LGBTQ+ Repression during the Covid-19 Pandemic
Several states took advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to repress sexual minorities. Some visual evidence showed the Ugandan police raiding a shelter established for LGBTQ+ people and beating its residents. The evidence also indicates that the residents inside the shelter were tied with rope and taken to a police station and arrested without legal assistance. The program director at the shelter articulated that state officials use stay-at-home measures as “opportunity to get rid of” LGBTQ+ people (Cited in Strudwick, 2020).
Why do states repress sexual minorities and refuse to recognize their rights during the pandemic? How does the Covid-19 pandemic enable some states to target LGBTQ people? This essay attempts to discuss these questions.
The pandemic once again demonstrated the enormous challenges faced by people who identify as LGBTQ. Compared to the pre-pandemic period, the difficulties of LGBTQ community members were exacerbated during Covid-19, both in authoritarian and democratic regimes across the world. The economic crisis caused by the pandemic as strongly influenced sexual minority group members further deepening the pre-pandemic inequalities. They are one among the several groups that suffer from difficulties in economic security and workforce participation. (Medina & Mahowald, 2021). While the world is stuck in the health crisis, officials in some countries are “capitalizing on the crisis by removing LGBTQ rights, weaponizing lockdown restrictions against members of this community, and neglecting those who cannot access government support because of their identity” (Strudwick, 2020).
Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban passed new executive orders to increase his power and introduced a new law to terminate gender recognition. According to the proposed legislation, all documentations Hungarians carry will have gender information based on sex assigned at birth. (Strudwick, 2020) Similar legislation is proposed in Puerto Rico. The proposed civil code seeks to keep sex assigned at birth. (LambdaLegal, 2020).
Even in the US, LGBTQ+ individuals were targeted by policy. The Trump administration attempted to weaken LBGT protections. (Thoreson, 2021) The pandemic made sexual minorities more likely to face domestic violence. As reported in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, the stay-at-home orders have led to an increase of domestic violence in the United States. This is alarming for the LGBTQ members, as they are the likely targets of domestic violence. In particular, advocacy groups report “Transgender victims experience hate crimes and physical violence at a greater rate.” (Cited in Chew, 2021)
To make matters worse, LGBTQ community members are more likely to face interpersonal violence during the Covid-19 pandemic. The studies have demonstrated that stay-at-home rules have increased the risk of intimate partner violence among LGBTQ people (Stephenson et.al, 2021). In LGBTQ Intimate Partner Violence and Covid-19, Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRC) demonstrates that LGBTQ people are more likely to be victims of intimate partner violence compared to their heterosexual counterparts. (HRC, 2020). HRC director particularly mentioned that “isolated environment, as well as the numerous financial and additional stressors brought by COVID-19, creates an increased risk of intimate partner violence – a risk which is that much higher for LGBTQ people.” (Cited in Kozuch, 2020).
My research attempts to explain the reasons why sexual minorities tend to face violence and human rights abuses during the pandemic. It attempts to unpack the mechanisms that lead to the rise of repression against the LGBTQ community. While previous studies demonstrate different factors might cause discrimination against sexual minorities, my research empirically delineates that the primary reason why states tend to repress LGBTQ people is that they are vulnerable groups and an easy target. Although my research examined LGBTQ+ repression before the pandemic, the insights from it can help explain why states are using the pandemic as a time to pile on rights violations. The research I have conducted about LGBTQ+ repression specifically shows that state leaders view LGBTQ+ as scapegoats during political or economic turmoil. The Covid-19 pandemic is one such a turmoil during which LGBTQ+ repression has been increasing.
Several causal pathways explain why sexual minorities tend to be victim of human rights abuses compared to other ethnic or identity groups. First, the Covid-19 pandemic has put national economies under pressure. In many countries, employment sector has collapsed. Unable to resolve economic downturns because of the health crisis, state leaders tend to look for scapegoats and divert public attention from the economic sector. Sexual minorities are easy targets for government, since they lack the capability to participate in collective action against government, to press it for reforms on gay rights. Compared to ethnic groups, sexual minorities don’t possess the means to threaten the government. Thus, state leaders attempt to accomplish their political goals by limiting LGBTQ rights.
