COVID-19 has quite literally taken the world by storm. Lakhs of people in our country have also contracted the virus, and various communities are affected. Ever since the lockdown that began in March, millions of people have been tremendously affected in a multi-faceted fashion. There has been absolute devastation of the healthcare system – be it drastic changes seen in the economic, social, environmental, and political spheres.
Lockdown Affects Different Strata
The lockdown in India has destroyed migrant workers’ livelihoods and driven many further into poverty clutches. Although everyone has been impacted by the pandemic either directly or indirectly, its effect varies with our society’s stratum at disproportionate rates.
One such case can be observed with the lives and livelihood of the Indian LGBTQ+ community, which has been adversely affected due to the ongoing pandemic. Even before this pandemic, a significant level of economic, social, moral, mental instability, and stigmatization had always been linked with them. The pandemic has further deteriorated their condition in society. The lockdown restrictions had left the LGBTQ+ community already living on the edge susceptible to more abuse, often at the hands of their own families.
LGBTQ+ and Healthcare Support
Several LGBTQ+ individuals have already been rendered unemployed due to the economic outfall in India. This has increased their likelihood of living in poverty, which implies greater exposure and risk of health complications. As it is, LGBTQ+ people suffer due to a lack of access to adequate medical care, resources, and necessities for their survival. Most people in the LGBTQ+ community who are currently unemployed worked in industries like retail, hospitality, and entertainment, which are the worst impacted sectors by COVID-19.
People from the LGBTQ+ community, especially those living with HIV, are facing hurdles in receiving their medications. Affordability and accessibility to medical care are essential for testing COVID-19 and treating the symptoms of the disease. However, LGBTQ+ people generally lack health coverage or monetary resources to visit a doctor even when they require medical attention due to an absence of support and acceptance in society and doctors’ awareness.
The community is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 infection. It is of grave concern how gay, trans, or non-binary identities will be treated at the predominantly binary isolation facilities. Due to social stigma, LGBTQ+ persons still often experience higher anxiety, depression, and poor mental health. These have been long associated with behaviors damaging to overall, health including substance abuse, smoking, drinking, self-harm, eating disorders, and suicidal tendencies.
Transgender suffer the most.
Transgender persons staying with unsupportive families during this lockdown are dealing with stress, anxiety, and trauma, especially those who have undergone surgery recently. Apart from the 2% of the transgender folks who are privileged to be with their families, most trans people bear the brunt of the lockdown and unlocking.
When the coronavirus was declared a pandemic, members of the hijra community who earn their livelihood through badhaai (collecting money by offering blessings at weddings, ceremonies, and other public gatherings) and commercial sex working (CSW) had to cease their activities. This was a significant blow to the community as the means to make ends meet and fulfill their bare necessities (also including medical treatment) became increasingly burdensome.
India – A Conservative Society
In conservative India, many queer people hide their true selves from their near and dear ones. But as a direct consequence of the coronavirus lockdown, they have been stuck inside with their families for months. This has made it hard for them to keep up with ‘acting straight,’ and may sometimes face dire repercussions upon coming out.
On many occasions, they are subjected to verbal and physical abuse by the family members because of a lack of understanding and acceptance. As LGBTQ+ Indians have increasingly turned to social media and online communities for support, many have also expressed a mounting urge to come out to their families.
However, LGBTQ+ activists have advised community members to do nothing until life returns to normal, as even those who came out and gained some acceptance said that the aftermath had been complicated and stressful.
Ashok Row Kavi, founder of Humsafar Trust – an NGO in Mumbai that promotes LGBTQ+ rights, in an interview with NDTV, remarked,
“We must understand that mostly LGBT are more open in public places. Now being in a house that does not appreciate or accept your sexuality can be incredibly depressing and mental health issues are increasing. You cannot go out because of the lockdown and family won’t let you be yourself. There is stigma within a stigma in that sense, people from LGTBQ community are battling COVID and also its indirect impact – they have been thrown out of their rented places like in Dharavi and there is no business for trans people and sex workers which means no food.”