The Malta Independent 21 May 2022, Saturday

Pride and COVID-19

Claudette Buttigieg Thursday, 17 September 2020, 07:10 Last update: about 3 years ago

Sadly, this year Pride month is not what we were hoping it would be.

After last year’s major success at the Pride March, and the amazing events which took place throughout September, we were all hoping this year would be even more special.

COVID-19 has changed so much in our lives. The new norm is not what many of us expected. We all had to make sacrifices, but for some of us it has been much harder.

Clearly, COVID-19 does not discriminate, but it has managed to highlight the existing weaknesses of our society. The weaker ones, the more vulnerable, are facing difficulties which have made them weaker and even more vulnerable.

It is our duty to voice the plight of those members of our society who continue to be marginalised, and our obligation to practice social justice and do something about it.

In a briefing note prepared by ILGA Europe called ‘COVID-19 and the specific impact on LGBTI people and what authorities should be doing to mitigate impact’, we find a list of social problems which members of the community are going through because of COVID-19.

I found this briefing note inspiring and useful. It is a practical guide to the effects of the pandemic. It suggests a way forward for this period — which can also be prolonged for the post-COVID era.

The pandemic has forced us to spend more time at home with our families. As a general rule, this is not such a bad thing. But what does that mean for LGBTI people who are not accepted by their families? Or those who are at risk of domestic violence?

All across Europe, and Malta is no exception, we are seeing an increase in mental health issues related to this situation. Some young people had to leave their families to avoid the abusive members who will not accept them for who they are; for being themselves.

This has led to another issue, poverty. Many LGBTI persons already depend on precarious and low-income jobs. The loss of jobs because of the pandemic has continued to increase their vulnerability and dependence on others who would easily abuse of this vulnerability for a profit.

Some have been forced into prostitution. Getting out of it when all goes back to normal will not be easy. With prostitution we also find drug and alcohol abuse.

Closeted LGBTI persons who find their freedom at clubs and other social gatherings have had to supress their emotions for months, leading to further mental health issues, like depression and anxiety.

I do know that, because of COVID-19, a number of LGBTI persons in our community have had major issues related to health treatment and interventions. Some have had to suspend hormone treatment for transition-related medical care. The reduced hours and services at the GU clinic have also had a major effect, especially in the diagnosis and treatment of HIV.

So, what are we to do?

Firstly, we must be aware of these realities. We cannot go into our comfortable cocoon and assume that, just because we are managing and we are ok, then everybody is.

Secondly, when providing health and social services, especially through outreach programmes in the community, we must make sure that nobody is left behind.

Some members of the LGBTI community might not be happy or safe if they stay with their biological families, especially if they are under quarantine. These people should be given the opportunity to make their case with the emergency and health authorities to choose their “de facto families” or safe place where they could follow their obligations towards the health authorities.

Thirdly, people under vital treatment must be given the opportunity to continue their treatment while still respecting the pandemic rules set by the authorities. Otherwise, this could result in discrimination. Worse still, it could aggravate both the physical and psychological state of each individual.

Fourthly, we must ensure HIV treatment is not interrupted for any reason. Perhaps this could be an opportunity to empower HIV patients. We should look at the experience of those countries where medical services allow (when possible) HIV patients to self-inject controlled medication. This will help the patients to maintain the treatment without the need to be in physical contact with medical staff.

Finally, human rights remain a priority. We cannot close an eye, accept or condone any type of behaviour, abuse or violence with the excuse that little can be done “in the circumstances.” This particularly applies to legality and the rule of law, especially in cases of domestic violence and abuse.

By raising more awareness of the issues, acting in a more humane way, we may discover that we can all care for each other without being judgmental.

This pandemic could be a fresh start for all of us. Who knows, maybe Pride 2020 might be a turning point.



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