Wednesday, May 6, 2020

UN urges nations to protect LGBT people amid coronavirus

The United Nations has told countries they should not use the coronavirus pandemic to undermine LGBT rights. Moreover, it has said states should be aware that LGB people may be particularly vulnerable during the COVID-19 crisis. And that officials should not discriminate against them.

The instructions come from Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. In particular, she singled out Hungary for criticism. Bachelet said: "In at least one country, the State of Emergency has been used to propose a decree that would prevent transgender people from legally changing their gender in identity documents."

Bachelet also warned against an increase in homophobic and transphobic rhetoric in Poland. She said: "LGBTI people have previously been blamed for disasters, both manmade and natural, and there are scattered reports of this happening in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic."

Moreover Bachelet spoke out against reports of police using COVID-19 directives to attack and target LGBTI organizations. This has happened in Uganda where local authorities abused their powers to raid an LGBT shelter, arresting 23 people.

Bachelet went on to talk about the danger LGBT people face from domestic violence. She said: "Due to stay-at-home restrictions, many LGBT youth are confined in hostile environments with unsupportive family members or co-habitants. This can increase their exposure to violence, as well as their anxiety and depression."

She added: "Homeless persons, a population that includes many LGTB people, are less able to protect themselves through physical distancing and safe hygiene practices, increasing their exposure to contagion." 

She also pointed out that LGBT people regularly experience stigma and discrimination while seeking health services already. In countries where laws criminalize gay, bi and trans people they may not access healthcare services for fear of arrest or violence.

Finally, the UN document warned about the economic hardship the community faces. It says LGBT people are more likely not to have jobs or to live in poverty. Many in the LGBT community work in the informal sector and lack access to paid sick leave, unemployment compensation, and coverage.

To tackle these problems, Bachelet said countries should ensure LGBT people are taken into consideration and their voices heard when addressing the pandemic. And the UN has provided a six-point plan of action:

1 - It instructs states to ensure they do not discriminate against LGBT people when the access healthcare. And it adds people should not ‘fear retribution for seeking healthcare’. The UN accepts countries have to change health services to focus on the virus. But they must not discriminate against LGBT people when making those decisions.

2 - When addressing the ‘socio-economic impacts of the pandemic’ states ‘should consider the particular vulnerabilities of LGBTI people’. In particular the UN mentions protecting older and homeless LGBT people.

3 - It calls on ‘political leaders and other influential figures’ to speak out against ‘hate speech directed at the LGBT people in the context of the pandemic’.

4 - ‘Shelters, support services and other measures to address gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic should take steps to include the LGBT population.’

5 - States should not use states of emergency to attack existing rights for LGBT people.

6 - Where countries restrict movement, they should protect ‘trans and gender non-conforming persons’. The UN adds that countries should instruct and train police not to discriminate against them.

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