By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
LOCAL LGBTI activists say the restrictions implemented by the government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus have left members of their community particularly vulnerable to domestic violence and other social issues.
This comes after a new report from LGBTIQ human-rights organisation Outright Action International found that challenges faced by the community have been amplified as a result of the virus compared to the wider population.
Saying the pandemic has disrupted the lives of many in the marginalised community, local activist Erin Greene told The Tribune yesterday that the COVID-19 emergency orders have exacerbated existing issues like domestic violence and the ability to find living accommodations.
She said: “We know that a number of issues members of the community have already been dealing with are exacerbated by the state of emergency and the lockdowns and curfews in response to COVID.
“In particular, members of the community who would be deemed homeless or unhoused and couch surfers are now having an even (more) difficult time finding places to live and maintaining safe space in the lockdowns.
“Some have been forced to return to homes with abusive family members…and then we have the employment issue.”
In an effort to prevent the spread of the infectious virus, in March the government ordered businesses to close their offices and mandate employees work from home, except for essential employees where needed.
However, on Sunday, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis amended the order, announcing businesses that are able to provide delivery services and curbside pickup will be allowed to operate weekly from 8am-5pm. Businesses in the hospitality sector, such as hotels, have also laid people off due to the travel shutdown.
Ms Greene said the restrictions have forced usually independent LGBT members to find other means of income for support.
“People with minimal support systems because of stigma and discrimination within the community and within family networks relied on their own steam and employment to support themselves and now being unemployed, they have very little to fall back on,” she said.
“Many members of the community are involved in informal employment and so not (readily) can they access NIB and that’s a problem as well. A lot of members in the community would support themselves by selling food informally and services like that.”
She continued: “So, it has been problematic and for members of the community that may have been engaging in sex work for support, that stream of income is practically shut down and they’re not viable for state support services.”
Another LGBTI activist, Alexis D’Marco, made similar comments to The Tribune, adding that some people have even been experiencing symptoms of anxiety due to job uncertainty amid the pandemic.
“We’re working with (a psychologist) to line up some psychosocial support for our community with her via Zoom sessions and based on the social distancing, she was able to do some one-on-one, so we do have some of our community members who have expressed that and are trying to seek help.”
She said that the pandemic has not disrupted the community’s access to healthcare.
“We have a good relationship with the Ministry of Health and the HIV department in the Ministry of Health, so we have, which is my organisation - the Demarco Organisation - that we actually take meds and we do meds pickups for members of our community who are HIV positive,” she noted.
“So, it is not a disruption that they cannot access the healthcare systems that are needed.”
The main concern, Ms Demarco said, is ensuring that LBGTI people “who are living in hostile environments” have access to food and other essential items.
“The priority right now is food,” she said. “We are trying to be the mediator between our community and the government agency so that’s where we’re at right now so there’s nobody being left behind.
“. . .We never knew that most of our LGBTI people had difficulties accessing healthcare, accessing education, living below the poverty line, all of these issues, we never did a study on LGTBI communities, knowing that they are a part of our vulnerable communities.
“So, I think right now COVID has opened everybody’s eyes to the real issues that we face here,” she said.