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Statement by Victor-Madrigal Borloz, UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity at the 75th UN General Assembly

This year, we have faced – and will continue to face for the foreseeable future - an unprecedented global challenge, as the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities prevalent in all regions of the world. The report I presented to the General Assembly exactly one year ago focused on the social inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender-diverse persons. On that occasion, I presented my findings and highlighted that LGBT persons are disproportionately represented in the ranks of the poor, people experiencing homelessness, and those without access to healthcare. The sobering picture painted in the canvass of that report, announcing without knowing it that those very factors would make LGBT persons, communities and populations particularly vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19.

In March, soon after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, I started a process of dialogue about its impact on LGBT persons. In the following months, I continued to convene consultations and keep an open channel of communication with civil society leaders, scholars, government officials and human rights defenders. In total, over 1,000 individuals from more than 100 countries contributed anecdotal evidence, statistical data and systemic research and analysis on the implications of the pandemic on LGBT persons.

Information received corroborates that the response to the pandemic reproduces and exacerbates the patterns of discrimination, social exclusion and violence already identified in my previous work. The existence of criminalization laws, for example, further exposes LGBT persons to police abuse and arbitrary arrest or detention and deters them from fully accessing aid programs and services put in place by States. While contributing to social isolation recommendations by staying at home, LGBT children, youths and elders are forced to endure prolonged exposure to unaccepting family members, which aggravates rates of domestic violence, physical and emotional abuse, as well as damage to mental health. In many jurisdictions, LGBT persons overwhelmingly rely on informal economies heavily affected by COVID-19 restrictions. The reallocation of health resources has also intensified shortages of antiretrovirals for those living with HIV and impacted the ability of trans men and women to receive hormonal therapy or gender-affirming care.

The pandemic has also created a context conducive to increased persecution. Hate speech inciting violence against LGBT persons has been on the rise, including discourse by prominent political or religious leaders blaming the pandemic on the existence of LGBT persons. Some States have also enacted measures which intentionally target LGBT persons under the guise of public health.

In light of these findings, I am convinced that the crafting of efficient and effective solutions to our current problems must address the reality that certain persons, communities or populations are at a disadvantage when facing the fallout and the impact of the pandemic. To that end, I issued a set of guidelines to ensure that measures designed to respond and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic are free from violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This set of recommendations is a roadmap to improving the lives of LGBT people even after we overcome this moment of crisis, as we aspire to build a better world than the one we had when the pandemic started.

 To achieve that, it is imperative that States ensure:

  • Acknowledgement that LGBT persons are everywhere - and that they are hard-hit by the pandemic;
  • Support to the work of LGBT civil society and human rights defenders - and continue to learn from their significant achievements;
  • Protection from violence and discrimination to LGBT persons in the pandemic context - and actively prosecute perpetrators;
  • (that) Indirect discrimination is assessed as a real and significant risk - one which exacerbates stigmatization against LGBT persons;
  • Representation of LGBT persons in the process of design, implementation and evaluation of COVID-19 specific measures - and that their voices are reflected in policies;
  • (that) Evidence concerning the impact of COVID-19 on LGBT persons is gathered - while following standards of good practices.

In closing, I want to once again acknowledge the work of activists, human rights defenders and civil society organizations, which already operated under duress before the pandemic, but have continued to pursue their mission and accomplish impactful work. Over the last five decades, LGBT organizations have forged a complex system of early warning, data gathering, emergency relief, advocacy and follow-up, and have built a sense of community. That system is of profound value to the lives of LGBT persons, as it has demonstrated its unique capacity to effectively and efficiently respond to needs at the most intimate and local levels. That system has also been instrumental in the unique global alliances created to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic; to ensure recognition of the rights of LGBT persons as human rights; and to initiate social transformation of unprecedented depth and width by promoting the inclusion of LGBT persons in education, health, employment, housing and all other realms of society.

The history of LGBT persons, like others subjected to discrimination and violence, has been one of suffering, endurance and hope - a vital struggle for freedom and equality in the face of singular adversity. Today, I call upon State to listen to the particular concerns of LGBT persons, address their needs in the response and recovery plans of the pandemic, respect their expertise over their own lives and communities, and accept their solidarity in the construction of new realities of freedom and equality for humankind.

Thank you.