OPINION: Viktor Orban’s proposed anti-trans bill reveals the need to protect LGBT+ rights across Europe during the coronavirus

by Evelyne Paradis | ILGA-Europe
Thursday, 9 April 2020 12:05 GMT

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives to attend the plenary session of the Parliament ahead of a vote to grant the government special powers to combat the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis in Budapest, Hungary, March 30, 2020. MTI Zoltan Mathe/Pool via REUTERS

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

Lockdowns to control the spread of COVID-19 will fuel existing inequalities if not checked

Evelyne Paradis is executive director of LGBT+ rights organisation ILGA-Europe

Last week, just hours after the far-right prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán was given power by the country’s parliament to rule by decree indefinitely because of the Covid-19 crisis, his deputy Zsolt Semjén introduced a new bill, which if passed will replace “gender” with “birth sex” in all legal documents issued in the country.

For the LGBT+ movement, this was the first chilling example of what the long-term political implications of governments’ responses to the pandemic could be for vulnerable minorities.

As the global crisis deepens, it is a clear signal that, beyond the economy, the consequences of the lockdowns across the world and other public measures will also be profoundly social, and if not checked will only further fuel existing inequalities.

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Working in the LGBT+ sector, I hear many heart-breaking situations emerging for those who are the most marginalised of an already marginalised group.

Young LGBT+ people are finding themselves trapped in hostile, locked-down family situations. Trans sex workers are facing catastrophic impacts to their livelihoods, forcing them into high-risk situations from which there will be no protection.

Large numbers in the LGBT+ community who are experiencing homelessness, particularly young people excluded from their families, are left unprotected by lockdowns, while the impact of Covid-19 on healthcare systems will have far-reaching effects for trans and HIV positive-people.

Meanwhile, LGBT+ groups have to reinvent themselves as food banks for their communities, while financial and political pressures are quickly mounting on activist organisations and community groups, already raising concerns about the ability of many to survive this crisis.

It matters that public authorities hear and know that some LGBT+ people are particularly vulnerable at present and that in their response to the pandemic, they look at ways to meet their needs. For example, mental health services must be able to proactively reach out to LGBT+ youth who find themselves in untenable situations at the moment.

Public health authorities must continue to provide support to trans people who need medical interventions. It is equally important to see where the experiences of LGBT+ people are shared by many other vulnerable populations across society.

Those most affected in Europe and around the world are the ones in precarious employment and with insecure incomes, with poor access to healthcare, without safe housing, from structurally marginalised communities, and undocumented migrants. 

Indeed, in addition to the public health emergency and economic turmoil, what is unfolding is also a crisis of structural inequality.

The response to Covid-19 is bringing so many vulnerable people in our society into focus, and we cannot look away. It is the responsibility of those of us who have a voice to call on governments and institutions to take meaningful action.

It’s too early to tell how our world will be reshaped after business-as-usual resumes. But it is not too early to start taking steps that will enable us to imagine and build a better society.

How we respond to this public health crisis and the consequences on our economies will determine what our communities, our society, looks like once we emerge out of 2020. Rebuilding will not be and should not be about the economy only.

This can and should be a watershed moment, a breaking point from which we choose to rebuild societies that are founded on a model of social justice and sustainability. For this to happen, governments and civil society must come together to make sure that this is the beginning of a new chapter that addresses all the inequalities this pandemic has forced into the open.

If do not address the effects this crisis is having on people’s mental health, how are we going to address the major fallout that is definitely coming down the line?

If we are not already looking at how increased social tensions in society is exacerbating the scapegoating of vulnerable groups, how are we going to counter governments like Orbán’s, who see this pandemic as an opportunity to strengthen authoritarian rule and undemocratic tendencies?

All of this needs to be part of our thinking now, and not once we’re out of this crisis.

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