COVID-19's world-wide impact on the LGBTQIA+ community.

Updated: Nov 20, 2020

On October 1st, Petra de Sutter made history when being sworn in as one of seven Deputy Prime Ministers of Belgium. She now holds the historical title of Europe’s first transgender Deputy Prime Minister, and the world’s highest-ranking trans politician. De Sutter’s appointment is a breath of fresh air in what is currently a difficult time for LGBTQIA+ people. Granted, unfortunately, homophobia and transphobia are nothing new. After all, it is still illegal to engage in private, consensual, same-sex activities in seventy-two countries. However, the LGBTQIA+ community is currently facing an enemy that it could not ever have seen coming: the COVID-19.

While the pandemic is a global phenomenon that has affected everyone, members of the LGBTQIA+ community are disproportionately affected. Indeed, the ‘LGBT foundation’ as well as the World Health Organization have expressed concern over LGBTQIA+ individuals being more likely to contract COVID-19 or be negatively affected by social distancing regulations. LGBTQIA+ people are more prone to developing the virus. Older members of the community have a higher rate of long-term health conditions, and if they do contract the virus, they are more likely to face barriers to accessing healthcare. Queer youth are also affected as they are more likely to be homeless and thus may struggle to access healthcare services. This is particularly true in the United States of America, where denial of care and unwelcoming attitudes in the medical sector remain common.

The report also found that increased isolation measures have put the mental health of LGBTQIA+ people at particularly at risk. Older members of the community were especially affected, as they were more likely to be isolated before the lockdown, and are less likely to have children and be in contact with their biological families. Additionally, a Portuguese study found that half of the young people who took part in their study admitted to feeling isolated from their friends and disconnected. Many young people were forced to return to their families where they might be closeted or not accepted. Due to this isolation and intolerance at home, 18% of participants were concerned that this situation would lead to substance or alcohol misuse.

While countries such as Canada may have taken measures to try to alleviate the effects of the COVID-19 on the Queer community, some world leaders have used the pandemic as a tool to criminalize and diabolize it. In a statement condemning homosexuality, Turkey’s Minister of Religious Affairs, Ali Erbaş, implied that increased tolerance of same-sex couples is what lead to the COVID-19. His insinuation that Queer people were to blame for the pandemic supported by the country’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Additionally, Hungary has entered an indefinite period state of emergency, granting notoriously homophobic and transphobic Prime Minister Viktor Orbán the power to rule by decree. Orbán may now fast-track legislation without opposition. In May, Orbán, with his newly acquired and unfettered executive power, passed the omnibus bill. The bill prevents transgender individuals from being granted legal recognition by changing the country’s civil registry to explicitly refer to an individual’s sex as “sex at birth”, and making it impossible to amend.

In a further dystopic turn of events, several countries have used the pandemic and social distancing measures as an excuse to police and arrest LGBTQIA+ people. For example, in Uganda, an LGBTQIA+ shelter, which also offered AIDS treatment, was raided. This led to the arrest of 20 people on the grounds of violating social distancing requirements. A similar tactic has been deployed in Algeria, where forty-four people were arrested and two sentenced to prison for attending a gay wedding. While “subjecting others to harm by breaking COVID-19-related quarantine measures” was used as the pretext for the arrests, the judgment made it very clear that the two grooms were imprisoned because of their sexuality and the “public indecency” they committed they got married.

To counter this, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has called for targeted action to protect LGBTQIA+ people amid pandemic. Where this leads remains to be seen.

By Daphné Querleu

Legal News Writer.

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