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Coronavirus causing a humanitarian crisis for LGBT+ people around the world

Coronavirus causing a humanitarian crisis for LGBT+ people around the world

  • New report shows the pandemic is delaying vital LGBT+ rights cases, putting people into poverty and crippling charities.
Zanaya Chaudhry (Transgender rights activist) and Farhan Wilayat (Philanthropist) from Pakistan celebrating Holi 2020

LGBT+ people around the world are facing a humanitarian crisis. And COVID-19 risks decimating the organizations they rely on for support.

UK-based international LGBT+ charity, the Kaleidoscope Trust, conducted research in 37 countries in the Commonwealth – nations that were previously part of the British Empire.

By speaking to 34 LGBT+ charities working in those countries, it found that 85% were worried about their service users’ wellbeing.

And many organizations may not survive. Almost half have no cash reserves. Moreover, most are worried about losing existing or future income.

Phyll Opoku-Gyimah is executive director of Kaleidoscope Trust.

She says: ‘We are witnessing an emerging humanitarian crisis for LGBTI+ people as government responses to Covid-19 leave vulnerable LGBTI+ communities at grave risk.’

‘Poverty will make our already bad situation worse’

The trust’s report highlights deteriorating human rights for LGBT+ people across the Commonwealth.

It says people in Botswana are blaming LGBT+ people or COVID-19, leading to at least one suicide.

Meanwhile in Barbados, LGBT+ people say police verbally harassed them when they have sought help.

Raven Gill of Butterfly Barbados, said: ‘The police are being more disrespectful when community members call to report abuse, threats, harassment or even eviction, not assisting, making derogatory statements, slurs and even threats.’

The report says LGBT+ people are facing losing their jobs and income.

In particular it says in Pakistan and Saint Lucia, LGBT+ people are more likely to rely on tourism and sex work. And the pandemic has, of course, hit those jobs particularly hard. This, the report adds, puts ‘their livelihoods, housing and lives at risk’.

Qasim Iqbal of NAZ Pakistan said: ‘The LGBT community, especially those that are transgender and/or experience low income – particularly those involved in sex work – are suffering greatly. They no longer have an income or money for rent or food.’ 

Njeri Gathogo from LBQ Education Health and Advocacy, Kenya, said:

‘Poverty will make our already bad situation worse, and that is a real fear.’

The report also uses examples from Kiribati and Sri Lanka where LGBTI+ people are ‘in lockdown with relatives who discriminate against and stigmatise them’. This is a ‘threat to their mental and physical health’.

And it says HIV positive and trans people are struggling to get medicines in Ghana and Malta.

Mac-Darling Cobbinah, from the Centre for Popular Education and Human Rights in Ghana, said: 

‘HIV-positive people are having challenges accessing medication and nutritious meals. Those who we have tried to provide support to were attacked by the military and police with canes, forcing all to run underground.’

Coronavirus delays crucial court cases to make gay sex legal

Moreover, the pandemic has delayed several vital LGBT+ human rights court cases.

In Botswana, LeGaBiBo were appealing in their case to decrimialize homosexuality. The court was due to hear their appeal in July. But this is now not likely until next year.

The report also highlights the work of The Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality. Last year the alliance launched constitutional challenges to buggery and indecency laws in Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, Saint Lucia and St Kitts and Nevis.

However, the emergency measures in those countries have delayed all the cases.

Likewise, in Pakistan, NAZ asked the Lahore High Court to address gaps in the Trans Protection Acts. This includes sections in the act which impair trans people’s right to love and right to matrimony.

However, the project’s funds run out in December. And the cases will now likely run into next year when they will no longer have the money to pursue it.

Meanwhile, the UK has put an ‘indefinite freeze’ on funding to support international LGBT+ rights.

The survey also found LGBT+ organizations around the Commonwealth worry about their survival:

  • 88% worry about the wellbeing of their staff and volunteers.
  • 85% worry about whether the organization can keep working effectively during coronavirus.
  • 81% are concerned about their current and projected losses of income.

Joleen Mataele is from Tonga Leitis Association. She said: ‘Because of this pandemic, the majority of our staff have to stay home without pay. We do not have the resources to fund any of them.

‘At the same time, we are struggling to be able to supply food for those in our shelter.’

Pandemic damaging LGBT+ rights around the world

The Kaleidoscope Trust’s report is further confirmation that coronavirus is damaging LGBT+ rights around the world.

Meanwhile, in Hungary the government is abusing emergency coronavirus powers to stop trans people changing their legal gender.

Moreover, Poland is debating a ‘Stop Pedophilia’ law which falsely links gay people to pedophiles and could end all sex education in schools.

In Uganda, officials raided an LGBT+ shelter and arrested 23 young people on trumped up COVID-19 charges.

And in Panama police have turned on trans people who easily fall foul of its gender-based quarantine rules where only men are allowed out on some days and women on others.

Meanwhile local officials forced LGBT+ people to dance and kiss to humiliate them after finding them breaching the coronavirus curfew in the Philippines.

Indeed, the situation is so bad the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has ordered governments not to abuse the crisis to attack LGBT+ people.