Moreover, my research contends that sexual minorities are more likely to be victims of state repression when mainstream society is conservative. State leaders tend to scapegoat LGBTQ people when there is massive resistance against the improvement of gay rights in a given country. This helps officials to improve their declining reputation by portraying themselves as the protector of traditional and sometimes “national” values. For instance, when Turkish students protested against Turkish President Erdogan’s educational policies, he attempted to link the protests to LGBTQ community. Portraying different groups as part of sexual minorities helps regimes to easily attack their challengers. Repressing sexual minorities allowed President Erdogan to address his strong conservative religious base and present himself as the protector of “national and spiritual values.” (Simon, 2020)
Thus, while sexual minorities have faced different human rights abuses around the world for some different reasons, evidence demonstrates that the primary factor why they have been the victims of repression and abuse is their vulnerability and the lack of capacity to generate collective action against government. This provides state leaders significant freedom to capitalize on the Covid-19 health crisis and limit LGBTQ rights to achieve their political goals.
 By sexual minorities, this blog post refers to all LGBTQ group members.
Stephenson, R., Chavanduka, T. M., Rosso, M. T., Sullivan, S. P., Pitter, R. A., Hunter, A. S., & Rogers, E. (2021). CoViD-19 and the risk for increased intimate partner violence among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men in the United States. Journal of interpersonal violence, 0886260521997454.
Boserup, B., McKenney, M., & Elkbuli, A. (2020). Alarming trends in US domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine, 38(12), 2753-2755.
Chew, B. (2021, January 23). City Pulse . Retrieved from Rising domestic violence during pandemic worries transgender community: https://lansingcitypulse.com/stories/rising-domestic-violence-during-pandemic-worries-transgender-community,15498
Kozuch, E. (2020, June 25). Report Shows LGBTQ People are More Likely to be Victims of Interpersonal Violence During COVID-19. Retrieved from Human Rights Campaign : https://www.hrc.org/press-releases/report-shows-lgbtq-people-are-more-likely-to-be-victims-of-interpersonal-vi
LambdaLegal. (2020, March 3). Puerto Rico Can't Turn Back the Clock on Trans Rights. Retrieved from https://www.lambdalegal.org/blog/20200303_pr-amendments-to-code-violate-constitution
Human Rights Campaign Foundation (2020). LGBTQ Intimate Partner Violence And Covid-19. https://assets2.hrc.org/files/assets/resources/Intimate-Partner-Violence-Report-2020.pdf?_ga=2.209212114.1319120152.1618095734-79559665.1618095734
Medina, C., & Mahowald, L. (2021, February 11). Center for American Progress . Retrieved from Lessening the Pandemic’s Burden on LGBTQ Workers and Families: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/lgbtq-rights/news/2021/02/11/495675/lessening-pandemics-burden-lgbtq-workers-families/
Simon, C. (2020, October 8). Battle for LGBTQ rights amid the pandemic. Retrieved from The Harvard Gazette: https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2020/10/a-global-look-at-how-covid-19-has-affected-lgbtq-activism/
Strudwick, P. (2020, April 18). A New Law Will End Gender Recognition. Now Trans People Are Speaking Out. Retrieved from BuzzFeed : https://www.buzzfeed.com/patrickstrudwick/coronavirus-hungary-trans-rights
Strudwick, P. (2020, May 13). LGBTQ People Have Become The New Scapegoats For The Coronavirus. Retrieved from BuzzFeed: https://www.buzzfeed.com/patrickstrudwick/coronavirus-lgbtq-scapegoats-south-korea-uganda-hungary
Thoreson, R. (2021, January 8). Trump Administration Again Weakens LGBT Protections. Retrieved from Human Rights Watch : https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/01/08/trump-administration-again-weakens-lgbt-protections