A human rights response to COVID-19 must include an intersectional approach which recognizes the specific impacts of the pandemic on LGBTI people, and the need for specific actions to ensure that the pandemic response doesn’t lead to discrimination and further inequalities.
Everyone is impacted by the COVID-19 global pandemic. But we aren’t all impacted in the same ways or to the same extent. Multiple and intersecting identities including gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, disability, age, family status, employment status, and immigration status, all shape how a person experiences the pandemic.
LGBTI people face significant discrimination which leads to barriers to accessing healthcare services; high rates of homelessness, poverty, and social isolation; and high rates of harassment and violence. The pandemic has further exacerbated these inequalities.
According to Egale Canada, before the pandemic, 27% of transgender patients have been refused care in Canada. Since the pandemic began, in Canada and around the world, access to gender affirming care and sexual and reproductive health services has been drastically reduced or redirected to the COVID-19 response. Some people may not be able to access medication. Sexual and reproductive health services must be declared essential services so that access isn’t limited during the pandemic.
Chosen family and support networks are critical for LGBTI people around the world. With mandatory social distancing measures in place in much of the world, LGBTI people may be cut off from support groups and social services, including those providing access to food, medicine, and peer support. Some civil society organizations serving LGBTI communities have seen their work increase as they support community members and pivot to contribute to the pandemic response. Many fear financial insecurity due to decreased donations, cancelled grants, and the inability to hold fundraising events because of social distancing guidelines.
In some countries, including Panama and Peru, social distancing guidelines call for men and women to have separate days when they are allowed to leave their homes to buy groceries and run other errands. The guidelines don’t account for non-binary people, or transgender people whose identification documents may not correspond with their gender identity, leading to harassment by authorities and the general public.
LGBTI people are more likely to experience poverty and homelessness. Less than 50% of transgender people in Canada are employed full-time and 25-45% of the homeless youth population in Canada identifies as LGBTI. According to Egale Canada, an estimated half of LGBTI households have faced lay-offs or reduced employment hours because of the pandemic, compared to 39% of households in Canada overall.
Some governments are using far reaching emergency powers to criminalize LGBTI people. In late March, 23 people living at a shelter for LGBTI people in Kampala, Uganda, were arrested for violating social distancing guidelines, despite there not being guidelines on how many people could gather in private homes or shelters. In Hungary, parliament passed new legislation during the pandemic, which prohibits transgender people from legally changing their gender identity. This sort of state overreach is why Amnesty International signed a joint public statement from 301 organizations, academics, and others calling on Canada to adopt robust oversight measures to help ensure that the pandemic response does not further rights violations, including violations of the rights of LGBTI people.
A pandemic is not an excuse to violate human rights. Amnesty International has called on governments to ensure that human rights are at the core of the pandemic response and recovery plans. The pandemic is an opportunity to re-envision what the COVID-19 world should look like – and that must be a world where the rights of LGBTI people are respected, protected, and upheld.