During the COVID-19 pandemic, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) migrants may face intersecting discriminations: both as migrants as well as on the basis of their gender identity and/or sexual orientation. It is important that measures are put in place to ensure that these populations have equal access to public health and safety services, and assistance to overcome the socio-economic impacts of the crisis. Here are some of the specific challenges that LGBTI migrants may have to overcome.
Difficulties in accessing healthcare services
In general, LGBTI people regularly face discrimination and stigma when accessing health services, starting with the criminalization of same-sex relationships in some countries and discrimination against trans people due to their gender identity. The existence of laws in some countries that criminalize same sex relationships or target trans people due to their gender identity exacerbates these situations. Some LGBTI people may avoid health services due to fear of arrest or violence. Some LGBTI migrants, particularly those with irregular status, may be less willing to access health care or provide information on their health status as they fear deportation, family separation or detention.
Finally, it is important to note that for many LGBTI migrants from Central America and the Caribbean, returning to their countries of origin could mean facing a high risk of violence or discriminatory laws.
Stigmatization, discrimination, hate speech and attacks on the LGBTI community
During health crises, both LGBTI and migrant communities are likely to face stigma and discrimination as a result of being erroneously blamed for the pandemic. This doubles the vulnerability and risk of discrimination for LGBTI migrants. For example, in some countries a measure was introduced that only allowed men and women to leave their homes on alternating days of the week and gave police the power to confirm a person’s gender based on their official documentation. This leaves transgender, intersex and non-binary migrants at risk of discrimination as they may not be able to change their gender on their identification, depending on the laws in their countries of origin.
Access to work and livelihood
Due to the various forms of social and economic discrimination faced by LGBTI migrants, they are more likely to work in the informal sector and lack access to paid sick leave or unemployment compensation. LGBTI migrants will not be eligible to apply for payments to reduce the negative socio-economic of the COVID-19 pandemic in countries where these policies only apply to nationals.
Vulnerability to violence and exploitation
Transgender and nonbinary migrants are particularly vulnerable to exploitation due to employment discrimination on the basis of their gender identity and/or nationality. Traffickers take advantage of this vulnerability and many actively seek out trans and nonbinary victims. Traffickers are also likely to exploit the uncertainty, mobility restrictions and increased internal displacement resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
What are some key actions that stakeholders can take?
States and other actors should consider the specific needs and vulnerabilities of LGBTI migrants and ensure their voices are heard when creating responses to the COVID-19 outbreak. Below are some recommendations:
- Understand that health is a universal right, which means that LGBTI migrants should be able to access healthcare services, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or migration status and that they are not subjected to discrimination or fear negative consequences for seeking healthcare.
- Ensure that the LGBTI migrants are included in measures to reduce the socio-economic impact of the pandemic and that their specific vulnerabilities are addressed.
- Political leaders and other public figures should speak out against stigmatization and hate speech directed at both LGBTI persons and migrants during the pandemic.
- Shelters, support services and other measures to address gender-based violence and human trafficking during the COVID-19 pandemic should adopt an approach that is inclusive of LGBTI migrants.
- Border and law enforcement officials should be trained and instructed not to discriminate against LGBTI populations. Measures involving mobility restrictions should also provide protection for trans and non-binary individuals.
Addressing the negative impacts of COVID-19 on LGBTI migrants requires an intersectional approach and a strong commitment from key stakeholders to consider how new measures could have unintended consequences on this populations. For more information on the COVID-19 pandemic and the human rights on LGBTI individuals, consult this document from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.