The Covid crisis has undoubtedly wreaked havoc amongst people across all boundaries, geographical and social. However, as we gradually find our feet in the new normal, the struggles of the LGBTQIA+ community to navigate this pandemic have been sadly ignored by mainstream media. As a result, adding to inequity in healthcare delivery and social security, the community’s overall well-being has been significantly threatened by the pandemic.
From the perspective of physical health, some might be at greater risk of contracting the infection as they live in close cohorts. Higher incidences of untreated HIV, due to the social stigma, make contracting the Coronavirus a graver issue. A vast majority also lack access to health insurance which makes availing of medical facilities an expensive affair. Reluctance to visit healthcare services for fear of discrimination is a definite barrier to proper screening, early diagnosis, and prompt treatment for the disease.
Unfortunately, some community members get close to nil family support; they depend on essential public interactions to meet ends. Financial loss has hit them hard, and many have lost the only means of earning their bread and butter. Those without a valid identity card cannot reap the benefits of the financial assistance provided by the government. Socioeconomic constraints resulting from the lock down and meager access to mental health care may further aggravate the psychological toll.
Incidences of abuse and domestic violence may be increased if the person is quarantined among LGBTQIA+-phobic family members.
According to an Oxford university report of December 2020, LGBTIA+ victims of domestic violence cannot effectively leave violent relationships since the virus has disrupted typical social networks for them. They are more likely to utilize informal sources of support like friends or the internet over professional sources like therapists, organizations dealing with domestic violence cases, or even the police.
To add fuel to the fire, baseless comments against the LGBTQIA+ community made by grossly ignorant or homophobic individuals impose further discrimination and social exclusion.
Thus, it is imperative for the government, healthcare providers, and social workers to orchestrate a proactive awareness campaign to highlight the community’s health needs. As an instance of disaster unpreparedness, most hospitals don’t have separate isolation wards or restrooms for sexual minorities, resulting in non-compliance with the quarantine rules. It can also make seeking treatment a harrowing experience.
Specific sexual health requirements for LGBTQIA+ should also be addressed. For example, patients on hormone replacement therapy should be able to continue the same without having to worry about the availability of medication. In addition, if possible, gender reaffirmation surgery should not be deferred for long periods. It will only further anxiety and depression among hopefuls.
On the brighter side, a few community members have been torchbearers in the fight against the pandemic. For example, Dr. Aqsa Shaikh, who is the first(and only) transgender person to head a covid vaccination center in Delhi, in an interview, talks about her struggle to reach here amidst all the societal norms and expectations.
Dr. Aqsa shares how in the profession, dealing with all the hush-hush and giggles around her physical appearance during her transitioning phase had become routine. Moreover, she adds that rates of depression amongst transgender people are disproportionately high due to societal pressure and an inability to come out to the public.
But her indomitable spirit kept her going through thick and thin. Now, Dr. Aqsa is a proud COVID warrior, inoculating fellow citizens by the thousands. She gleams with the hope that her story will inspire a million others to rise against the odds, come what may.
It took the sound of a dreaded sneeze to highlight the silent struggles of an equally rightful citizenry. But there is always light at the end of the tunnel. By raising awareness and the exemplary work done by many individuals, one can dream of a near-future where healthcare is easily accessible to each person.
Written by Oishik Roy for MTTN
Edited by Shivangi Acharya for MTTN
Featured Image by DaVidRo
Artwork by Ahmet