2020 UN LGBTI Core Group IDAHOBIT Event Recap

On May 17, the UN LGBTIQ core group - a cross regional group of 31 United Nations Member States and the mission of the EU, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the NGOs Human Rights Watch and OutRight Action International - released a statement on the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia, and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT). Yesterday, they followed up with an event that focused on the impact of COVID-19 on LGBTIQ people around the globe. 

Opening remarks were made by the Missions of Argentina and the Netherlands, followed by a panel discussion moderated by OutRight’s Executive Director Jessica Stern, which included words from Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; Khawla Bouaziz, Secretary General of Mawjoudin We Exist for Equality; and Billie Bryan, Founder and President of Colours Cayman. Closing remarks were made by the Missions of Uruguay and Spain.

Panelists and participants explored the ways in which they have watched COVID-19 play out in the LGBTIQ community around the world. In doing so, they highlighted the glaring reality that LGBTIQ individuals are particularly vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic. As they considered effective and inclusive measures to ensure the safety and health of LGBTIQ people, they echoed these words from yesterday’s statement: “It is critical that domestic and global responses to COVID-19 are mindful of the intersecting needs of LGBTI people.” 

Victor Madrigal-Borloz noted six key points to use in advising state responses to the pandemic: 

1. Acknowledge the existence of LGBTIQ people everywhere, including during a pandemic. Victor Madrigal-Borloz said, “There is no way to understand the integral impact of this pandemic if you erase LGBT persons and their lived realities from the picture. And if you erase that, not only will you be obtaining a picture that is distorted and lacks integrity but, you will be withdrawing an important element in how this pandemic is to be addressed.” 

2. Support civil society members and groups who are often on the front lines and can provide immediate support. As Billie Bryan made evident and Jessica Stern pointed out, fighting for the survival of your community at same time you are fighting for the survival of your organization is a perfect example of the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination against queer people. For organizations like Colours Cayman - the only grassroots organization in the region that is working to defend the human rights of LGBTIQ people - their survival is essential to the survival of the community they serve. As the main source of data and access to LGBTIQ community members, organizations like Colours Cayman need to be supported and used as a resource in responding to the pandemic. 

3. Take measures to protect LGBTIQ people from harm in the context of the pandemic. The panelists emphasized that we must vigilantly work to ensure that COVID-19 is not exerted as an excuse to persecute and attack queer people or, to withdraw and delay rights their rights. Likewise, there needs to be a attentiveness in ensuring that queer people are not used as scapegoats for the virus, or shown heightened levels of violence, discrimination, and hatred. 

4. Acknowledge that indirect discrimination is a real risk even during a pandemic. Khwala Bouaziz said, “There is no consideration that there are queer people. So, when you go to seek treatment as a queer person, there are no systems put in place to recognize your queerness and to recognize the specific needs that that entails. That comes hand-in-hand with the usual violence, with the discrimination, with judging the person by their gender expression or identity.” The consequences of this lack of acknowledgment is quiet discrimination which manifests itself in life-threatening situations such as, healthcare during the coronavirus. 

Khwala went on to say, “There is no system that can allow us as queer people to go ask for help or for medication for the COVID-19 pandemic and at the same time get treatment that is suitable for us. Also, there is no consideration, there is no plan to take into account people who are infected with HIV. Basically everything is being pushed under the rug. There are no queer people. There are no people living with HIV. Let’s treat everyone the same and pretend that nothing is happening.” 

5. Recognize that representation of LGBTIQ persons matters. In other words, consult LGBTIQ people directly when crafting pandemic response strategies. Victor Madrigal-Borloz said, “It is undeniable that LGBTIQ persons represent a meaningful cross section of people around the world, and that they represent a meaningful part of the diagnostic of the impact and also, the solution… Understanding the systematic exclusion of LGBTIQ people and how that manifests itself in a global crisis will be required to comprehend the impact of COVID-19.” He later highlighted the fact that while there are various ways to suffer there are consequently various solutions that need to be implemented. Unless responses are made in regards to the whole scope of suffering, solutions will be partial.

6. Identify relevant data, including on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics. Use this data to prepare for future pandemics. Ensure our future preparedness is fed by the evidence of what we learned from this pandemic. As Jessica Stern said, “The data coming through is stark, and it reveals that there is an overwhelming pattern of LGBTI people facing disproportionate levels of hunger, disruption in access to health care, spikes in domestic violence and of course discrimination, and in some instances, severe scapegoating. And if we do not act, if we take this webinar as just words and we don’t follow up with action, we will have an LGBTI humanitarian crisis to contend with.” 

This webinar is just a glimpse into the proof that the communities most affected by COVID-19 are ones that are already suffering the most. As part of the closing remarks, Maria Bossols of Spain said, “COVID-19 has made us all realize how important the network of support, care, and love is - for all of us - but also and most especially for LGBTIQ individuals. So, we need to go back and always work to create a family - the right to create a family has to be protected, to ensure same sex weddings, to ensure partnerships registration, civil registration of newborn and of adopted children - we need to work on that and continue to make that better.” 

This serves as a reminder that we need to continuously work on all levels and in all sectors to ensure proper inclusion of LGBTIQ people because in times of crisis, the areas where the human rights of LGBTIQ people are not honored and protected, will be amplified. 


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