Queerphobia and the pandemic: LGBT communities around the world targeted

May 20202 –  I’ve read a lot in the past few months and news that the pandemic has not been kind to LGBT communities around the world is not surprising. They join an already long list of vulnerable communities that have been hit hardest by Covid-19, or its consequences. Here’s an incomplete survey of recent international news affecting trans and queer communities.

In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán finagled legislation to allow him to rule by decree. Orbán said he needed emergency powers to fight the pandemic, but there is no time limit on when they expire. According to The Guardian, Orbán is set “to push through legislation that will end the legal recognition of trans people by defining gender as ‘biological sex based on primary sex characteristics and chromosomes’ and thus making it impossible for people to legally change their gender.”

“Orbán’s government has become more hostile towards the LGBTQ+ community in the past two years, moving from generic language about traditional values and the benefits of heterosexual marriage to openly discriminatory language, such as comparing homosexuality to paedophilia.”

In Turkey, teachers encouraged kids to paint pictures of rainbows and put them in windows to cheer people up during the pandemic. You can guess what happened. They were ordered to stop, rainbows being part of a giant gay plot to turn kids into homosexuals. While “homosexuality is legal in Turkey, the LGBTQ community still faces huge stigma and is often the target of bigoted ire from conservative politicians and pundits. The furore over children’s rainbow drawings, combined with dogwhistle remarks by the head of the religious affairs directorate during a Ramadan sermon that gay people “spread disease”, were met with concern by human rights and legal advocacy groups.”

Tulips are the national flower of Turkey.

In Colombia, trans folks were put in peril by directives issued in Bogota that men and women should leave their residences on alternate days. The policy became an ideal opportunity for transphobes to take it upon themselves to police gender and brought on the inevitable attacks on trans people who were accused of being out on the wrong day. According to trans woman Juli Salamanca, “The city has given the police the weapons to control and do gender profiling of trans people, and now this is translating into the same from people in supermarkets, banks and society in general, where trans people are being prevented from entering places because they don’t conform to the stereotype of what is a man or woman.”

A similar policy was in place in Lima, Peru between April 2-11 but was dropped after it was reported that abuse of the LGBT community, and particularly of transgender women, had become common.

In South Korea, a new outbreak of the Covid virus was tracked to clubs in Seoul’s Itaewon nightlife neighbourhood. Unfortunately, some of these bars were known gay clubs and those visiting them are terrified of being outed in a society that is still largely homophobic. Officials were using telecom information and credit card transactions to track down unknown individuals. “Given the sensitivity, authorities have introduced what they call “anonymous testing,” with people only needing to provide a phone number and not a name.”

There seemed to be a bit of good news out of Egypt where Hisham Selim, a prominent Egyptian actor, was praised for his acceptance of his trans son. Egypt is a religiously conservative society and it follows that the LGBT community is widely stigmatised. Trans people are comparatively more accepted by society and government than gays, who are periodically subjected to crackdowns on the grounds of “debauchery”, despite there being no legal prohibition against homosexuality.

Ah, but there’s always a fly in the ointment. Selim admitted that his reaction would have been different if he had a trans daughter instead. “I thought, ‘Thank God, it’s not the other way around. Although I believe both are the same, as an Arab and an Egyptian who’s raised believing that men are stronger or have higher status, then it would have definitely been different for me.”