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Report shows pandemic's affect on LGBTQs around the world


Amie Bishop is a senior research adviser at OutRight Action International. Photo: Courtesy OutRight
Amie Bishop is a senior research adviser at OutRight Action International. Photo: Courtesy OutRight  

Global LGBT leaders were concerned about the well-being of queer communities around the world when the novel coronavirus pandemic broke out and countries began shutting down to halt its spread.

The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic March 11. By the end of that month, countries around the world responded with various levels of restrictions, effectively shutting down nations.

The effects of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, and the worldwide lockdown on the LGBT community have become clear in OutRight Action International's new report, "Vulnerability Amplified: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on LGBTIQ People."

"While everyone in the world is susceptible to infection the world is not going to experience the pandemic equally," said Amie Bishop, a senior research adviser at OutRight and the report's author.

OutRight's report broadened the understanding of the effects of the pandemic on LGBT people around the world. It highlighted the inadequacies of governments' responses regarding queer people and community organizations on the ground that have been reported since the beginning of the pandemic. It also went beyond the United Nations' findings of attacks on the LGBT community in its COVID-19 and human rights report in April.

OutRight has recognized consultative status at the U.N.

The U.N. report on COVID-19 and human rights prompted Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to urge countries to take a human rights approach to protect vulnerable communities, including LGBTs, according to an April 25 news release.

Two days later, UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima and MPact Executive Director George Ayala released a joint report focused on government and police abuses of LGBT and HIV-positive people during the pandemic.

"HIV has taught us that violence, bullying, and discrimination only serve to further marginalize the people most in need," Byanyima said in an April 27 joint statement with MPact. "All people, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, are entitled to the right to health, safety and security, without exception. Respect and dignity are needed now more than ever before."

However, as the U.N. reported, human rights and the rule of law haven't been followed and LGBT people are being not only abused during the pandemic but also left on their own.

"We know, looking back at previous emergencies and crises, that very often we are not being included," Bishop, a lesbian, told the Bay Area Reporter, noting that so far, the relief response to COVID-19 hasn't been different in that respect.

Another historical reality noted in OutRight's report is that governments and religious leaders are taking advantage of the pandemic to limit LGBT people's rights.

"That kind of scapegoating is happening and is creating very challenging environments that have the risk of escalating societal violence and stigma as well," Bishop said.

OutRight researchers identified seven key themes that queer people are experiencing during the pandemic through interviews with nearly 60 LGBT people in 38 countries in March and April.

The 78-page report echoed what journalists on the ground have reported: disruptions in livelihoods; access to health care; elevated risk of domestic and family violence; social isolation and increased anxiety; scapegoating, societal discrimination, and stigma; abuse of state power; and organizational survival.

"What we found across the board is that among the full spectrum of the diversity of our community that transgender people in particular were hard hit and transgender women especially," said Bishop.

HIV-positive people were also adversely affected, something that hasn't been missed by UNAIDS and MPact, which also sounded the alarm recently on the halt of HIV/AIDS trials and the potential for delays delivering lifesaving medications, often imported, due to new border and transit restrictions.

Fragile lives
What surprised Bishop the most was the "swiftness" of the pandemic's economic impact within the LGBT community around the world, she told the B.A.R.

The pandemic immediately put queer and gender-nonconforming people in challenging situations, forcing them to choose between going hungry or risking exposure to the virus to get food and other necessities, she said.

It also highlighted inequalities in governments' relief policies, from having food distributed by police forces to not recognizing diverse family units.

"I think that it laid bare how tenuous people's lives are in a lot of situations in a lot of countries," said Bishop.

OutRight said that it received more than 1,500 applications from around the world for its COVID-19 Global LGBTIQ Emergency Fund during April.

Many of the applicants requested food assistance and reported about "complete erasure of livelihoods," Bishop said.

"It just struck me as how fast things have changed," she said. "It speaks to again to the vulnerabilities ... that a lot of our community around the world faces."

Dire needs
The situation is particularly dire for HIV-positive and transgender people.

HIV-positive respondents told OutRight researchers that many health clinics where HIV medications and treatments are received were closed due to the pandemic. Closed LGBT-friendly clinics and the lack of transportation pose a problem, especially in countries where HIV/AIDS is stigmatized, causing many people to forego accessing needed medications and treatment, according to the report.

