BEYOND its global impact on all of us, the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated many pre-existing inequalities.
One major confirmation of this has been provided by a recent report carried out by the United Nations, which concluded that LGBT+ people have often become a casualty of these social and economic shifts brought about by the crisis.
As it struggles with the impact on the economy, the UK Government has, for example, decided to cut the funding of projects aimed at reducing the bullying of LGBT+ children in English schools.
Internationally, the economic impact of the pandemic and consequent loss of income has forced many to choose between moving into unhealthier, communal living spaces or having to return to hostile families and communities. Lockdowns, whether light or strict, provide the perfect conditions for loneliness, stress and confrontation with homophobic, biphobic and transphobic relatives to thrive. This all increases the risk of violence, particularly for older people and adolescents. Those surveyed in Europe for the UN report described an increase in domestic assaults, with restrictions of movement also causing a rise in hate crimes.
LGBT+ people have been demonised by being “singled out, blamed, abused, incarcerated and stigmatised as vectors of disease during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the UN report found. Statements made by religious and political leaders who blame the pandemic on the very existence of LGBT+ people have been reported in at least 12 European states as well as Turkey, the United States and many other countries.
The report also details how some governments are using the pandemic as an excuse to introduce regressive legislation, such as increasing penalties for HIV exposure, non-disclosure and transmission. This, it claims, increases the stigma that those living with HIV can face.
LGBT+ people are also disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS. Charities such as Frontline Aids have voiced their concerns that Covid-19 restrictions have created additional obstacles for people to access the treatment they need to stay well.
The results of a huge international survey using LGBT+ social media and dating sites were presented in July. It found that more than one in five people taking HIV antivirals said their access to medication had been limited or complicated as a result of the pandemic, while seven per cent of respondents said they either had or were at imminent risk of running out of their meds.
In Hungary, a proposed law intended to stop trans people from legally changing their gender is now being challenged. Yet even before the pandemic, waiting periods were already very long for gender-affirming care. These are now being further extended, but in some instances care is being cancelled altogether with gender-affirming treatment now deemed as ‘non-essential.’
Gender-based quarantines were also often found to be problematic, particularly in contexts “in which gender-diverse people do not have access to legal recognition,” the report continued. The result has been an increase in abuse and mistreatment.
The vulnerability of LGBT+ people can be particularly aggravated when they are also asylum seekers or refugees, seeking indefinite leave to remain in the UK. Having already fled persecution, they can find themselves at further risk of exploitation and abuse during their journeys from immigration officers and traffickers. Overcrowding in immigration centres can lead to increased patterns of violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Civil society organizations say they’ve been experiencing decreased access to policymakers, raising concern that ‘LGBT issues’ are simply not considered a priority at the moment.
Finally, according to evidence cited by the LGBT Foundation, LGBT+ people are more likely to suffer from poor mental health. On top of anxiety and depression, this may result in substance abuse, self-harm, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts. These issues could be made worse when normal routines are disrupted and by a lack of face-to-face support.
The UN report calls on states across the world to acknowledge and embrace diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity, and advocates the adoption of measures to deconstruct stigma and take evidence-based approaches with the involvement of LGBT+ organisations to respond to the pandemic.
Countries which offer legal protection to minority groups and which promote equality need to make sure that the specific needs of the LGBT+ community are not swept under the carpet, but are understood and acted upon, not least as an example to the rest of the world.
Peter Markham is a writer and correspondent for immigrationnews.co.uk, a media platform that helps to raise awareness about migrant injustices and news around the world.
Picture courtesy of United Nations Photo