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Open letter to WHO: Including LGBTIQ Communities in World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Response

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“Rest assured that we have heard your important message, and as we update our guidance and approach to COVID-19, we will ensure that the specific challenges of LGBTQI communities will be recognized and addressed“. – Dr. Ghebreyesus

On 24 September 2020, twenty networks and organizations across Asia–including APCOM, Asia Pacific Transgender Network (APTN), the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR), ILGA Asia, ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, Youth Voices Count, Intersex Asia, and International Women’s Rights Action Watch–wrote a letter to Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), to advocate for inclusion of LGBTIQ communities in global responses to COVID-19.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the WHO

On 8 October 2020, Dr. Ghebreyesus responded, affiriming that:

“WHO is committed to strengthening collaboration with the broad spectrum of civil society and community organizations, including those representing LGBTQI populations….We need to ensure all voices on how to best respond to the pandemic and deliver needed services are heard…Rest assured that we have heard your important message, and as we update our guidance and approach to COVID-19, we will ensure that the specific challenges of LGBTQI communities will be recognized and addressed“.

Read the original open letter and download the PDF here:

Read the response from Dr. Ghebreyesus here:


24 August 2020

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Director General
World Health Organization
Avenue Appia 201202 Geneva, Switzerland

Re: An Open Letter to World Health Organization to integrate effects of COVID-19 on the LGBTQI communities and for SOGIESC Inclusive strategies and response to COVID-19

Dear Dr. Ghebreyesus,

We, the undersigned, represent civil society organizations working to advance the rights of LGBTQI communities in Asia and the Pacific. And we write to urge you to include aspects of sexual orientations, gender identities, expressions and sex characteristics (SOGIESC) into your polices, programs and response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has highlighted, and in many instances exacerbated the discrimination and lack of legal protections faced by LGBTQI people, communities and their families.

While the COVID-19 pandemic affects the general population, it disproportionately affects vulnerable sectors, including LGBTQI communities, due to SOGIESC-related stigma and discrimination.

In a joint statement issued by human rights experts on May 14, 2020, this disproportionate effect was highlighted as: “In all latitudes, LGBT persons are disproportionately represented in the ranks of the poor, people experiencing homelessness, and those without healthcare, meaning that they may be particularly affected as a result of the pandemic[..]” The statement also highlighted how COVID-19 and the responses to address it have contributed to existing inequalities and discrimination. In relation to the LGBTQI communities, the statement outlined that criminal laws add to the vulnerability of LGBTQI because of police abuse and arbitrary arrest and detention in relation to the restriction of movements. Also, LGBTQI people who are required to stay at home experience prolonged exposure to unaccepting family members, and this exacerbates rates of domestic violence and physical and emotional abuse. Without a doubt, this affects their physical and mental health.[1]

The UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights also outlined the effects of COVID-19 to LGBTQI people and communities in its guidance document on COVID-19 and the human rights of LGBTQI people. The document highlighted that the existing stigma and discrimination based on SOGIESC while seeking health services, laws which criminalize same-sex relationships and those which target transgender and gender diverse persons due to their gender identities and expression “can elevate the risk for LGBTI people from COVID-19.” The same document also highlighted the possibility of interruption and de-prioritization of health services in the context of overload on healthcare systems as a result of COVID-19.[2]

These scenarios, together with present and possible effects of COVID-19 on LGBTQI people and communities, have been identified in various surveys conducted by organizations working on LGBTQI rights and health issues. For example, a survey conducted by APCOM[3], a regional organization based in Bangkok representing and working with a network of individuals and community-based organizations across Asia-Pacific, indicated that organizations and communities were concerned about the effects of COVID-19 on the delivery of health services, including HIV-related services. Access of LGBTQI people to mental health services, for those who need them, has been affected by the pandemic. These issues are in addition to the stigma and discrimination experienced by service users during normal times.

