From the first reported case of COVID-19 in China last year in December, it has been almost a week since the first cases were detected in Mauritius. Caught between the unpreparedness of authorities despite the true alarms and red flags being issued by private health practitioners and Opposition Party members, the Government is finally getting the situation under control. Improvements in the epidemic management would be welcomed.
While a small number of extremists attribute COVID-19 as a scourge in the form of divine punishment to non-believers; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) people and the whole lot of marginalised individuals and groups; the big majority of the population is well awake to the fact that COVID-19 does not discriminate and everyone irrespective of their religions, cultural, sexual, physical, political, identities can be infected.
Inconsiderate measures are impacting the marginalised and the poor and vulnerable elements of society. For LGBT people, both COVID-19 and health sanitary measures are having a detrimental impact on their livelihood and safety.
Queer people in homophobic families
LGBT people, especially LGBT youth face a myriad of challenges during the lock-down due to COVID-19; namely: not having social outlets with peer-groups and support systems; mental health issues and stress; and being subject to higher risks of domestic violence. For parents, siblings and relatives who form part of the handful few extremists attributing COVID-19 to divine punishment against queer and sinful people, the fear and risks for the LGBT youth are much greater.
For other queer people, family dinner talks might crop-up asking: “When are you getting married?” or “Where is your girlfriend/boyfriend?” or “It is a sin to be Queer and when will you change?”, thereby, often resulting in uneasiness and mental stress, or the LGBT youth to lock themselves in their room far from the perturbing family conversations.
Those queer youth who are already “out” with their families or wish to make their coming-out, the lock-down has tenfold risk spanning from the family pressures and mental stress associated to being kicked out of home and living on the streets with livelihood and COVID-19 infection risks. Deprivation from using the family kitchen or eating food prepared by the family head are alas also very much present in Mauritian families. Verbal abuse, harassment and physical abuse would be more present – and life-threatening!
Work and livelihood
While the Government has announced social aid to all employees in the private sector during the lock-down, for LGBT people working on their own as tailors, hairdressers, make-up artists, sex workers, artists/performers, etc. in an informal setting, policies have not been taken as to how to compensate the loss of necessary earnings during the lock-down!
Despite that irrespective of their sexual orientation, all those working in the informal sector are concerned by the lack of earnings compensation during the lock-down, it is truism that for LGBT people and other marginalised groups who are living on their own or renting spaces due to their family disowning them or having other health issues such as HIV infection or Hepatitis; livelihood is harder.
Health risks and discrimination
Co-infections of HIV or Hepatitis affecting LGBT people result in a weaker immune system increasing risks of fatality of COVID-19 infections. With the fragilized immune systems, thousands of LGBT people are less likely than their straight peers to seek medical care for fear of discrimination undoubtedly increasing the risks to “live with” the COVID-19 infection and being “super propagators” of the virus towards their immediate family or peer or social partners circle.
Additionally; with the shutting down of all but essential services; and lack of LGBT community-led healthcare response, suspending health programmes such as condom and lube distribution, mental healthcare and counselling, HIV rapid testing and referral, accompaniment to health services among others; the well-being of LGBT people are compromised resulting to health-negative way of living such as unsafe sex, lower intake of antiretrovirals for LGBT people living with, among others.
Communities as support
Despite raising the alarm and showing a bleak side of the COVID-19 pandemic and lock-down measures (or lack of) for LGBT people, opportunities for LGBT people and LGBT youth are well present. The lock-down allows for personal and individual time for self-reflection, adopting positive and healthy attitudes and behaviours, family bonding time, among others.
LGBT people as a community have shown resilience for decades, and our response to the COVID-19 health sanitary emergency should not be an exception. While adapting to physical distancing, self-isolation and quarantine; LGBT people can connect to the Young Queer Alliance through Facebook and other social media, our website, by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or through WatsApp 58028357 and be supported during the lock-down.