By Akram Kubanychbekov, Senior Advocacy Officer of ILGA-Europe
All of this is hard. We are living in unprecedented times, but the global response to the crisis should address its potential impact on marginalised groups, including LGBTI people, and their access to healthcare and safety at home, as well as to watch out for discriminatory practices and measures.
The world is facing an unseen public health crisis that requires a global response with far-reaching consequences for our economic, social and political life. Many countries are taking emergency measures to save lives. Such measures may inadvertently affect people’s livelihoods and safety and their access to health care services (not only for COVID-19).
In addition, COVID-19 has exposed myriad issues that people living in socio-economic marginalization are facing due to structural discrimination and isolation. The disparities of the impact of COVID-19 on marginalised groups, including LGBTI people, cannot be addressed in absence of equality and non-discrimination principles in the heart of laws and policies aimed to protect the population from COVID-19. In developing measures against COVID-19, states must take into account that women and men, children, the youth and the elderly, refugees and migrants, the poor, people with disabilities, LGBTI people, among others are being affected differently.
The crisis is intensifying the difficulties for LGBTI people, many of whom face discrimination and stigma when seeking health care and are more vulnerable to violence and other human rights abuses. The impact of lockdowns and implemented measures on jobs, livelihoods, access to services, including health care, food and social services, safety at home, adequate standards of living and family life can be severe for LGBTI people due to consistent structural discrimination and stigmatisation.
Social distancing may be particularly difficult for those, who have been rejected by their families, are not out with their families and now forced to be with them the whole time and/or are facing mental health issues. This results in an increase in domestic violence experienced by LGBTI people. The 2019 Eurobarometer indicated that only 55% of Europeans would be comfortable if their child was in a relationship with an LGB person, dropping to 44% for an intersex person and 43% for a trans person.
Containment measures themselves have a disproportionate impact on economically disadvantaged populations, who cannot work from home and live at subsistence levels. A greater than average rate of LGBTI people are unemployed and in precarious jobs, and live on very limited and unstable financial resources. An estimated 25-40% of young people experiencing homelessness is estimated to identify as LGBTI. The current crisis shows the extreme vulnerability of people in precarious job and housing situations, including questions on access to social protection and access to healthcare services.
There is a risk of COVID-19 directives being misused by police to target LGBTI individuals, in particular when making judgements about who lives in a household, disrespecting same-sex partnerships and rainbow families, which is often worsened by intersecting factors such as race. Furthermore, many trans people are unable to access identity documents presenting their correct name, gender marker, or photo, and increased police identity and paperwork checks can expose them to increased harassment, discrimination, and violence in this context.
In some countries, hostile religious and political leaders are using the current crisis as yet another occasion to blame LGBTI people for COVID-19, further steering up hate against LGBTI people. Such vicious statements blaming a minority for a pandemic can cause a huge level of hate towards LGBTI people. Member States have the primary responsibility to counter discrimination and hate speech but all actors, including social media companies, must play their part. Political and religious leaders have a uniquely influential role in ensuring a proper response to the current crisis. We expect that such leaders use their position of power and influence to promote measures that help societies to protect the most vulnerable, to distribute the resources effectively, and to sustain effective measures.
These types of (unintended) discriminatory practices may exclude people from the protection against the virus. If one person is left behind, the virus has an opportunity to persist in the society and all prevention measures and efforts will be undermined. Inclusion and non-discrimination are the approach that best protects us all. States have a responsibility to ensure that everyone is protected from this virus and its impact. This may require special measures and protection for particular groups most at risk or disproportionately impacted. To ensure inclusion, the response to the crisis needs to take into account multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and inequalities.
Equality bodies play an important role in ensuring governmental laws, policies and practices to tackle COVID-19 are based on equality and non-discrimination principles and have intersectional lens. They must ensure that all emergency measures adopted in the face of the pandemic as well as emergency support and compensation and socio-economic support measures leave no one behind, but take the particular vulnerability of the most marginalised in society into account, including specific vulnerabilities of parts of the LGBTI community. Equality bodies should monitor closely that no measures adopted in times of derogation to human rights law will be implemented in a discriminatory manner against any minority, including the LGBTI community. In their important role in assisting policy-makers in tackling epidemic, through policy recommendations and data collection, equality institutions should bring states’ attention to specific challenges faced by vulnerable groups, including LGBTI people. They also should include the above-mentioned issues faced by LGBTI people in their awareness-raising campaigns and prioritize most vulnerable groups in their direct assistance to victims.
For more information on specific impacts of COVID-19 on LGBTI people and what authorities should be doing to mitigate impact, you are encouraged to consult the briefing note of ILGA-Europe.
The views on this blog are always the authors’ and they do not necessarily reflect Equinet’s position.