Breaking the Silence on LGBTI Rights

17 May 2020

It is often the case that those whose voices are silenced have to work the hardest to break through and be heard. Yet communities who have to fight hard to be heard adapt quickly to new challenges.

Many of the measures imposed to control the spread of Coronavirus have resulted in significant changes in our lives. David Isaac, Chair of EHRCAs many countries all over the world are still in some form of lockdown, a new-found silence has emerged onto our streets, into our homes and work and into places of worship, recreation and learning.

For some, this quietude has been a welcome chance to reflect or listen- especially to the birdsong not usually heard because of traffic noise. But sometimes silence can be deafening as well as isolating. For many Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex people, silence is neither a new nor welcome companion.  Sadly many of us have found ourselves silenced by fear, shame, stigma or discrimination, either in the past or during the current crisis.

It is often the case that those whose voices are silenced have to work the hardest to break through and be heard. Yet communities who have to fight hard to be heard adapt quickly to new challenges. References are already being made to the similarities that exist between how LGBTI people came together to respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 90s – and how communities are mobilising during the current Covid19 crisis. Certainly, many LGBTI organisations and communities have responded to the current pandemic in innovative ways. Events that bring communities together to share experiences and expertise have seamlessly moved online, but so too have other initiatives aimed at reducing isolation and improving mental health and wellbeing.

It is important to recognise that however valuable these developments are they are entirely dependent on an individual’s ability to access support and on the continued viability of the organisations to provide it.

Across the Commonwealth, LGBTI people face numerous barriers to access support in their countries, whether as a result of criminalisation and widespread discrimination, or through economic disadvantage and social isolation. The importance of face-to-face outreach and service delivery – and the human connection it provides to the most marginalised in society – cannot be underestimated. Neither can the risks posed to LGBTI people when existing forms of support are reduced or lost entirely as a result of the crisis. For this reason, it is vital that those who can continue to provide their support and continue to lend their voices and influence.

National Human Rights Institutions recognise the unique factors that impact the safety and wellbeing of LGBTI people across the globe. Responses to the Covid19 pandemic must never be used as an excuse by those in power to enact discriminatory policies, perpetuate stereotypes, or perpetrate acts of violence against LGBTI people in the name of public health.   Indeed it is the duty of National Human Rights Institutions to monitor and report on human rights to ensure that states are held accountable for their actions. We know that the rights of LGBTI people are often intersectional, and are sometimes closely connected to other groups who are disproportionately vulnerable and likely to be impacted by the virus – such as women and children, older people and people with disabilities.

We are therefore working with partners in government, industry and civil society to ensure that the rights of LGBTI people and communities are not deprioritised, that organisations providing essential services and support are adequately funded, and that existing inequalities are not exacerbated by new measures responding specifically to the crisis. Furthermore, we are collaborating to establish approaches that place people and rights at the forefront of policymaking, service delivery and responses to the virus.

In order to enhance these approaches, the power of our networking has never been more important. Networks like the Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions bring together human rights experts from around the world to share intelligence and improve collective action to protect and enhance human rights both locally and internationally.

We know that there is still much more to be done to protect LGBTI rights at home and across the Commonwealth. However, today we are proud to join the many organisations marking International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia, and to lend our voice to help break the silence and end stigma and discrimination against LGBTI people in all its forms. As we continue to struggle with the global challenges posed by Covid19, the works of national human rights institutions becomes more important than ever.

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