times of crisis, this puts us at much higher risk of falling through society’s safety nets. The coronavirus outbreak has had huge implications for LGBT+ people around the world, but our needs and the threats we face haven’t yet got much attention.

That’s why we as part of the Equal Rights Coalition, a group of 42 countries working to defend and advance LGBT+ rights, want to sound the alarm and raise awareness about what’s happening to LGBT+ people.

LGBT+ young people are being forced back into homes with families who may not be accepting. Trans people are unbale to access vital hormone treatments. And older LGBT+ people are both at higher risk of contracting the virus and often more likely to be isolated alone and without support systems than straight, cisgender elders. 

We are also concerned that some governments are using emergency legislation to either stall or roll back human rights and protections for our community. 

Immediately after Hungary’s Prime Minister was granted the right to rule by decree indefinitely, proposed a bill to replace ‘gender’ with ‘birth sex’ in all legal documents. This law would effectively erase trans people by stripping them of their right to legal gender recognition.

Poland amended its Criminal Code to create better conditions for overcoming the pandemic, but also included several provisions that increase penalties for HIV exposure, non-disclosure and transmission.

At the same time, the country’s politicians voted on a bill that would criminalise sex education, which includes mentioning LGBT people, and denounce those who teach these issues as paedophiles. It was sent to a parliamentary committee where it could be indefinitely held up, but it wasn’t killed entirely.

Meanwhile, Panama and Peru implemented quarantine measures dividing days for carrying out essential activities by gender.

This has led to an increase in the targeting and harassment of trans people in both countries, where they have been arrested, temporarily imprisoned and fined as a result of these new measures.

The pandemic is also threatening LGBT+ people’s very livelihood. In countries like Saint Lucia job losses in the tourism industry are affecting LGBTI’s people ability to pay rent, get food and support their families.

So, what can be done to help global LGBT+ communities mitigate the impact of the COVID-19?

Funding is absolutely vital right now. Emergency response funds should be allocated to LGBT+ organisations doing direct emergency support for our communities. But this should also continue after pandemic.

In many countries around the world, these are the only groups looking out for and providing support to LGBT+ people, and if they don’t survive it will be devastating for so many of us.

Equally, sustainable and continued funding for what comes after COVID-19 must be found and committed to.

Countries should also involve LGBT+ organisations in the creation and delivery of their response and recovery policies. This would ensure that the needs of LGBT+ people aren’t left out and the measures taken don’t exacerbate existing inequalities.

This work could also include recording data specifically on the impact this crisis is having on LGBT+ communities, along with other marginalised groups, so we can guarantee the steps taken to combat the virus aren’t implemented in a discriminatory manner.

Our community is resilient but, in many countries, we face discrimination and violence that is often hidden.

Now, in a time of crises we must make sure we’re advocating for the rights of every LGBT+ person from every background and corner of the world. Only together will we get through this pandemic.

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