By Jay Gilliam
COVID-19 continues to disrupt everyday work life for a growing majority of Americans. As an advocate for global LGBTQ equality, that disruption feels even more acute, with the rapid spread of the virus to 159 countries and the ever-evolving restrictions on international travel and in-country movement.
While connecting with people around the world today has never been easier, the work of global LGBTQ advocacy often requires bringing people together beyond borders. This is particularly the case for those living in places where the fight for rights is already difficult and the need for engaging with international allies has great impact.
How do LGBTQ advocates recognize the ways COVID-19 is impacting that work and support those feeling the crunch, even as they continue to safeguard gains made, push back against anti-LGBTQ agendas and care for their community and own well-being?
Here are five ways COVID-19 is impacting global LGBTQ advocacy:
1. Harder to support the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community: For many global advocates, their work begins locally by supporting their community members. Yet in communities that are quarantined, serving the most vulnerable becomes more difficult.
Huang Haojie, director at Wuhan LGBT Center in China, recently told CNN about challenges faced by people living with HIV who are facing barriers in getting their medications. Across the Middle East, groups are finding ways to reach community members trapped with abusive families or struggling with isolation under lockdowns.
2. More difficult to carry out programs, be visible and raise funds: LGBTQ organizations around the world rely on delivering programs for support from donors and, often, increasing visibility to educate the public about their needs and secure new members, supporters and allies.
COVID-19 is forcing organizations around the world to cancel meetings and events. Not hosting in-person celebrations on International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOTB) on May 17 and Pride in June may mean less donor and community support, especially as governments and donors turn their resources toward responding to COVID-19 and saving local economies.
3. Fewer chances to safely and securely connect: While everyone sees the current ability to connect through screens, there is still nothing like face-to-face contact. Cancellation of convenings like HRC’s Global Innovative Advocacy Summit means fewer chances for LGBTQ advocates to be in the same room with each other and have deep discussions about their work and lessons-learned.
Connecting in physical spaces builds trust and security that virtual spaces cannot always do. With the loss of access to physical workspaces and community centers and the lack of access to secure broadband internet, advocates may not always feel comfortable working and talking about LGBTQ issues at home and online.
4. Greater opportunities for governments to restrict freedoms, not be held accountable: As more governments declare local and national emergencies in response to the pandemic, they are restricting movement and association. As the International Center for Not-for-profit Law noted, “Governments can use a crisis as a pretext to infringe rights.” New government powers can easily have a negative impact on LGBTQ people. For example, China’s use of surveillance technology to track citizen movements could easily track LGBTQ people.
Global advocacy gatherings like the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Reviews (UPR) gives advocates opportunities to hold their governments accountable to human rights obligations. HRC planned to support the advocacy efforts of Global Alumni at the UPR pre-sessions in Geneva before its cancellation.
5. Risks of burnout, need for self-care: During normal times for global advocates, it is already hard being on the frontlines everyday. Now, it can be even harder and more isolating as we lose our sense of normalcy, financial security and health and well-being. With a greater risk of exhaustion, there’s even more need for self-care at this time.
We all should recognize the extraordinary work advocates around the world are doing and give the space, time and resources to take a break and take care of their own physical and mental health.
HRC continues to find meaningful ways to engage with our international partners and the global advocacy community, bring the community together virtually and spread LGBTQ equality around the world. As we do this, we invite you to join us by acknowledging the new realities of global LGBTQ advocates and continuing to support our movement’s work.