The urgent context derived from the COVID-19 pandemic in Colombia has given way to various reflections about the forms of inequality that LGBTI population face and flare up during crises like the one today.
With more than 3,000 cases in Colombia, Laura Poveda, a Colombian consultant for Race and Equality’s LGBTI Program notes: “It is clear that structural and systematic discrimination in aspects such as health, work, education, among other scenarios, entails unequal conditions from the start in the face of the effects of the pandemic and the measures for its containment.”
Given the lack of official figures that account for the level of access to the rights of LGBTI people in the country, the foundation Arcoiris de Tumaco has set about carrying out a census in the municipality of Tumaco, Nariño, to find out the conditions of employment and access to public services that gays, lesbians, and transsexuals have in the southeast region of the country.
The difficulty in accessing employment, due to social discrimination structures, forces most LGBTI people to resort to informal work as a way of obtaining an income. Due to reason and given the current isolation measures, this has become the main concern for the LGBTI population.
The situation of trans people who who are sex workers is also viewed with particular concern. As organizations such as the Trans Community Network and Calle 7 Colombia have denounced, “sex workers are directly affected by the health crisis since many live day to day and cannot go out to work, therefore have been left without a roof over their heads during quarantine and have been forced to live on the streets.“ Furthermore, the situation also means that many are not enrolled in the health system, which increases the uncertainty of access to urgent care services, adds the LGBTI program consultant for Race and Equality.
In the educational field, the Cali based organization Somos Identidad notes that options offered by educational institutions for the continuation of classes via technological tools critically affects and does not recognize conditions of poverty, the lack of access to computers, and internet service to students, especially those who identify as afro-LGBTI.
Measures to counter the emergency can exacerbate violence and discrimination
The national government has taken security measures, including the militarization of different territories and the implementation of curfews which jeopardize the integrity of LGBTI people. As evidenced by the attacks by the National Police on two trans migrant women and registered sex workers, during the month of March in the city of Bogotá, as well as the attack on a trans woman in the city of Medellín. In addition, on Wednesday March 25, the social and LGBT activist, Jhon Restrepo, suffered a brutal attack in the course of a social assistance activity due to the health emergency in the Esfuerzos de Paz neighborhood of Comuna 8 in Medellín.
“Another aspect to take into account in the face of the crisis is that, although the isolation measures turn out to be the best option to prevent the spread of the virus, homes can become a threat to LGBT people”, Poveda points out. She continues by noting that the situation of LBT women is especially worrisome because, as the Corporation Caribe Afirmativo and the Triangle Foundation have reported: “in this emergency context, the rates of violence against women have increased, due to tensions at home and episodes of lgbtphobia.”
Furthermore, there is added concern among LGBTI organizations throughout the country about the decree issued by the Mayor of Bogotá. The decree was replicated days later in the city of Cartagena, through which the “pico y género” measure was implemented to control the days men and women can leave the house, allowing men to go out on odd days of the week and women on even days. “Although the document is clear in pointing out that people with diverse gender identities will be able to leave their homes on the day that is designated to the gender with which they most identify, multiple attacks recorded by the National Police against LGBT people in these contexts show that there are no real guarantees to affirm that the trans population, non-binary people and women in general, can move about with security and the guarantee of respect for their fundamental rights, ”states Laura Poveda.
Despite the extensive legal framework that obliges the authorities to guarantee the integrity and rights of LGBTI people, experience has shown that there are still violations of these regulations, which is why many of the attacks on these people continue with complete impunity.
Recommendations to the national government
Due to the worrisome situation that LGBTI people face in the context of the current emergency caused by COVID-19, Race and Equality urges the Colombian State to:
- Involve affected communities, including the LGBT population, in the design and implementation of all response measures to build trust, guarantee adequate and efficient actions, avoid indirect or unintended harm, and guarantee the frequent exchange of information.
- Expedite the response time and improve channels to guarantee timely attention to the needs and human rights violations of LGBTI people during the current pandemic. According to some testimonies, some state’s entities have requested information on urgent care cases for LGBT people, promising them help such as food, shelter, etc. Although these organizations have released data, aid from the state does not arrive, and there is no official information on the terms and conditions under which they would be delivered.
- It is necessary that care and contingency measures be thought of from a human rights approach that respects diversity and the self-recognition of LGBT people, coupled with the urgency of analyzing measures in an intersectional way, including race, immigration, and age, etc. In the case of gender segregation measures, such as the “peak and gender” implemented in Bogotá and Cartagena, we urge these local governments to explore other types of measures that eliminate the risk of aggression and rights violations of LGBT people.
- Coordinate measures with local governments to guarantee access to food, housing, health and sanitation services, and other basic needs of LGBT people.
 Entrevista con Nixon Ortiz, Director de la Fundación Arcoiris de Tumaco.
 Entrevista con Sandra Milena Arizabaleta, Directora de la Fundación Afrodescendiente por las Diversidades Sociales y Sexuales – Somos Identidad.