Astraea’s blog, Collective Care Blog: Building the Power & Resilience of LBTQI Movements Now & for the Long Haul, is Astraea’s response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. As a feminist LBTQI funder, we believe it is our responsibility to shed light on the ways our communities are particularly impacted by the crisis, share insights around the criticality of healing justice and collective care, as well as the ways in which we’re digging deep to keep shifting power to the grassroots in meaningful and sustainable ways.
A global pandemic was always going to have a disproportionate and devastating impact on trans communities around the world. As communities that already face systemic discrimination and violence, are often unable to access healthcare, housing, and economic opportunities, and whose human rights are either at grave risk or denied entirely in several countries, trans people have been marginalized time and time again. So, as the COVID-19 pandemic hit countries around the world in the Spring of 2020, it became clear that trans communities could feel some of the worst impacts of the crisis. In a United Nations statement in April 2020, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet said, “LGBTI people are among the most vulnerable and marginalised in many societies, and among those most at risk from COVID-19. In countries where same-sex relations are criminalised or trans people targeted, they might not even seek treatment for fear of arrest or being subjected to violence.”*
In this blog post, we spoke to our Program Officers, Mariam, Lame, and Brenda to better understand some of the specific ways our trans grantees and their communities have been and continue to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic, social, and political fallouts. We also share the innovative, creative, and care-driven ways our trans grantee partners and other grassroots LBTQI groups have been providing critical mutual aid to their people and bringing their communities together – despite not being able to be together physically.
Mariam remarked, “It is astounding to see the ways in which our trans grantees have immediately stepped up to care for their communities. But we have to acknowledge the immense burden on them – the pressure from funders to respond effectively to the situation, to respond to the needs in the community that are really overwhelming as we’re seeing from human rights documentation, to be accessible online to community members 24/7, and to continue their advocacy – all while experiencing the same challenges as everybody else.”
*Michelle Bachelet, COVID-19: Targeted actions needed to protect LGBTI people amid pandemic
How trans grantees are caring for their people and creatively building community in the midst of this crisis:
- Gender Dynamix (South Africa) have been working in partnership with a number of trans organizations from throughout the Southern African region to host a podcast shedding light on the realities of trans communities during this time.
- A grantee partner in Kenya has been supporting trans people without access to shelter, particularly trans refugees arriving from Uganda
- Queerabad (India) have been providing mental health resources and support to their communities through their online platforms
- Nazariya (India) created zoom hangouts for community members, to unpack the impact of COVID-19 on queer women and trans* folks, bringing to light the challenges of being forced to stay home with family members who do not support LGBTQI issues.
- Trans*Coalition (based in the Former Soviet Union countries) started a regional COVID-19 response campaign including a fundraiser, emergency response and critical analysis on the impacts of the pandemic
- TransAkcija (Slovenia) created an online Pride Month celebration when physical celebrations were canceled and led anti-government protests against fascism and mismanagement of the pandemic
- Zagreb Pride (Croatia) launched an online campaign against the government’s use of surveillance technology to track the movement of citizens, and succeeded in their efforts!
- Caribe Afirmativo (Colombia) have been providing mutual aid to sex worker communities in Colombia and supporting them to find work
- TransWave and WE-Change (Jamaica) formed a consortium with larger LGBTQ organization J-Flag to raise funds specifically for LGBTQI communities impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
How has COVID-19 along with restrictions on movements directly impacted trans communities?
Lack of access to healthcare:
- Trans people already have unequal access to healthcare facilities, putting them at greater risk if they contract the virus. For incarcerated trans people for whom social distancing is near impossible and access to PPE is limited at best, this risk is greatly increased
- Many trans people going through hormonal therapy – whether utilizing formal or informal healthcare channels – have struggled to access it as a result of lockdowns and slowdowns in mail services etc.
- Gender-affirming surgeries were/have been postponed indefinitely in many countries to prioritize patients with COVID-19
- Mental health of trans communities has suffered during the pandemic for a number of reasons from fear of contracting the virus without adequate access to healthcare facilities, to dealing with violence and transphobia as a result of being forced to isolate in unsafe environments
Loss of livelihood:
- Many trans people work in service industries around the world, which have been some of the hardest hit, and have lost their jobs as a result of ongoing economic crises
- Trans sex workers have either been forced to drastically cut down on work or stop working altogether as a result of restrictions on movements, and to protect their own health and safety
- In many parts of the world, trans people work in informal sectors or in part-time positions where they have to ‘hustle’ to get work and negotiate wages. This often means needing to be physically out in marketplaces and communities in order to secure that work and perform it, which has been difficult or impossible as a result of lockdowns
- Many trans people have been forced to isolate in unsafe environments with family members or others who reject or denounce their identities, and are violent towards them as a result.
- As a result of loss of income and an inability to pay rents, many trans people have been evicted or forced to leave their homes
Discrimination and violence
- Legislations restricting freedom of movement have given police and military forces in several countries the authority to exercise undue power and act with impunity in many cases. Trans people – and especially trans sex workers – who are already often subject to discrimination and violence by the state have been disproportionately targeted
- Limited access to movement has made it harder for trans people to organize and practice dissent against harmful laws and policies. Coupled with the general public’s preoccupation with the pandemic itself, some governments have used this period as an opportunity to ‘quietly’ roll back rights for trans people or introduce new, regressive policies in the name of ‘health and safety.’
- In some Latin American countries, governments enacted gender-binary policies to restrict the mobility of its citizens, meaning that men were allowed to leave their homes on certain days and women on others. The policing of these laws had a particularly brutal impact on trans people who faced misgendering, harassment, and violence from authorities.
Limited access to community
- For so many trans communities, their ability to create and share space with each other is critical to their well-being and to building movements. Lockdowns and restrictions on movements have made these community-building efforts much more difficult.
- Grassroots trans organizations and drop-in centers provide access to critical information and resources for members; without the ability to meet in person, trans people risk being misinformed or losing out on these resources.
We know that for trans people, this pandemic is only the continuation and exacerbation of years of oppression, violence, and exclusion. As Lame highlighted, it is not sustainable to expect trans communities and organizations to be able to continue this way. At present, they are fighting to support their communities through this pandemic, but that places them back into economies that were already excluding and neglecting them, and societies that discriminate against them based on their very identity and being. As funders, our responsibility is therefore to keep shifting resources into the hands of trans-led organizations, understand what their needs and priorities are, and build their power. Not just now, but always. Join Us.
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