COVID and Communities: How Are LGBTQ+ People Affected?

The American Humanist Association adopted a resolution in 2004 stating that the organization “reaffirms the validity of sexual equality and supports local, state, and federal action to legalize same-sex marriage.” With the outbreak of COVID-19, it’s imperative that humanists advocate for global action to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals.

As the coronavirus has disproportionately affected communities of color and communities with lower incomes in the United States, unique challenges exist for people in these communities who are also LGBTQ+. Likewise, community centers and shelters that serve the LGBTQ+ community are seeing impacts. Many have been forced to shut down or are struggling to stay afloat, which is concerning as these centers provide multiple services and a lifeline for LGBTQ youth especially who may face difficult home environments. The first pandemic stimulus package may have helped nonprofits to some extent, but over 160 LGBTQ+ community centers across the country signed a letter last month urging House and Senate leaders to include LGBTQ+ nonprofits in future COVID-19 relief packages.

The letter states that LGBTQ+ community centers have been

providing critical services such as medical care, mental health counseling, virtual support groups, filling prescriptions, providing hot meals and check-in phone calls for older adults, serving as shelters for homeless youth, distributing nonperishable food items and hygiene products, case management, HIV testing, and hosting virtual engagement activities to decrease social isolation.

Some community centers are transitioning to a virtual level of offering their services and others are halting their operations entirely. Clearly, there is a need for more funding as the crisis stretches on further.

The coronavirus is also exacerbating discrimination in numerous ways on a worldwide level.

The United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and MPact Global Action for Gay Men’s Health and Rights has urged governments around the world to stop targeting LGBTQ+ people during the coronavirus pandemic, citing numerous reports where police brutality was utilized in enforcing measures and where physical violence and harassment was used to target marginalized groups.

“We are receiving reports that government and religious leaders in some countries are making false claims and releasing misinformation about COVID-19 that has incited violence and discrimination against LGBTI people,” said George Ayala, Executive Director of MPact. “Organizations and homes are being raided, LGBTI people are being beaten, and there has been an increase in arrests and threatened deportation of LGBTI asylum seekers.”

In Uganda, for example, social distancing rules were used as a reason to detain nineteen individuals for a month without access to lawyers after a raid on an LGBTQ+ shelter. In Hungary an omnibus bill was introduced that would ban transgender people from legally changing their gender. The proposed amendment to the Registry Act seeks this as a permanent law, codifying that the birth sex, once recorded, cannot be amended. In Belize, a gay man was arrested, humiliated, and beaten for breaking a curfew imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus. And in the Philippines it has been reported that three LGBTQ+ people were among a group who were publicly humiliated as punishment for breaking the curfew.

As the pandemic continues, it’s more important than ever to, as stated by UNAIDS and MPact, “protect and promote the health and human rights of LGBTQ+ people worldwide.”

Despite efforts to pass anti-discrimination legislation in the United States for the LGBTQ+ community, they still face discrimination during this crisis. Last month the Trump administration started to finalize a proposed rule allowing health care providers to discriminate against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity under the guise of religious freedom. An expected Supreme Court ruling includes federal protection for employers, and so there is a likelihood that LGBTQ+ rights could be pushed back to a pre-Obama era.

David Cicilline (D-RI) and other members of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus have specifically asked for the next recovery package to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity for all entities receiving federal grant funding. Humanists can call on the government to explicitly finance organizations that serve LGBTQ+ communities, knowing that their members are being disparately impacted and not being properly served. The American Humanist Association is committed to ensuring civil liberty protections and advancing equality no matter the circumstance.