"Theoretically, medications may be available," said Bishop, but they aren't accessible.

Accessibility might become a bigger issue if the pandemic and lockdowns continue beyond three months, Olumide Makanjuola, a sexual health and rights activist in Nigeria, told Al Jazeera. He explained that HIV drugs are an import issue for many countries.

"There will be a lot of anxiety and the possibility of drug unavailability at centers due to delivery delay and other logistics-related issues," he said.

Life-affirming hormone therapy and treatments and other kinds of gender-affirming care have become nonessential, Bishop added.

More worrisome is the fact that people are foregoing treatment.

Tatiana Vinnichenko, director of Moscow Community Center for LGBT in Russia, told Bishop that six of the center's transgender clients were exhibiting COVID-19-like symptoms but they were reluctant to get care. They were worried about being misgendered at the hospital and subjected to "demeaning treatment," she said Vinnichenko told her.

"Simply from a public health point of view and a personal health point of view [this] poses a very serious situation," Bishop said.

COVID-19 is placing LGBTs in other risky health situations, according to the report. Isolation with non-supportive family members is causing major mental health issues and putting queer people at risk of anti-gay violence.

"People are feeling threatened, they are feeling nervous," said Bishop, stating that some situations were so precarious that OutRight assisted some people with finding alternative housing.

"There is a lot of mental anguish, psychological anguish, but also in some cases the real threat of family violence," said Bishop, noting that much of the world's reporting on domestic violence is framed in a heterosexual context.

LGBT response
LGBT activists are trying to help their community and other people.

"An incredibly moving part of our findings is that even under the most difficult circumstances local communities were rallying and trying to find ways to help people within the community, but also beyond their communities," said Bishop, who was impressed by "seeing how people who were in crisis, but still trying to do something."

"Part of what we heard was the anguish that they showed in not being able to do as much as they wanted to do," she added, talking about a lesbian group in Monrovia, Liberia that managed to raise money to buy and deliver food and supply packets to community members.

Many LGBT organizations — big and small — that are providing lifelines to local queer communities are restricted by the economic crisis and government-mandated lockdowns.

"They are really at risk of going under," said Bishop. "That's what's so scary about this, as well as seeing the possibility of movements being set back by years potentially."

Many of the organizations are providing affirming health care and distributing life-saving medications to HIV-positive people and delivering groceries for LGBT seniors. They are going virtual when possible and opening helplines for people to connect.

More to come
OutRight's assessment of COVID-19's impact on the LGBT community globally will soon be complemented by a report that Hornet, a gay dating app, is working on with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The Hornet study's initial findings revealed that about one in three GBT men don't feel safe sheltering in place at home. The ongoing study is surveying more than 30,000 men who are a part of the Hornet community.

Bishop is working with Hornet to launch a survey for the queer women's community, Sean Howell, CEO of the LGBT Foundation and chairman of the board at Hornet, told the B.A.R.

UNICEF is also working in collaboration with Asian LGBT organizations on a queer youth report. The survey was conducted during the first half of May.

The reports are expected to be released later this year.

Call to action
Bishop's goal is that OutRight's report will push governments and key stakeholders to be "inclusive in their response" and to "not overlook our communities." That includes the U.S. Congress.

Recently, On Top magazine reported, 47 congressional Democratic lawmakers called upon President Donald Trump's administration to include LGBT people in the U.S.'s global coronavirus response in a letter to the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Bishop said that she hopes global leaders will consult LGBT communities in their response to the pandemic.

Additionally, throughout the pandemic, OutRight has recorded LGBT experiences broadcast on OutRightTV (https://outrightinternational.org/outright-tv).

OutRight is conducting webinars to discuss the results of the report's findings May 21, May 26, and June 2. To register for a webinar, visit https://outrightinternational.org/content/outright-covid-webinar-series

To read the report, visit https://outrightinternational.org/content/vulnerability-amplified-impact-covid-19-pandemic-lgbtiq-people?utm_source=covid19_research_launch

Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp: 415-517-7239, or Skype: heather.cassell, or oitwnews@gmail.com

Editor's note: If you liked this article, help out our freelancers and staff, and keep the B.A.R. going in these tough times. For info, visit our IndieGoGo campaign.

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