Coronavirus and LGBTQ+ Issues

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Silas Pease
Reporter

Silas Pease examines the impact of the pandemic on LGBTQ+ communities around the world.

The UK based non-profit organisation Kaleidoscope Trust has recently released a report examining issues affecting LGBTQ+ groups across the globe due to the coronavirus. The report has highlighted that, as is the case with most minority groups, those in the LGBTQ+ community are being disproportionately affected by the knock-on effects of the epidemic. The group worked with a number of queer rights activist organisations and charities from 37 commonwealth nations to get an overall scope of how groups are being impacted during the crisis. A significant takeaway from the report’s findings is that LGBTQ+ people are facing increasing levels of persecution during this epidemic, both in direct and indirect ways, and that activist groups and charities are facing mounting issues in operating and in trying to provide relief aid. Though not a complete scope of the situation around the world, this report does hint at some persistent issues that can be found outside of the examined nations.

One major issue examined by the report is the impact on activist groups and charities around the world, an issue not solely isolated to LGBTQ+ groups, though important nonetheless. Cuts to funding and calls for social distancing are putting a strain on many groups, some of which are facing closure. In the report, it was stated that around one in 10 groups were concerned about this, and most were worried about staff safety and funding. For many groups in nations with popular anti-LGBTQ+ public sentiments, staff safety is a major concern, and one that is heightened with worsening public attitudes towards queer groups in some countries. Essential work in providing basic necessities and shelter for vulnerable LGBTQ+ people is also becoming a greater task due to the exacerbated number of those in need and the increasing limitations to the activist groups themselves. Another major offshoot of this is, considering the work these activist groups do in promoting various LGBTQ+ welfare causes, the problem of these groups suffering both operationally and financially will have a knock-on effect on the outcome of these issues. For example, the UK government is currently reviewing the Gender Recognition Act and may possibly ratify it to give, in short, a smoother process for trans people to take to legally change their gender and status. Though this process is temporarily on pause due to the epidemic, the outcome of this review and subsequent update will come in no small part from the work taken by activist groups, which may be significantly diminished once the review resumes. The smaller role these groups may find themselves in could cause the needle to swing further back the other way, causing further issues for the affected groups in the future.

Another issue discussed by the report is that of blame for the outbreak of the virus being placed on LGBTQ+ people. Activist groups have noted an increase in threats and hate speech, as well as greater police violence or apathy aimed at queer people. In fact, there have even been other reported cases in recent weeks of either groups or prominent political figures in a handful of countries persecuting LGBTQ+ people openly or calling for repeals for pro-LGBTQ+ legislation.

Despite what has been seen as a step forward for LGBTQ+ rights in Botswana with it’s High Court decriminalising sexual activity between members of the same sex back in June of 2019, public sentiment towards LGBTQ+ people has worsened and interactions have allegedly become more threatening and violent. LeGaBiBo, one of Botswana’s most prominent LGBTQ+ activist groups, noted in the report how the vitriolic behaviour some people were facing was so intense that it had already driven one person to suicide. This report has also found similar cases to be happening in other nations such as Barbados and Cameroon. In Kenya, activist groups are having a hard time providing aid for those who are financially struggling, and who are also facing higher levels of intolerance from members of the public. The Washington Post also recently reported on how Ugandan refugees in Kenya who are trying to emigrate from their country’s homophobic and transphobic laws are stuck in safe houses and shelters, unable to travel due to restrictions put in place due to the virus. There, they are subject to frequent police raids and face the threat of arrest for the crime of being gay or possibly even deportation.

While this report covers only a handful of commonwealth nations, similar effects can be seen elsewhere. In Iraq, prominent political leader Muqtada al-Sadr recently took to Twitter to place the blame of the outbreak of the virus solely on the legalisation of same-sex marriage, and urged nations around the world to repeal this legislation immediately. This statement was met with some ridicule, and the argument that nations that have not legalised same-sex marriage, such as Russia, China and Turkey, have been significantly impacted by the epidemic which would serve to disprove his assumption. Regardless, al-Sadr’s prominence and large following are cause for concern as it is likely that among his supporters this will worsen sentiments towards LGBTQ+ people in Iraq.

What this issue in particular represents is that anti-queer rhetoric and bigotry and the problems they pose to members of the LGBTQ+ community are still significant, and have by no means diminished with the rise of this new global issue. For all the steps forward LGBTQ+ activist groups have managed to fight for, there have always been more taken back. In times of national/global crisis and economic strife, public fear can often manifest itself in the form of hatred or bigotry towards a group. For instance, the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s saw already prevalent homophobic attitudes in affected countries worsen, despite the fact that the virus was not just affecting gay men. Many turned the crisis into a moral issue against homosexuality, a problem that was even recognised in this newspaper by students at the time. Furthermore, it is important to stress that the issues this report discusses are not solely isolated to those in the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, it has been seen during this current crisis that people of East Asian descent in the UK have experienced greater levels of discriminatory behaviour and blame for the outbreak of the virus from the general public, with The Guardian reporting hate crimes against these groups having increased by around 21% during the crisis. This is no doubt a symptom of the greater issue created by intolerance that rears its head in times of national duress.

If anything, one could argue people are using this epidemic as another excuse to strengthen their bigoted attitudes, and this is in many cases being exacerbated by the prejudiced or uncaring systems they live in. While the virus that is affecting us all and the subsequent lockdown lifestyle we’re living in may be new, the issues for minority groups that it exacerbates are not.

Readers interested in reading the full report can find it following the link here: https://www.commonwealth-covid19.com