The impact of COVID-19 has meant life has changed for all of us recently – but some groups have been harder hit than others as a result of the pandemic. The effects on marginalised LGBTI communities has been largely absent from media coverage on a global level, but sadly the pandemic has exacerbated the plight of queer peoples all over the world, further elevating experienced levels of isolation, stigma, abuse and violence. This has created disturbing parallels to the outbreak of the AIDS crisis 40 years ago, where marginalisation and scapegoating serve only to isolate people in need.
Our partner, UNAIDS, has identified a number of incidents across Uganda, Belize and the Philippines where LGBTI individuals have been actively targeted, assaulted or otherwise actively abused as a result of being blamed for the spread of the pandemic.
“We are receiving reports that government and religious leaders in some countries are making false claims and releasing misinformation about COVID-19 that has incited violence and discrimination against LGBTI people,” said George Ayala, Executive Director of MPact. “Organizations and homes are being raided, LGBTI people are being beaten, and there has been an increase in arrests and threatened deportation of LGBTI asylum seekers.”
As well as these disturbing incidents, reporting is also showing how LGBTI peoples have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic worldwide. In the UK, staying safe and self-isolating simply isn’t an option for many – almost a quarter of young people at risk of homelessness are LGBTI, usually due to non-acceptance of their lifestyle within the family home. More than one in ten LGBTI people have faced domestic abuse from a partner, rising to 19 per cent for trans people. LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees also are staying in cramped rooms with strangers, putting their lives at risk, already facing intrusive questions about their faith, race and LGBTI identity when seeking safety.
This trend also continues in the United States, as recent reporting has shown that LGBTI people have also been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, suffering a larger share of job losses, and experiencing a bigger impact on their mental health.
So what can we do to address this? As individuals, we can actively work to denounce misinformation that scapegoats, slanders or otherwise blames LGBTI people for the spread of COVID-19. We can write to our public officials demanding that support and services are inclusive, proportionate and evidence informed, and demanding that governments safeguard funds and HIV/sexual health programmes that are inclusive and sensitive to the needs of LGBTI people.
At MTV Staying Alive, we know that being LGBTI is a very real part of history and culture, and through our wonderful acting talent and writers we seek to provide representation whereever possible in our flagship campaign, MTV Shuga. In our South African series, MTV Shuga: Down South, we proudly explore this through our two characters, Odirile and Reggie, who got together in MTV Shuga Down South Season 2, after we followed Reggie’s journey of self-discovery and acceptance in the first season.
People’s attitudes will only change once they believe that being gay or LGBTI is not a choice; through our programming, we hope to continue to change attitudes and create a more friendly and tolerant future for our viewers.