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By Shilpa Roy
OPINION | JUNE 10, 2020:
LGBTQ Asians have faced increased discrimination in line with xenophobia and racism related to the pandemic with LGBTQ seniors more likely to encounter isolation and other health issues.
Let's go back a couple of years when homosexuality was legalised in India by the Supreme Court on September 6, 2018.
A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court declared Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code as unconstitutional and held that human sexuality cannot be confined to a binary.
The judgment heralded a new dawn for personal liberty and was like a major victory for the LGBTQ community.
But the Covid-19 pandemic has had a negative effect on the LGBTQ community, which is an already vulnerable group as many are struggling with lack of funds, stigma, and poor mental as well as physical health with international transgender rights groups alleging that the global coronavirus lockdown restrictions have denied them healthcare.
It is important to consider LGBTQ communities in this hour of crisis for two main reasons with the first being that there are several factors which may make LGBTQ people more at risk of contracting the virus and secondly, because of the inequalities faced by these communities, they are often denied even basic healthcare facilities.
Although there is no evidence to suggest that LGBTQ people are more likely to contract COVID-19, the grim reality remains that their individuality is still made a mockery.
There is also grave concern over the reduced support for LGBTQ people, particularly those who are homeless and not accepted by families.
Two key measures in defeating COVID-19 are social distancing and the use of personal protective measures. However, as most transgender people are poor and live in small houses, they are not able to always follow these preventive measures.
LGBTQ communities are also impacted by HIV and many of the people belonging to the community have compromised immune systems. Those who depend on begging or prostitution for their livelihood are the worst affected because they have no other source of income. As a result, they are more likely to contract Covid-19.
Transgender people staying with unsupportive families during lockdown deal with stress, anxiety and trauma especially those who have undergone surgery.
They are also more likely to fall into depression because of the lack of social acceptance. In this regard, the pandemic has done nothing to improve their situation.
Depression and poor mental health have been linked to substance abuse, self-harm and suicidal tendencies. People belonging to the LGBTQ community are often subjected to verbal as well as physical abuse due to lack of understanding and acceptance. They lack proper access to therapy, healthcare as well as medications.
Most of them are uneducated thus lack proper documentation which in turn, makes their access to benefits more difficult.
According to a 2011 census, India is home to 4.8 lakh transgender people, out of whom only around 10 per cent have a voter's ID. The Socio-Economic and Caste Census, 2011, states that rural India has 75,008 transgender people.
Even before the pandemic struck India, the LGBTQ community was victim to economic, social, moral as well as mental instability and high rates of stigmatization.
Medications delays, postponed therapies and surgeries, loss in income are all part and parcel for those who are used to being at the bottom of the government's list of priorities.
And with the Covid-19 pandemic sweeping the globe, we cannot expect the old biases to automatically be wiped off overnight. There are also numerous reports that transgender people have been denied access to prescribed hormone injections, even though the World Health Organization and the European Commission guidelines on essential services include medications to the LGBTQ people.
The sad truth is that in the present scenario, most transgender people who are undergoing or have undergone gender reassignment are either out of medicines or on the verge of running out of stock.
According to the National Advisor for LGBT Health, Dr. Michael Brady, "Wherever the question is asked, LGBT people experience poorer outcomes in healthcare."
In what can be termed as a major relief to the LGBTQ community though, a number of NGOs have stepped forward and are helping them cope with this crisis.
The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE) are working to empower the marginalised communities while the Karnataka Government on April 8 announced that transgender people would receive pension for two months upfront along with free medication.
In the North East, the Assam Government provided free rations to four transgender people in Lakhimpur district.
Meanwhile, Chhattisgarh is the only state with a working Transgender Welfare Board.
However, the need of the hour is to break the stigma attached with the LGBTQ community and to lend a helping hand to them in this hour of crisis.
We have seen enough death and suffering throughout these past few months. Therefore, we should understand the pain which the LGBTQ community goes through.
To quote the Supreme Court of India: "Sexual orientation is one of the many biological phenomena. It is natural and no discrimination can exist. Any violation is against freedom of speech and expression. Morality cannot be martyred at the altar of social morality. Denial of self-expression is like death. Who decides what is natural and what is unnatural?"
(The author of this article is a lawyer and columnist based in Guwahati, Assam. She can be reached at email@example.com)
DISCLAIMER: This is a personal opinion. The opinion expressed in the article above belongs to the writer alone and TNT- The Northeast Today may not endorse the same views.