OPINION: This May 17, don’t let COVID-19 force LGBT+ people back into silence

Members of the LGBT community on International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, in Bogota, Colombia May 19, 2019 – Image: REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

By Joel Bedos, Tuisina Ymania Brown, and Luz Elena Aranda | ILGA World

Joel Bedos is the international coordinator of the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOBIT) May17.org, and Tuisina Ymania Brown and Luz Elena Aranda are co-Secretary Generals of ILGA World

How do you come together, when you’re not allowed to share the same space?

COVID-19 has imposed on LGBT+ people an unprecedented dual reality – the need for community clashing with the imposed necessity for social distancing – when in fact we have often been victims of the most extreme forms of social, legal, and religious distancing known to humane societies for millennia.

And what a contract that is, as we [are] almost a month away from the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOBIT).

Every May 17, our global community comes together, to draw the attention of the world to the realities of people with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, and sex characteristics.

It is a day to call out the human rights violations that we face every day, but it is also a moment of global pride and hope, that has been celebrated in more than 130 countries over the years.

What will become of this day in 2020, as COVID-19 is pulling us apart?

This year, the global theme on May 17 is ‘Breaking the Silence’, and the coronavirus disease has made it all the more relevant. Our communities will not have the chance to gather physically in one of the few moments of the year where we can do so safely, because of concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.

Understandably, COVID-19 is front and centre in every conversation right now. However, more appallingly, it is also being actively used by some governments to erode human rights protections, through increased surveillance.

While we understand the priority of governments and states in dealing with COVID-19 and its effects, this cannot ever be used as an excuse to sideline LGBT+ persons and their allies, as they continually push for a world that is truly free and equal for all.

Around the world, LGBT+ organisations are at the frontlines of providing support to our communities on the ground, and COVID-19 hasn’t eased or stopped these humanitarian efforts.

All around us, spontaneous acts of kindness are spreading, just as fast as the despair they are trying to counter. To the fear-mongering voices that are pitting communities against one another, we have responded by looking out for each other, in our own capacity, offering what we can – whether it’s a little or a lot.

This is perhaps the most surprising effect of all this social distancing – that these unprecedented times have actually pushed us closer, allowing us to find solidarity in our solace.

We know all too well how LGBT+ people can face unique challenges during health and economic crises. These past few weeks have already given us many examples of how stigma, discriminatory legislation, and prejudice rear their ugly heads even higher in times like this, especially against the most marginalised amongst us.

Our experiences have taught us how to overcome social isolation through our communities and chosen families. This is a truly precious gift, a wisdom that everyone could benefit from in these special days. And we also know that, especially now, when we are surrounded by darkness, we must always remember that we will always have each other, and even the smallest of gestures can make a difference.

Most important of all, please let us remember that while COVID-19 will not affect LGBT+ communities equally, we are all connected. We are all a part of one LGBT+ community, and we are all a part of one human race.

What better opportunity for us all to consider our renewed awareness, and act in a small way to shape a new world, to join our voices with our allies, and communities at large, to break the silence.

On May 17, tens of thousands of us will speak up. We will take up virtual spaces, we will amplify voices, and we will send a message loud and clear to our world:

We, the LGBT+ communities, will not be left behind any longer. This is our call to the world and its leaders; please listen to the cries of hope and solidarity from our community to yours, and together we can survive and thrive during and after COVID-19.

 

All views expressed in this article are the writers’ own, and not of the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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