Earlier this week, the COVID-19 virus was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. It is a global problem and won't be defeated by a single country alone. Similarly, homophobia, transphobia and challenges to our human rights also transcend borders. As such, while our ability to think beyond ourselves and the countries we live in may be tested at a time like this, it is also a time when our solidarity is needed more than ever.
With this in mind, I wanted to let you know that all of us at OutRight Action International are thinking about you and sending our best wishes for your continued health and security, wherever you live. I also wanted to take a moment to share insight from staff members across our team on implications of the virus on the work of OutRight Action International in pursuit of equality for LGBTIQ people everywhere.
Kennedy Carillo, Regional Sexual and Development Expert, based in Belize
“The number of cases is low, but steadily rising, with around 20 confirmed across seven countries of the Caribbean. These are difficult times for OutRight's work, as the risks and restrictions involved in traveling limit our ability to accomplish urgent interventions with our regional partners. In Haiti, for example, we had planned urgent safety and security activities with local activists in a context where LGBTIQ people face life-threatening danger on a day-to-day basis. While we figure out if the in-person training can move forward at this time, we know that we have to support the LGBTIQ community in Haiti, in ways that don’t involve travel.
There is a general feeling of uncertainty and loss as we try to adjust our predominantly in-person work to different models and wonder when will we be able to resume as normal. In Belize there are still no reported cases but we know it’s just a matter of time.”
Ging Cristobal, Project Coordinator for Asia and the Pacific Islands, based in the Philippines
“Due to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases President Duterte declared the Philippines under a state of public health emergency, prompting cities to cancel gatherings, and to focus the work of municipalities on curbing the spread of the virus. This situation greatly affects the implementation of OutRight's projects promoting LGBTIQ-inclusive services in cities across the country. We have had to cancel training seminars, stalling dissemination of crucial information which would increase the availability of LGBTIQ-inclusive services, such as support for victims of gender-based violence.
At the same time, we can be proud of the high number of trainings already completed. There are almost 200 LGBTIQ-friendly service providers in over half of Quezon city’s municipalities. The present health scenario presents an opportunity to gauge how service providers apply the knowledge they learned when engaging with LGBTIQ persons in response to COVID-19. It also gives me an opportunity to work on policy guidance in preparation for rolling out the project in other parts of the Philippines - 24 cities have already confirmed interest!”
Katie Hultquist, West Coast Director, based in the U.S.
“Seattle is the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the US. As I write this update, our Governor has banned all gatherings of 250+ people and schools have closed for at least 6 weeks. In this environment, our ability to engage with our supporters in person is limited, consequently affecting our ability to raise funds for OutRight's work promoting LGBTIQ equality across the world. We postponed an upcoming event in San Francisco, and may have to do the same with future events.
What hasn’t changed is my motivation to connect with our volunteers and supporters. We want you to know that we care about you, we care about our community, and we would like to hear more about how you’re doing, what you’re thinking and to share with you what’s happening with the global LGBTIQ community during this time. I hope you will reach out to me and my colleagues, stay connected, and heed this reminder that we are all connected in this global world and we must take care of each other.”
Sahar Moazami, UN Program Officer, based in the U.S.
“The impact of the coronavirus on LGBTIQ advocacy at the United Nations will be felt for quite a while. UN LGBTIQ advocacy requires collaboration from activists from around the world, and opportunities to come together to strategize, share best practices, and reflect on realities on the ground.
Two weeks ago, the UN decided to postpone the annual Commission on the Status of Women - the principal global intergovernmental body dedicated to the promotion of gender equality. The postponement serves as just the first example of UN centered forums that will be cancelled or delayed – effectively eliminating the opportunity for LGBTIQ activists who engage at the UN from coming together in person. This means we have to find other ways to voice our concerns or take part in discussions shaping global gender equality and human rights efforts - we know all too well that inequalities and human rights violations won’t go away.
While we can not meet in person, we are connecting with activists online, and exploring ways of making the most of this time to provide training and engagement online.”
In addition to the work conducted directly by OutRight, we are very aware of the implications of COVID-19 for LGBTIQ people around the world. In times of crisis, LGBTIQ people are always more vulnerable - especially so in places where health systems are weak and LGBTIQ people cannot access services even under usual conditions. As such, we are engaging with our partners to see how local communities can be supported in this health crisis. We will be sure to share what we learn with you, so that you can join with us in helping our community worldwide.
Despite the challenges posed by the spreading COVID-19 virus, I want to assure you that OutRight's work continues. Our means and methods have had to be adjusted, but we remain as dedicated to our work as ever.
I urge you to reach out to me if you have any questions or concerns. Please stay safe, and secure in the knowledge that our community is creative, caring and resilient, and we will get through these difficult times - together.
Executive Director, OutRight Action International