The effect of COVID-19 to the livelihood of LGBTQI people has also been identified in an OutRight Action International paper, which stated that LGBTIQ people are predominantly engaged in the informal sector, reliant on daily wages and without the safety nets of protections in many countries, they are especially susceptible to the effects of economic slowdowns and limitations on movement.[4]

There are also narratives where LGBTQI couples and families are not able to access programs and responses which aim to alleviate the effects of the pandemic as these programs and responses are designed with heteronormative assumptions about what constitutes families. A survey conducted by Marriage For All Japan [5] suggested fear of same sex-couples about not being able to participate in making medical decisions in cases related to COVID-19 due to the absence of legal recognition of same-sex relationships. This illustrates worries among LGBTQI couples where they will be denied the ability to care for and make decisions for each other in times of emergencies. Trans and gender diverse people can also experience exclusion in state-sponsored health programs due to requirements of legal identification documents.[6]

We are also cognizant that LGBTQI communities and organizations bring with them a wealth of knowledge about their situations and experiences which can be instrumental in crafting inclusive responses to the pandemic.

It is in this context, we, the undersigned individual activists; organizations; and networks working on LGBTQI and health issues, ask the World Health Organization to:

• Ensure that the challenges being faced by LGBTQI, MSM and people and communities of diverse SOGIESC during the COVID-19 pandemic will be given due attention, and policies, programs, and responses are inclusive and do not add to the exclusion and discrimination experienced by LGBTQI people, communities and families.

• Integrate a SOGIESC-inclusive approach in their COVID-19 related guidance documents, situation reports, briefs, strategies and response.

• Work closely with LGBTQI organizations and communities towards a more inclusive responses to the pandemic.

Integrating a SOGIESC framework will contribute to our collective goal of addressing impacts of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations and take us closer towards the goal of “leaving no one behind” as envisioned by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Sincerely,

NamePositionOrganizationTerritory
Midnight PoonkasetwattanaExecutive DirectorAPCOMAsia Pacific
Ryan SilverioRegional CoordinatorASEAN SOGIE CaucusSoutheast Asia
Joe WongExecutive DirectorAsia Pacific Transgender NetworkAsia and the Pacific
Shale AhmedExecutive DirectorBandhu Social Welfare SocietyBangladesh
Suben Dhakal (Manisha)Executive DirectorBlue Diamond SocietyNepal
Esan RegmiExecutive DirectorCampaign for ChangeNepal
Rima AtharCoordinatorCoalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim SocietiesAsia and North Africa
Lieu Anh VuExecutive DirectorILGA AsiaAsia
Ishita DuttaProgram ManagerInternational Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia PacificAsia Pacific
Prashant SinghCoordinatorIntersex AsiaAsia
Gopi Shankar MaduraiCoordinatorIntersex India ForumSrishti Madurai LGBTQIA Student Volunteer MovementIndia
Jeff CagandahanOfficer in ChargeIntersex PhilippinesPhilippines
Hiker ChiuFounderOII ChineseTaiwan
Isabelita B. SolamoExecutive DirectorPILIPINA Legal Resources CenterPhilippines
Jerome YauChief ExecutivePink AllianceHong Kong
Evelynne GomezProgram OfficerThe Asia Pacific Resource & Research Center for Women (ARROW)Asia Pacific
Rafiul Alom RahmanFounderThe Queer Muslim ProjectIndia
Tahir KhiljiBoard MemberVISIONPakistan
Naila AwwadGeneral DirectorWomen Against ViolencePalestine
Justin Francis BionatExecutive DirectorYouth Voices Count, Inc.Asia Pacific

[1] COVID-19: The suffering and resilience of LGBT persons must be visible and inform the actions of States. Statement by human rights experts on the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. Accessed from https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25884&LangID=E

[2] COVID-19 and the human rights of LGBTI people. UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights. Accessed from https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/LGBT/LGBTIpeople.pdf

[3] The COVID-19 Effects Series, APCOM. Accessed from https://www.apcom.org/the-covid-19-effect-series-part-1/

[4] Vulnerability Amplified: The Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on LGBTIQ Persons. OutRight International. Accessed from https://outrightinternational.org/sites/default/files/COVIDsReportDesign_FINAL_LR_0.pdf

[5] ‘I want them to be treated as the same family: The difficulty that LGBT faces with the new Corona. Accessed from https://www.buzzfeed.com/jp/saoriibuki/marriage-for-all-corona

[6] Recognize the need of trans and gender diverse communities during Covid-19 pandemic. Asia Pacific Transgender Network. Accessed from https://www.weareaptn.org/2020/03/31/see-us-support-us-recognise-the-needs-of-trans-and-gender-diverse-communities-during-covid-19-pandemic

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