May 17th marks 30 years since the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from the classification of diseases and related health problems. In 2004, May 17 was named the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexphobia, and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT). IDAHOBIT is a celebration for LGBTIQ people everywhere. It is also a rallying cry for the eradication of the continued discrimination, prejudice, and violence LGBTIQ people face at home, in public, and in written law every day.
30 years after declassifying homosexuality as a mental disease, 68 countries still criminalize same-sex relations. Only five countries across the globe explicitly mention gender identity and sexual orientation in their constitution. Inhumane laws give green lights for society to follow suit. Because of this, we remain one of the most marginalized communities around the world.
Preexisting stigma is the reason that we face harsher consequences in times of crisis - discrimination, violence, and stigma only become amplified. Our report, “Vulnerability Amplified: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on LGBTIQ people,” documents the devastating realities of the effects of the pandemic on LGBTIQ people.
LGBTIQ people are disproportionately represented in the informal work sector. Consequently, the economic impact on the queer community has been devastating. The loss of work, or lack of income security has left many without a major source of income, or faced with the choice between putting food on the table and staying safe from the virus. For some, the ability to adhere to lockdown protocols is seen as a luxury.
Marcela Romero, a trans activist from Argentina, told OutRight, “The trans population lives below the poverty line. Trans persons do not have registered work. These are the people who are most affected. The ones who have money can get delivery and receive food at home. Those in the informal economy cannot stop [working]. The way this pandemic affects people, it all depends on the economic level. There is a very small group that is economically ok within the trans community, but the 98% of trans persons who live in informality are the group most affected.”
Meanwhile, barriers to accessing health services have been amplified for the LGBTIQ community. Fear of revealing gender identity or HIV status has turned queer folks away from seeking out the care they need. Likewise, interviewees reported disruptions in access to their routine medication like HIV medication, PrEP, or gender-affirming care due to it being deemed “non-essential.” “I’m surrounded by LGBTI individuals who lack access to basic rights and medical services to survive this period. The services provided by the state already do not include the LGBTI community on a normal basis, and now it’s even worse,” said Naya Rajab, a trans/non binary activist working in Lebanon.
It comes as little surprise that discrimination against queer people is exacerbated in times of crisis. This discrimination can be traced back to the laws, policy makers, decision makers, and public figures that feed the idea that LGBTIQ are less than. Davis Mac-Iyalla, a LGBTIQ activist in Ghana told OutRight, “The chief Muslim cleric here in his address on COVID-19 said that this is a punishment from God for LGBT people. The national attitude about LGBT is creating more discrimination and stigma, and the LGBT community is in a panic….Whenever there is a disaster, the LGBT community is blamed by religious leaders.”
While the rest of the world is turned toward the global pandemic, LGBTIQ people have fallen through the cracks. “I worry that we are going to become more invisible in the bigger political picture – our fight and our politics are no longer going to be factored. Our challenges will be diluted… I am worried that our rights and the things harmful to us will no longer be a priority anymore – that we will become insignificant to government priorities overall. Once you become invisible, you become voiceless,” said Phylesha Brown-Acton, a Fakafafine/transwoman from New Zealand.
The UN Free and Equal Campaign tweeted, along with their video campaign, “Three things that will never be canceled: Bravery. Love. The fight for equality.” OutRight received 1500 applications for our COVID-19 LGBTIQ Emergency Fund from grassroots LGBTIQ organizations around the world. 1500 organizations - that we know of - are actively working to allieviate food and shelter insecurities for their queer communities. 1500 organizations recognize that we don’t face this discrimination one day a year, the fight for equality requires daily work.
This year’s UN IDAHOBIT theme is #Breakthesilence. Make your voice heard today, and continue to use your voice until LGBTIQ people are recognized as equals in law, in society, and in times of crisis.
Published on May 17, 2020 | OutRight Action International an LGBT human rights organization