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LGBTQ and migration: Human rights violations, mental health and COVID-19
More information and Further reading
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Dear friends and colleagues
Recently we have received letters from LGBTQ people being persecuted by the police or other public officers in countries where their rights have been violated. Unfortunately, because of COVID-19 there has been even more severe violations during these last months. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights) claims that protecting LGBT people from violence and discrimination does not require the creation of a new set of LGBT-specific rights, nor does it require the establishment of new international human rights standards. The legal obligations of States to safeguard the human rights of LGBT people are well established in international human rights law on the basis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequently agreed on international human rights treaties. All people, irrespective of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, are entitled to enjoy the protections provided for by international human rights law.Unfortunately, LGBTQ people’s rights are not always being asserted. According to the American Psychological Association (APP) several studies suggest that LGTBQ persons appear to have higher rates of some mental disorders compared to heterosexuals. Discrimination, also in the area of the health system, may help fuel these higher rates. These are serious consequences of human rights violations on LBTQ people’s (mental) health, well-being and possibility to live according to their own choices and preferences.LGBTQ people often experience a lack of protection from their family or community members. Once their sexual orientation or gender identity is exposed, family and community members may reject them and even abuse them alongside with the authorities. In other cases, LGBTQ people might remain silent about their identity to protect friends and family from being discriminated for knowing them.LGBTQ people might get excluded from work, which makes it difficult to get by financially. In some countries, LGBTQ people are being discriminated, harassed and abused to the degree that they don’t feel safe. Some even receive death threats. Understandably, they wish to migrate to countries where they are somewhat safe and respected for who they are.
Migration and COVID-19 risks
Migration is in itself a difficult process, but LGBTQ persons often face additional perils and threats to their safety. In these times of pandemic, they encounter even more challenges. Lack of health insurance, lack of the ability to follow social distancing guidelines and quarantine guidelines lead to LGBTQ migrants facing a higher likelihood of exposure to COVID-19.
They also experience violent attacks and/or fines in countries with gender-based lockdown measures (meaning that men and women are allowed out on alternating days of the week). If transgender people are out on days which don’t match with the gender on their ID, they are in danger of discrimination and mistreatment.
To this day there is no country that is completely free from trans- and homophobia. But it is important to note that there has also been great progress in the field of LGBTQ people’s rights, due to the effort of human rights bodies. In the last decade, there have been several legal triumphs for LGBTQ people, including allowing intersex people to legally identify as ‘diverse’ on official documents, legalizing gay sex and marriage equality. Greater awareness about the issue keeps the fight for equality going and contributes to progress.
Several organisations work for LGBTQ people’s human rights. One of them is OutRight Action International. They provide human rights training, training on safety and security for LGBTQ people, capacity building and political space for strategizing.
Ultimately, human rights must have priority over cultural attitudes to battle violations against LBGTQ people, such as arrest, detainment, imprisonment, harassment or torture.
Below we have gathered some useful links that highlight these issues further.
Why LGBTQ+ Migrants on ‘the Caravan’ Face Unique Struggles
“Taking the 2,500-mile-long journey to the U.S. on foot is especially dangerous for trans women and other LGBTQ+ migrants — but they say it’s worth it to escape violence and discrimination in Central America.”
Seeking Asylum in the US to Escape Trans Discrimination
“When you’re transgender and latinx, life as a double minority often means living with a target on your back. For many facing extreme violence and discrimination in their home countries, migration to the United States represents a chance to redeem their identity and live a life free from persecution. But upon arriving in the US, instead, trans migrants often find a dangerous life plagued by the threat of detention and continued discrimination. Broadly goes to Arizona and Los Angeles to meet one of the most vulnerable populations in America, and the trans women already living in the US working hard to create a sanctuary for them.”
More information and further reading
Still a blind spot: The protection of LGBT persons during armed conflict and other situations of violence
International Review of the Red Cross, author Alon Margalit (PhD) 2018
“This article draws attention to the situation of LGBT persons during armed conflict. Subjected to violence and discrimination outside the context of armed conflict, the latter aggravates their vulnerability and exposure to various abuses. Despite important progress made with respect to their protection under human rights law, a similar effort is largely absent from the international humanitarian law discourse. This article accordingly highlights some of the norms and challenges pertaining to the protection of LGBT persons in time of war.”
