Re-asserting LGBT+ needs during the COVID-19 crisis is NOT frivolous
It is tempting to de-prioritize LGBT+ rights now out of solidarity, but it would be a mistake

There is nothing light or frivolous about claims by LGBT+ groups that the COVID-19 virus: (i) affects LGBT+ people disproportionately; (ii) that public responses often disregard LGBT+ existence; and (iii) that stigma and prejudice against LGBT+ people is only growing as a result of the pandemic and needs to be addressed.

Disproportionately affected by the virus and its economic impact

As I have mentioned in several previous posts, LGBT+ people are particularly vulnerable in the context of this pandemic and there is already anecdotal evidence that they are disproportionately affected:

  1. They tend to be the first victims of family violence (read my article: Confinement at “home” is just plain dangerous for most LGBT youth)
  2. Secondly, they are overrepresented in marginalized populations, such as incarcerated, homeless people, sex workers or racial minorities, which have been forgotten in the COVID-19 response (read: What is your community?). Those placed in shelters -because of homelessness, rejection of their family or temporary release from jail – may suffer from stigma, discrimination, and abuse, in particular, if their gender identity or gender expression does not conform with social expectations;
  3. LGBT+ people are more likely to live in poverty compared to their non-LGBTI counterparts. See as an example, findings in the US that “in a majority of states, LGBT+ people experience higher rates of poverty than cisgender straight people”, according to a 2019 report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. Many in the LGBTI community may work in informal economies and lack access to paid sick leave and social security or community safety nets, or live without health coverage
  4. LGBT+ people experience stigma and discrimination while seeking health services, often avoiding access to healthcare services for fear of arrest or violence
  5. Their co-morbid conditions are heightened by confinement measures: studies reveal that LGBT+ people more susceptible to abuse of alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs, obesity, mental disorders as a result of the violence and discrimination they experience from an early age. These conditions are significantly worsened by confinement measures
  6. They are more at risk from HIV and other chronic diseases that in-turn increase chances of suffering serious illness or death as a result of COVID-19 (see a replay of an episode of This Week in Leadership that featured an interview with two world-renowned HIV researchers conducted by our Founder & CEO, Todd Sears)
  7. Our depleted generation of older LGBT+ people is taking a hit: we have already lost many leaders such as writer and activist Terrence McNally (read my eulogy this week – Broadway goes dark twice over in one month) or Tarlach Mac Niallis, an LGBT+ advocate who fought tirelessly to allow Irish LGBTQ groups to march proudly in St. Patrick’s Day parades
  8. Older LGBT+ people are poorer and more isolated as a result of discrimination and rejection from their families and communities placing them at risk of being overlooked by health services.

Ignored in public responses to COVID-19

Perhaps, more importantly, their specific needs are often ignored in public response designs. A typical example would be Peru and Panama limiting men and women to alternate days out to stall the spread of the virus without even acknowledging the fact that this won’t help same-sex couples and ignores the reality of non-binary and trans people. Out Leadership is also concerned that treatment availed to LGBT+ people may be interrupted or de-prioritized including – HIV treatment and testing, hormonal treatment and gender-affirming treatments for trans people.

Similarly, the focus on domestic violence linked to confinement which we are starting to see all over the World seems to intentionally ignore intra-family homophobia and transphobia which is highly problematic. First, it does not provide risk mitigation for young LGBT people but more importantly it showcases how family homophobic and transphobic violence remain taboo even in the US or France in 2020.

Blamed for COVID-19

As LGBT+ people, we are used to being blamed for disasters, whether they are hurricanes, tsunamis or economic crises, and we are already accused by some to be responsible for the spread of the coronavirus. The rationale being that the LGBT+ “way of life” attracts the wrath of God (as if HE had not bigger concerns at the moment – read my post from yesterday on organized religion and COVID-19: Religion, COVID-19 and LGBT+ inclusion).

  • In Iraq, Muqtada al-Sadr Sadr – Shia cleric wrote: “One of the most appalling things that have caused this epidemic is the legalization of same-sex marriage. Hence, I call on all governments to repeal this law immediately and without any hesitation.
  • In the US, evangelical preacher Perry Stone declared that the spread of COVID-19 was God’s response to the legalization of equal marriage and abortion
  • In Israel, Rabbi Meir Mazuz claimed that the spread of the deadly coronavirus was divine retribution for gay pride parades
  • In the Caribbean Cayman Islands legislator, Anthony Eden proposed that the Caribbean island should officially affirm Christian values in response to disasters and epidemics that he considers warnings from God not to allow same-sex marriage
  • In Uganda, our friend Frank Mugisha shared that 20 members of the local LGBT+ community have been detained in the Kitalya Maximum Security Prison after police raided their shelter and accused them of violating coronavirus-related social distancing measures. “It is evident that they were arrested because of their homosexuality,” Frank Mugisha said Wednesday, expressing concern for their safety as “some of them are on AIDS medication.” Same-sex relationships are criminalized in Uganda.

What should Governments and the LGBT+ community do?

COVID-19 surveillance, response, treatment, and media coverage should systematically consider the particular vulnerability of LGBT+ people in society, and steps should be taken to ensure that their identities are taken into consideration and their voices heard when creating responses. Inflammatory comments blaming LGBT people for the virus should be condemned firmly.

LGBT+ people should not hesitate to use collective action to pressure Governments and other stakeholders to adequately address the needs of LGBT+ people. In the words of Larry Kramer talking about“how gays simply will not go out there and fight for their own lives.”: “There are 20 million gay people […] in this country. And I wish I had my army of 20 million people out there, instead of the few hundred that we do.”

What can YOU and YOUR COMPANY do about it?

If you happen to still be employed, have savings or work in a company that is not affected by the crisis, there are several ways you can show solidarity today with marginalized people in our community. Here are three examples of organizations that are taking concrete action to help during the COVID-19 pandemic. [disclaimer: I serve on the Board of all three organizations].

If you know other organizations helping the marginalized during this time, who need our collective support, email info@outleadership.com and we will do what we can to shine a light on their work.

Witness to Mass Incarceration

What it does for LGBT+ incarcerated people during COVID-19:

WMI advocates with elected officials for the temporary release of prisoners in settings that are not able to provide adequate protection against COVID-19.

Executive Director:

The inspiring Evie Litwok – a–formerly incarcerated and lesbian social justice fighter.

OutRight Action International

What it does for LGBT+ people abroad in financial distress during COVID-19:

Outright is planning to create a queer COVID-19 emergency response fund. It hopes to raise enough money to distribute grants of $2,500 – 10,000 USD to LGBTIQ organizations anywhere in priority regions whose communities are impacted by the pandemic. The funds could be used by community groups for anything from food to emergency shelter to domestic violence support.

Executive Director:

Another high-power lesbian – Jessica Stern – who has almost more LGBTI street creed than Larry Kramer.

Housing Works

What it does to help during COVID-19:

Housing Works provides housing to the most marginalized in New York City people living with HIV or active drug users.

Executive Director:

Matthew Bernardo who leads this gigantic operation with poise, charm, and vision.

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