OPINION: The expanded importance of IDAHOBIT under lockdown

by Jessica Stern | OutRight Action International
Friday, 15 May 2020 08:15 GMT

Angel Mendoza (3rd R) and Martin Juco (2nd R), who are transgender and non-binary, stand in line outside a bank during gender-based quarantine restrictions, amidst the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Bogota, Colombia May 5, 2020. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

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

The levels of exclusion and marginalization LGBT+ people experience are more evident and amplified now, making the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, Biphobia and Intersexphobia (IDAHOBIT) even more important

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Jessica Stern is executive director of OutRight Action International

On the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, Biphobia and Intersexphobia (IDAHOBIT), there would normally be marches and a variety of events raising awareness about the discrimination, harassment and violence that LGBT+ people face around the world.

Today, we are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic with corresponding containment measures, so we cannot mark this day as we normally would. But today, perhaps more than in previous years, the levels of exclusion and marginalization we experience are more evident and amplified, making the awareness-raising aims of IDAHOBIT even more important.

While many societies around the world have made progress in the acceptance and inclusion of LGBT+ people, there is no country in which we are entirely safe.

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LGBT+ people continue to be among the most marginalized groups in societies everywhere, even in the absence of a pandemic. We know from past experiences that during times of crisis, vulnerable communities such as ourselves become at risk. We also know that crisis responses have not typically taken intersectional approaches, sometimes specifically excluding LGBT+ people and amplifying vulnerability further.

Let me give you some examples.

In a report released earlier this month, OutRight Action International documented the crisis within a crisis LGBT+ people face.

The resounding challenge facing our community as a result of the economic fall-out from lockdowns and quarantines intended to contain COVID-19 is rising food shortages and shelter insecurity.

Why? Because in countries around the globe, LGBT+ people are overrepresented in the informal sector, without job protections, often relying on daily wages and highly affected by economic downturns.

For example, William Linares in Belize works as a drag entertainer. “As an effeminate gay person, this is the only job I can find, no one wants to hire me for anything else.”

Without events or shows, he earns nothing.

Far too many trans women, in particular, end up in sex work due to discrimination in other sectors. Right now, even that work is not possible, leaving many stranded and homeless.

Rising levels of domestic and family violence from unaccepting family members or partners is the predominant form of violence faced by LGBT+ people even in the absence of a crisis. Now it is amplified, as many of us are forced to return to hostile family homes due to job loss, and unable to leave these homes even for momentary escape.

For example, according to Raise Your Voice St Lucia, the mother of a 24-year-old trans woman insisted that she wear masculine clothing and cut her hair while in her mother’s house. Or else her mother “will put her out during curfew”, putting her in danger of arrest and abuse by law enforcement.

Meanwhile the LGBT+ shelter in Moscow has received a record number of requests for help, particularly from trans people. But, oversubscribed, it struggles to help.

Even without a pandemic, LGBT+ people face discriminatory attitudes and harmful treatment in healthcare services, including subjection to so-called conversion therapy and refusal of treatment.

Those discriminatory attitudes are amplified now.

Liza, a trans woman in Russia, told the Moscow LGBT Center: “I will call the ambulance only if I am suffocating; only if I feel a very real threat to my life. I'm afraid that if I get hospitalized, I will be placed in the men's ward, and that the doctors will not understand my situation, that they will treat me worse than others.”

In Zimbabwe, religious leaders in the country are implying that the virus is God’s punishment for LGBT+ acceptance. What if in this context, an LGBT+ person gets infected? Will they receive care, or be turned away?

Lua Stabile, a trans woman from Brazil and an activist with the Libertarian Union of Travesti and Trans Women, has an answer, “People want to eliminate LGBTI people, and they won’t care if they die.”

For LGBT+ people today, the situation is dire. I fear how many of us will lose our lives because of the amplified vulnerability we face due to COVID-19.

On this International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, Biphobia and Intersexphobia, we need immediate action from governments, the UN, and the philanthropic sector to prevent an LGBT+ humanitarian crisis. And in the long term, we need comprehensive, sustainable measures to ensure genuine and lasting inclusion and acceptance of LGBT+ people.