Majority have their way but minority have their say
The Gay And Lesbian Coalition Of Kenya (GALCK) 2016
“LGBQ rights are human rights that are meant to promote a position of social and legal equality of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and queer (LGBQ) people in society. LGBQ rights address injustices against members of the LGBQ community by outlawing discrimination and violence, requiring changes in law in areas such as access to health, education, public benefits, and by recognising different types of relationships and families.”
Protection manual for LGBTI defenders
Protection International 2010
“In this manual, we give more space than other security manuals for defenders on the specific issues and obstacles that prevailing societal values and legal systems present to LGBTI defenders. We aim at addressing not only the affect of wider societal value systems on defenders protection but also to address how the internalisation of these value systems and the consequences of them can often have detrimental effects on the defenders capacity to manage their own security.”
Vulnerability Amplified: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on LGBTIQ people
OutRight Action International 2020
“The background literature review confirms that emergencies tend to exacerbate vulnerability for those already struggling against inequality in its many forms. The challenges in accessing justice, health, education, employment, housing, and other services due to discrimination and exclusion are amplified during times of crisis. In countries that criminalize same-sex relations or transgender lives, the risk of detainment and imprisonment may be a continuous threat.”
Criminalising Homosexuality and LGBT Rights in Times of Conflict, Violence and Natural Disasters
Human Dignity Trust 2015
“Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are a vulnerable group at the best of times. During times of turmoil (conflict, natural disasters or widespread violence) this vulnerability is exacerbated, often leaving LGBT people to experience a level of violence and exclusion beyond that borne by others.”
“Despite some important step forward, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBT+) people still experience discrimination, harassment and hostility in many parts of the world. Many LGBT+ experience poorer mental health outcomes that are directly related to experiences of stigma, prejudice, discrimination and abuse on the basis of being LGBT+.”
‘Separation by sex’: gendered lockdown fuelling hate crime on streets of Bogotá
The Guardian 2020
A policy of making men and women leave their homes on alternate days during lockdown in Bogotá is fuelling violence towards the transgender community by the police and the public, activists say. […] the Colombian organisation Red Comunitaria Trans recorded 20 violent incidents against trans people in supermarkets during lockdown, including a trans woman who was beaten by a man who said she was not allowed out on the women’s day.
Rethinking COVID-19 Vulnerability: A Call for LGBTQ+ Im/migrant Health Equity in the United States During and After a Pandemic
Health EquityVol. 4, No. 1, author Nolan S. Kline 2020
“Public health responses to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic have emphasized older adults’ vulnerability, but this obfuscates the social and political root causes of health inequity. To advance health equity during a novel communicable disease outbreak, public health practitioners must continue to be attentive to social and political circumstances that inform poor health. Such efforts are especially needed for populations who are exposed to numerous social and political factors that structure health inequity, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or otherwise-queer identifying (LGBTQ+) populations and im/migrant populations. The COVID-19 outbreak is, therefore, a critical time to emphasize root causes of health inequity.”
IOM Experts’ Voice on Inclusive COVID-19 Response for Migrants in Vulnerable Situations
International Organization for Migration 2020
“While measures to combat the virus apply to all, not all migrant groups have the same set of resources and capacities to comply with the rules. In the following pages, contributions from key IOM experts are featured to shed light on crosscutting issues and vulnerabilities that various migrant groups face, as well as complementary resources for developing a more differentiated, appropriate and migrant-friendly response to the pandemic.”
All manuals can be downloaded from the MHHRI website
The manuals are translated into several languages. The page numbers in each manual remain the same across languages. This allows survivors and helpers to work from copies in their preferred language and read the same content on the same pages. It also makes it easier to teach participants when participants and trainers work in more than one language. The manuals include a toolbox. Survivors can use it individually to regulate their own emotions through grounding exercises or in collaboration with a helper. Helpers can also use grounding exercises to take care of themselves as helpers.
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