Yesterday the BBC shared a story titled “I’m stuck in isolation with my homophobic parents”
which I encourage you to read. The article includes startling quotes such as “My mum’s partner talks about me as if I can’t hear him. He says I’m disgusting and he hopes he doesn’t catch what I have.”
This article is only the tip of the iceberg of the tremendously negative impact COVID-19 has had on the lives of young LGBT+ people globally in the past few weeks.
There is some focus on domestic violence in France as an example reporting that police intervention for domestic violence has increased by more than 30% during the enforced COVID-19 confinement. However homophobic and transphobic attacks at home remain largely taboo and ignored.
The sad reality is that for most LGBT+ people “home” can be a dangerous place. Prejudice in the family context almost always translates in a rupture of the family bond, either temporarily or permanently, among lesbian and gay youth and their families. This often leads them to be expelled from their parents’ house in complex and painful circumstances or even enrolled in so-called “conversion therapy” [read the recent Out Leadership post “Profiting from conversion therapy? Now is the time to end it“. by activist Mathew Shurka on the topic: ].
For this reason, young LGBT+ people tend to leave “home” for more tolerant places whether it is urban areas or schools. However, the need to isolate, the school closures and the economic consequences of the current Coronavirus crisis have sent hundreds of millions of LGBT people back to places of oppression.
The family reactions in the process of “coming out of the closet” are often violent, with humiliation, persecution and even expulsion from home. In addition, the forced repression of sexual orientation or gender identity expressions impacts the well-being and psychological health of LGBT+ people. Obviously, the consequences last into adulthood.
In a report titled, “Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Europe” in 2001, the Council of Europe reported results of a study showing that in France, 16% of LGBT+ people reported being beaten at home by family members. Netflix’s new docuseries “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez” explores the horrifying case of an 8-year-old boy who was murdered by his own mother and her equally sadistic boyfriend because they thought he was gay.
In the current context, for most heterosexual cisgender people, the family is an essential component of the mitigation of the impact of coronavirus. Unfortunately, it is not for most LGBT+ people globally. Whether it is for youth at home faced with family violence, adults cut from vital community safety nets or older LGBT+ people forgotten in their apartments or homophobic nursing homes, one of the most horrendous consequences of homophobia and transphobia, is the lack of support network. Family, instead of being a refuge, is a space that often generates and reproduces forms of violence in the name of heteronormativity, patriarchy and/or religion.
I like to tell LGBT+ people I meet to “never minimize the injustice they experience”. Our community is sometimes so determined to appear resilient rather than victimized that it downplays the immense suffering it experiences.
The unique experience of being chased away from one’s family, community or religious group is not inconsequential. That is an experience almost unique to LGBT+ people who for the most part are born into a family, community, culture, society, and world that do not support a core part of their being.
It’s a sad truth that LGBT+ people are the only minority that people are allowed to discriminate against legally (at Out Leadership, we are keeping an eye on the upcoming decision from the US Supreme Court), but perhaps more importantly LGBT+ children are the only children systematically obliged to lie to their parents, teachers, and pastors during their formative years because of legitimate fears of exclusion and intolerance. The long term phycological consequences of this disconnect from the people these children should trust the most cannot be overstated.
We will only have scratched the surface of LGBT+ equality until we change the attitudes of parents and teachers who remain the greatest perpetrator of homophobic and transphobic attacks. We increasingly have stopped tolerating homophobia and transphobia in the workplace, why are we not tackling it at home?
There is not much we can do at the moment to protect LGBT+ youth trapped in their family homes besides donating to organizations such as Ali Forney, the Trevor Project or le Refuge which provide options for at-risk LGBT+ youth. Born Perfect leads the fight against conversion therapy.
Yet, as the economic recovery takes place, we should not lose sight that for LGBT+ people, economic opportunities and scholarships are often a way to escape unwelcoming “homes”.