COVID-19 is having a profound effect on marginalized individuals and communities including but not limited to refugees, asylum seekers, LGBTI+ people, homeless and singles. Marginalized people are not a homogeneous group as well; their discrimination experiences and thus also how they experience COVID-19 and how the pandemic affects their everyday life are shaped by their citizenship status or nationality, sexual orientation and/or gender identity and living conditions. It makes a difference whether someone is a cis-refugee or a queer refugee; a lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or inter living in the big city or in the countryside; old or young; white, black or person of color; has children or not; is secured with a permanent shelter or not. Needs and possible problems are also shaped by whether and how one is religiously socialized, what social origin one has or whether one lives with a disability, for example.
Heteronormativity and a construct of family related to biological kinship is found in several cases. Night after night the mainstream news brings us depictions of the ways in which families are coming together to support elderly relatives and their biological children. This heteronormative definition of biological kinship was also seen with the contact restrictions during Christmas. In all federal states except Berlin, Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony and Thuringia, the exceptions planned for Christmas with regard to contact restrictions were only made for the closest family members and relatives in a straight line. Many EU states impose national entry bans. This can become a massive problem for binational couples in some countries if partners are not recognized as relatives there. These narratives and regulations are exclusively heteronormative and make unhelpful assumptions that behind closed doors our lives are all the same. There are young queers who are now at home with their parents (who they may or may not be out to, who may or may not be supportive of their identity) without access to any support. Friendships as an adopted and surrogate family are therefore essential and vital for LGBTI+ people. In the context of the COVID-19 crisis, rent redistribution funds are being organized in the queer community via digital apps such as Telegram.
Moreover, the biological family construct ignores the massive incidence of domestic violence. Stay-at-home directives, isolation, increased stress and exposure to disrespectful family members exacerbate the risk of violence. A recent survey in Iran found that more than 50% of respondents had experienced increased violence. According to the data of „We Will Stop Feminicide“ platform in Turkey, the number of womxn who applied to the platform with the complaint of physical and psychological violence increased 55% in April 2020, just one month after the COVID-19 Outbreak in the country. The postponement of the legal procedures on domestic violence because of COVID-19 is also making it more difficult for womxn who are in need of a safer living condition.
COVID-19 takes a foothold in refugee camps that offer little possibility for physical distancing, and which are poorly served in terms of basic health, water and sanitation services. Refugees get barely understandable information about COVID-19 and the related protective measures. It is also often impossible to adhere to the prescribed distance and hygiene rules in the reception facilities and areas of accommodation. The atmosphere becomes even more tense for more marginalized refugees. Locked-up accommodation becomes a prison and is dangerous for vulnerable individuals such as LGBTI+ people.
Homeless people are at high risk of contracting the coronavirus. Many are physically weakened from years of life on the street or have chronic illnesses. They can also hardly follow hygiene rules since there is a lack of regular access to sanitary facilities. Many tables, soup kitchens, accommodations and emergency sleeping places had to close in the meantime.
According to the Federal Homeless Aid Association, around 678,000 people in Germany didn’t have homes in 2018, 50,000 of whom were considered homeless, including around 19,000 children and underage youths (Refugees are not included in this count).
Curfews, contact bans and the extensive closure of facilities led to a withdrawal from public space and a general decrease in social contacts. Closure of safer spaces like clubs, community centers, art spaces also had a huge impact in the daily lives of many people. An online survey made with 2,461 people by a science team from the Münster University of Applied Sciences and the Charité Berlin showed that more and more people are suffering from loneliness in the pandemic. This goes hand in hand with increased depression and decreased life satisfaction. In addition to single people, people living alone and people working from home, LGBTI+ people also have a high risk of loneliness and isolation.
Medical Care Experiences of Marginalized People During Pandemic
A large UK study found that LGBTI+ people have discriminatory experiences in the health care system: 14% of respondents have already avoided medical treatment for fear of discrimination. This applies in particular to LGBTI+ people with disabilities, queer people of color and trans* respondents. The Federal Association of Trans* in Germany emphasizes that homeless trans* people, trans* people with previous illnesses, trans* people with restricted mobility, trans* refugees, trans* sex workers and older trans* people are severely affected by COVID-19. According to the interim results of the TransCareCovid-19 study carried out with 1,200 respondents from German-speaking countries, 15% of trans* people had canceled their surgery appointments, and a further 17% worry about cancellation of their upcoming operations. 24% of them experienced impaired follow-up care after an operation and 44% fear that access to hormones could be restricted. Before the pandemic, waiting periods for gender-affirming care were already very long and have either been further delayed or made completely unavailable. In many instances, gender-affirming care has now been deemed “non-essential.” For example, the contested legal amendment in Hungary intends to prohibit trans persons from legally changing their gender. This can be very stressful and have a major impact on one’s mental health. Additionally, governments have used the excuse of the pandemic to institute regressive legislation, like provisions increasing penalties for HIV exposure, non-disclosure and transmission – thereby exacerbating stigma against persons living with HIV. The use of LGBTI+ lives as scapegoat and fuel for hatred was also evidenced in religious and political responses to the pandemic such as the Russian Orthodox Archbishop of Berlin and Germany Michael Arndt or Ali Erbas, head of the Turkish religious authority and thus also the superior of approx 1,000 imams of DITIB in Germany who blamed the pandemic on the very existence of LGBT+ persons, their families, social groups and institutions.
Effective State Measures
Three fundamental processes must be continued or put in place: the political decision of acknowledging and embracing diversity in citizenship status or nationality, sexual orientation and/or gender identity and living conditions; adopting decided measures to deconstruct stigma, and adopting evidence-based approaches with the involvement of organisations working for the rights and visibility of marginalized groups and individuals in designing state response.
Governments shall also not use COVID-19 measures to target or prosecute marginalized persons. For example, using the pandemic to justify the introduction or passing of homophobic or patriarchal laws (Hungary or Poland) limiting or withdrawing human rights conventions (Turkey) or postponing the coming into force of judicially mandated rights.
Inclusive official discourse is fundamental to deconstructing stigma. For example, in France, national systems were deployed when domestic violence increased, leading to the launch of FLAG!, a new homophobia reporting app, specifically designed for LGBTI+ audiences at risk where victims can report acts of violence and be directed relevant services. The Philippines took steps to include same-sex partners with children in social amelioration and cash aid programmes, usually designed around traditional family models.