Decision-makers must pay attention to LGBT+ people’s experiences during the pandemic and beyond

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Decision-makers must pay attention to LGBT+ people’s experiences during the pandemic and beyond

May 17th, 2020

by Sophia Fernandes, WFD’s Inclusion Adviser and Interim Regional Director for Asia

As we move from counting ‘weeks’ to ‘months’ of physical distancing measures in the UK and start to see other countries emerge from counter-COVID-19 restrictions, the blurry picture of the long-term consequences of emergency measures and the pandemic at large is starting to come into focus.

This International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOBIT), which falls on 17 May, helps to bring the pandemic’s particular impact on LGBT+ people into sharp relief.

IDAHOBIT initially marked the day the World Health Organisation corrected its mis-classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder. Now, the day highlights the stigma and discrimination still faced by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT+) and gender diverse communities, a group who are particularly vulnerable in a COVID-19 world.

This IDAHOBIT, we must ask: How do we ensure that political decision-makers see and listen to LGBT+ people and incorporate their views and needs into COVID-19 responses?

My colleagues have written about the opportunities to transform our societies in responses to the pandemic, pointing out the gendered impacts of COVID19 and how to overcome them. They have also set out ways that those in the democracy assistance business can work with parliaments to innovate and ensure that democratic processes related are inclusive and participatory – during this pandemic and beyond.  These processes must include LGBT+ citizens who are made even more vulnerable by the pandemic and government responses to it.

Globally, over a third of all countries still criminalise consensual, private, same-sex activity with twelve countries imposing the death penalty. We know that LGBT+ persons in many countries have difficulty accessing health systems; that lockdown measures have forced young LGBT+ persons into unwelcoming and hostile homes; and that emergency measures have enabled greater policing of individuals’ lives and been used as a tool to draw demarcations of difference and to target LGBT+ persons. In parliaments around the world, lawmakers have de-prioritised important anti-discrimination legislation or, in some cases, used the emergency to overturn progressive legislation under the guise of dealing with the economic and health crisis.

COVID-19 and emergency measures must not become the breeding ground for a backlash against the LGBT+ equality movement. As parliaments come back into action and parliamentary committees begin to scrutinise COVID responses, there is opportunity now for legislatures to uphold a human-rights based approach to handling the long-term COVID-19 response.

We need broader data sets which measure and report on the effects of COVID-19 on LGBT+ communities. This – alongside sex-disaggregated data and data that takes into account ethnicity and socio-economic factors – will help to get that blurry picture more into focus. Once this data exists, it can be shared widely by the media and used by policy and lawmakers to hold government to account and generate more inclusive decision-making.

Parliamentary committee processes and government consultations need to listen to LGBT+ voices, so that lived experiences can be recognised, understood and taken into account in policy making. Parliamentary innovation during the COVID-19 crisis has opened up possibilities of engagement and input into scrutiny processes beyond elite circles of influence. As parliaments start to hold virtual and public committee hearings, groups of people who would not usually engage with parliament may have more opportunity to do so. Political parties need to show initiative in reaching constituencies that are becoming further invisible to them because of travel and movement restrictions. And parliamentarians need to fulfil their representative roles for those in their communities most at risk.

As Victor Madrigal-Borloz, UN Independent Expert on Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has said, “Governments worldwide must ensure COVID-19 emergency measures do not worsen inequalities or structural barriers faced by people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.”

As LGBT+ organisations face funding cuts and international aid programmes are diverted to COVID-19-related health and humanitarian needs, parliamentary budget scrutiny and financial oversight of the response to the pandemic need to be informed by evidenced-based analysis of long-term effects on vulnerable and minority groups. Vital funding commitments to health services must factor in the health needs of LGBT+ citizens just as funding commitments for economic recovery must factor in the employment and labour-market effects on LGBT+ persons.

This year the UK took over as co-Chair of the Equal Rights Coalition (ERC), an intergovernmental body that works to protect the rights of LGBT+ persons. Civil society partners of the ERC have also advocated for these points. While COVID-19 has diverted the attention of governments, international platforms have an important role to play in advocating for the prioritisation of inclusion-sensitive recovery responses. Civil society activists can work together with member states to push for long-term thinking that is based on consultation with LGBT+ citizens.

It has become clear that lockdowns and restrictions on movement and economic activity have disproportionally affected those who are most vulnerable, but opportunities exist for parliaments and governments to take stock, seek input and prioritise creating a more equal post-pandemic world.

Photo by Michelle Bonkosky on Unsplash

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