LGBT activists are the unsung heroes on the frontlines of China’s fight against COVID-19 - Part 1

Wuhan, the epicenter of courage (read part 2 here)

We were terrified when the government shut down Wuhan. There were stories of people dying from a mysterious disease and the bustling city went silent. Suddenly all of our work for the LGBT community had to stop, and then we started receiving calls for help from LGBT people all over the city,” said Haojie from Wuhan LGBT Center.

On January 23, the Chinese government ordered the lockdown of Wuhan and various cities in Hubei, a landlocked province in Central China. Within hours, travel restrictions were imposed in all 15 cities in Hubei, affecting about 57 million people. Wuhan, the largest and most populous city in Central China, home to 11 million people, ground to a halt.

It was then that Chinese citizens realized the severity of the problem, having been earlier assured by the Chinese authorities that the virus was not transmittable from human to human. Searching for answers online soon proved futile as the censors worked overtime to take down any information on the virus in an effort to control the narrative.

Seeing no way to carry out their activities, the Wuhan LGBT Center planned to shut its doors and send its staff home. But before they could, calls for help started flooding in from LGBT persons living with HIV in Wuhan.

The quarantine made it nearly impossible for everyone in the city to leave their homes. Therefore, thousands of LGBT persons living with HIV could not go to the hospitals for the medication they needed without stating the reason why they had to travel. Afraid of the stigma and discrimination that comes with being HIV positive, they were cautious about revealing their status to community officials to ask for permission to travel or to arrange for medication to be delivered. Many would rather risk not taking their medication than have their family or community find out about their status. Desperate for a solution, thousands started calling the Wuhan LGBT Center. 

The Wuhan LGBT Center sprang into action. 22 volunteers came forward to run different teams with jobs such as taking calls, collecting medicine, and delivering the medicine. The closest place to pick up the HIV medication is 13 miles away from the center at Jinyintan Hospital, the magma chamber of the Coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan. Steeling their resolve, the team scrambled to get hazmat suits and protective gear in preparation for the daily commute and waiting rooms packed with infectious Coronavirus patients seeking help. 

Between January 26 until the end of lock down on April 8, the Center delivered medicine to an average of 200 persons daily. An impressive tally emerged counting an estimated 14,000 persons receiving 130,000 bottles of medicine over the entire 74 days of lock down.

When asked about the impetus of the action, Haojie said, “We had to help our own community, because we are all we had.”