There are more violence against LGBTIQ+ (lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer +) and sex worker rights defenders as the COVID-19 pandemic rages, an international human rights group revealed.
Ireland-based Front Line Defenders said 50 human rights defenders (HRDs) protecting LGBTIQ+ communities and sex workers in 13 countries had been at risk between April and August 2020 when the pandemic had been at its worst.
“The results were stark. Activists around the world reported an increase in physical attacks, sexual assault, arrests, raids on their homes, and harassment by security forces during COVID-19,” the group said in a report last December 17, International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.
“Almost every week since COVID-19 began, we’ve received photos of violent attacks on the homes of LGBTIQ+ HRDs,” Erin Kilbride, researcher and author of the report, said.
The report said that apart from the virus itself, state responses to the pandemic have affected queer and sex worker communities in ways that worsen class, gender, sexual and racial injustices.
As they responded to emergencies, HRDs from these groups faced increasing risks of arrest, physical attack, and psychological trauma, Kilbride wrote.
Frontline Defenders cited Tanzania where it investigated a spate of attacks on activists’ homes after it became known locally that they were housing LGBTIQ+ people or sex workers at risk of homelessness, hunger and police violence on the streets.
Aside from the east African country, Frontline Defenders conducted fact-finding missions in Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar and El Salvador and interviewed respondents Tunisia, the United States, Ireland, Thailand, Malawi, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, and Eswatini.
Also documented in the report are mass arrests at the offices of LGBTI rights organisations; closure of
HRD-run medical clinics; sexual harassment and detention of transgender HRDs at security checkpoints; homophobic and transphobic defamation portraying HRDs as spreaders of COVID-19; and severe psychological trauma over their inability to fully respond to the many dire needs of their communities.
“The HRDs who gave their stories to this investigation are enduring violent attacks, raids on shelters, arrests, and rampant stigmatization for peacefully demanding access to food, shelter and healthcare for their communities during the pandemic,” the report said.
The group reported that activists around the world have turned their homes into emergency shelters for homeless members of the LGBTIQ+ and sex workers sectors, but have themselves endure severe physical, sexual and psychological trauma for helping their communities survive the pandemic.
“LGBTIQ+ and sex worker rights defenders have continued their critical, life-saving work during COVID-19 despite immense threats to their physical and psychological health. In addition to human rights advocacy and emergency response work, they are filling humanitarian gaps left by corrupt governments and discriminatory pandemic response programmes,” Front Line Defenders Executive Director Andrew Anderson said.
“Now more than ever, we affirm our call to end attacks on marginalized defenders doing life-saving work on the ground,” he added. # (Report and photo by Raymund B. Villanueva)