Article Title
The Pandemic & the LGBTQ Community: The Need for Collective Action

The pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges, ranging from being unable to access healthcare to coping with widespread unemployment to dealing with increased economic strains on nations throughout the world.

In India the unique problems and challenges faced by the queer community are neither a consequence of the pandemic nor are they going to vanish when the pandemic passes. The LGBTQ community’s access to social, economic and cultural spaces has always been limited in the country. The problems faced by the community have only amplified and intensified during the pandemic, further affecting the dignity and wellbeing of its members.

This urgently calls for wider social awareness and understanding along with an active will to change the present day biases and discriminatory practices.

It is acknowledged that the queer community isn’t a homogenous one. In fact, it is a complex community having internal variations based on geographies, religions, castes, and languages. This diversity, in turn, has been in many ways shaping their access to the much-needed healthcare and survival resources, including the challenges posed by the pandemic.

Several studies conducted during the pandemic show that trans women, for example, experience greater harassment and denial of dignity as compared to trans men or homeless queer people. In fact, queer sex workers have far fewer claims on economic and employment opportunities as compared to queer people from financially and culturally better off backgrounds. Queer rural migrants who travel to urban areas in search of acceptance/employment or people undergoing medical treatment such as Sex Reassignment Surgery/Hormone Replacement Therapy or facing physical and mental disability in metros face differential access to resources, determined by a variety of intersectional factors. But what cannot be denied is that the transgender community has indeed faced difficulties in the midst of the pandemic.

In most cases, the community has faced severe vulnerabilities owing to limited access to housing, employment, food and healthcare. The latest challenge seems to have posed more difficulties for the community as it has had to grapple with denial of access to medical treatment in the case of COVID-19 and other pressing ailments. This is happening at a time when the medical system is already overburdened.

Healthcare may largely be heteronormative. It was only accessible to a few privileged members of the queer population even prior to the pandemic. But the situation has turned worrisome over the past many months.

Most members of the queer community report histories of being badly treated and humiliated by medical institutions for not being part of the heteronormative mainstream. It has resulted in a large section of the queer community feeling hesitant, uncomfortable and discouraged from seeking medical care fearing further stigmatisation and humiliation. This implies that they are at a greater risk of not being tested or treated for COVID-19.

Differential access to medical facilities, sustained medical neglect and attention accompanied by a multi-generational hierarchy and discrimination has had a deep impact on the community.

The pandemic has also affected other aspects of their life, such as their ability to mobilise members physically, collect resources for betterment, gain access to shared living spaces, and earn resources that enable mental wellbeing or life-affirming opportunities.

The community, thus, has become increasingly vulnerable as it is faced with rampant unemployment and financial distress, emotional and psychological problems, with no means for interventions that allow mobilisation or collective protest for shared concerns.

With social distancing becoming the new normal, there has been a steady drop in queer meetings and events. This lack of a space for political articulation has further weakened the community’s much-felt need for representation in the mainstream.

Members of the transgender community protesting against the Transgender Bill 2018 in Mumbai | Tamravidhir (Wikimedia)

This can be best explained by the responses from the queer community to the government’s decision to implement the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019. Responses from the community indicate that the Act has been counterproductive in many ways as it requires official certificates determining one’s sexuality, which are hard to obtain, with the process often involving stigmatisation and social ostracisation.

Moreover, the hurried passing of the Act has in many instances intensified violence against members of the community and made them particularly vulnerable in the metros. The passing of the Act at a time when the community is battling for its safety and survival, and when public meetings can’t be held, has meant that the Act is nothing but “political tokenism”.

While empathy and awareness may be the need of the hour, a sustained and collective effort towards a less-judgmental and more accepting social order is required. We need an order that not only incorporates the queer community, but also ensures that it gets its dues, lives a life of dignity and worth amid and after the pandemic.

Commentator name
Ananya Pathak