- Human rights commissioner particularly criticizes Hungary’s attack on trans people.
The United Nations has told countries they should not use the coronavirus pandemic to undermine LGBT+ rights.
Moreover, it has said states should be aware that LGBT+ people may be particularly vulnerable during the COVID-19 crisis. And that officials should not discriminate against them.
The instructions come from Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
In particular, she singles out Hungary for criticism. The country’s leaders are trying to abuse emergency powers to change the law to permanently stop trans people from changing gender.
Bachelet says: ‘In at least one country, the State of Emergency has been used to propose a decree that would prevent transgender people from legally changing their gender in identity documents.’
Since Hungary made its move, Poland has also acted against the LGBT+ community. It’s proposing a ‘Stop Pedophilia’ law which falsely links gay people to pedophiles and could end all sex education in schools.
Bachelet also warns against ‘an increase in homophobic and transphobic rhetoric’.
She says: ‘LGBTI people have previously been blamed for disasters, both manmade and natural, and there are scattered reports of this happening in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.’
Political and religious leaders of all faiths have led these attacks. Many have bizarrely blamed same-sex marriage for causing the virus.
Moreover Bachelet speaks out against ‘reports of police using COVID-19 directives to attack and target LGBTI organizations’.
This has happened in Uganda where local authorities abused their powers to raid an LGBT+ shelter, arresting 23 people.
Lockdowns put LGBT+ people ‘at risk of heightened discrimination’
Bachelet goes on to talk about the danger LGBT+ people face from domestic violence. She says:
‘Due to stay-at-home restrictions, many LGBTI youth are confined in hostile environments with unsupportive family members or co-habitants. This can increase their exposure to violence, as well as their anxiety and depression.’
Indeed, calls to LGBT+ helplines have risen around the world. This includes calls to queer youth suicide prevention hotline, The Trevor Project. There’s a list of helplines around the world here.
Meanwhile she also addresses countries which are restricting when men and women can go out. She says:
‘A few countries have put in place restriction of movement based on sex, with women and men
allowed to leave their homes on alternate days, which have put non-binary and trans people at risk of heightened discrimination, as they may get stopped and questioned.’
In one case in Panama, police harassed a trans woman because she was out on the female day, not the male one.
‘Fear of arrest or violence’ if they access healthcare
Meanwhile Bachelet particularly addressed LGBT+ health needs during the pandemic.
She says vulnerable LGBT+ people include those living with HIV and AIDS who may have compromised immune systems. (Note, most people on effective treatment for HIV do not appear to be at greater risk from coronavirus. You can find more information here.)
Moreover Bachelet adds: ‘Homeless persons, a population that includes many LGTBI people, are less able to protect themselves through physical distancing and safe hygiene practices, increasing their exposure to contagion.’
She points out that LGBT+ people ‘regularly experience stigma and discrimination while seeking health services’ already.
In countries where laws criminalize gay, bi and trans people ‘they may not access healthcare services for fear of arrest or violence,’ she adds.
‘This discrimination can elevate the risk for LGBTI people from COVID-19.’
And the UN tells countries: ‘Given overloaded health systems, treatment of LGBTI people may be interrupted or deprioritized, including HIV treatment and testing, hormonal treatment and gender affirming treatments for trans people.
‘Decisions about scaling back services should be medically-based and data-driven, and should not reflect bias against LGBTI people.’
Unemployed and living in poverty
Finally, the UN document warns about the economic hardship the community faces. It says LGBT+ people are more likely not to have jobs or to live in poverty. It adds:
‘Many in the LGBTI community work in the informal sector and lack access to paid sick leave, unemployment compensation, and coverage.
‘Additionally, due to discriminatory paid leave policies that do not cover all genders equally, LGBTI people may not be able to take time off from work to care for family members.’
UN’s ‘key actions’ to protect LGBT+ people
To tackle these problems, Bachelet says countries should ensure LGBT+ people are ‘taken into consideration and their voices heard when addressing the pandemic’.
And the UN has provided a six-point plan of action.
1 It instructs states to ensure they do not discriminate against LGBT+ people when the access healthcare. And it adds people should not ‘fear retribution for seeking healthcare’.
The UN accepts countries have to change health services to focus on the virus. But they must not discriminate against LGBT+ people when making those decisions.
2 When addressing the ‘socio-economic impacts of the pandemic’ states ‘should consider the particular vulnerabilities of LGBTI people’.
In particular the UN mentions protecting older and homeless LGBT+ people.
3 It calls on ‘political leaders and other influential figures’ to speak out against ‘hate speech directed at the LGBTI people in the context of the pandemic’.
4 ‘Shelters, support services and other measures to address gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic should take steps to include the LGBTI population.’
5 States should not use states of emergency to attack existing rights for LGBTI people.
6 Where countries restrict movement, they should protect ‘trans and gender non-conforming persons’. The UN adds that countries should instruct and train police not to discriminate against them.