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05.18.20

LGBTI population and COVID-19

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In light of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT) I thought it would be appropriate to talk about the particular set of issues this population faces in regards of COVID-19, we already know that LGBTI people are among the most vulnerable and marginalized in many societies, and among those most at risk from COVID-19”, said Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

There are already news reports on targeted violence in countries where same-sex relations are criminalized, such as Uganda, the Philippines, and Hungary. Gender-restricted quarantine rules in some countries in Latin America, such as Perú, Colombia, and Panama, have exposed transgender people to discrimination due to being questioned regarding the day they decide to go out to buy groceries.

The most painfully obvious episode of discrimination due to these gender-based restrictions (not the only one) happened in Panama, where a trans woman that is also a health worker was fined for violating the gender-based lockdown. Since trans people in Panama can’t legally change their name without having surgery, many of them are stuck at home or obligated to leave their houses in the day meant for the opposite sex, creating, of course, dysphoria and discrimination.

Public statements from UNAIDS are clear in the obstacles the LGBTI population face to take care of themselves in the pandemic: “For some LGBTI people, self-isolation and physical distancing can be particularly challenging, even dangerous. Many LGBTI people face violence and/or ill-treatment while sheltering in homes with unaccepting family members. LGBTI people may also suffer from intimate partner violence while staying at home, without the ability to report cases of abuse to the police owing to fear of repercussions. Isolation can also exacerbate pre-existing mental health challenges, common among LGBTI people, including loneliness, depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.”

According to the OHCHR “Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI), people may be particularly vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic. People living with compromised immune systems, including some persons living with HIV/AIDS, face a greater risk from COVID-19. Homeless persons, a population that includes many LGTBI people, are less able to protect themselves through physical distancing and safe hygiene practices, increasing their exposure to contagion.”

Some of the measure’s states can take in this regard, according to the OHCHR are:
1) Specific efforts should be made to ensure that LGBTI people are not subjected to discrimination or fear retribution for seeking healthcare. Health services that are particularly relevant to LGBTI people should not be deprioritized on a discriminatory basis.
2) Measures to address the socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic should consider the particular vulnerabilities of the LGBTI people, including older persons and the homeless, and ensure that LGBTI people are fully covered.
3) Political leaders and other influential figures should speak out against stigmatization and hate speech directed at the LGBTI people in the context of the pandemic.
4) Shelters, support services, and other measures to address gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic should take steps to include the LGBTI population.
5) States should not use states of emergency or other emergency measures to roll back existing rights and guarantees that apply to LGBTI people.
6) Measures restricting movement should provide protection for trans and gender non-conforming persons. Law enforcement officials should be instructed and trained not to discriminate against this population.

Not all countries are failing their LGBTI population, some parts of LATAM such as Argentina are gathering the data needed to address the socioeconomic impact of COVID on the LGBTI community thanks to their new Ministry of women and gender issues.

Covid-19 is a threat to many vulnerable populations; it has also exposed the weaknesses of health systems, socioeconomic measures and governments, let’s use this lessons to end all forms of discrimination in access to health services.

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