For the first time in the history of the sexual non-conformity and diversity movements in the Americas, LGBTIQ+ Pride marches have been cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this has not prevented organizations, groups, leaders and people who defend LGBTIQ+ rights from organizing a series of activities – the vast majority online – to send messages of solidarity and hope, as well as forceful demands to states. Now more than ever, the voices of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, transvestite, intersex and queer people must be heard, and organizations that support them in the struggle for respect for their human rights must make an ever greater commitment to urge governments in the region to fulfil their international obligations.
In the past two decades, there has been significant progress on the LGBTIQ+ rights agenda in legislation and public policy in some countries in the Americas. These advances range from laws that end the grotesque criminalization of same-sex relationships, combat discrimination and guarantee gender identity, to the recognition of equality for same-sex couples regarding marriage and adoption in some countries in the region. However, this progress is not due to initiatives spearheaded by the state, but the result of the determination and struggle of LGBTIQ+ movements, often supported by other resistance movements, such as feminist, student or anti-racist movements. The LGBTIQ+ movements themselves have evolved in recent decades and have embraced new identities and forms of expression.
Despite the progress and the historic significance of Pride month, LGBTIQ+ people in the region continue to face numerous forms of exclusion, inequality and violence, largely arising from the systematic failure of states to guarantee their rights and respond to their needs. We cannot ignore the fact that, in the context of the current pandemic, LGBTIQ+ people are at greater risk of having their rights violated because governments have failed to offer a comprehensive response to a range of complex challenges that exacerbate social inequalities and problems.
Despite the progress and the historic significance of Pride month, LGBTIQ+ people in the region continue to face numerous forms of exclusion, inequality and violence, largely arising from the systematic failure of states to guarantee their rights and respond to their needs
With the governments of the region focused on trying to respond to the health emergency caused by COVID-19, Amnesty International is concerned that the establishment of mechanisms to implement policies and programmes that ensure comprehensive support for LGBTIQ+ people in such a difficult context is being sidelined. One of the most pressing outstanding issues is the lack of an effective response by states to the increase in cases of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation, identity and gender expression.
In 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights warned that despite the measures adopted by states to prevent and mitigate violence against LGBTI people in the region, high rates of violence and discrimination, including hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, persisted in many countries in the region and in some they were on the rise. Likewise, in its Annual Report 2019 Amnesty International documented a serious worsening of the situation regarding the rights of LGBTIQ+ people in countries such as El Salvador, Honduras, Jamaica, Paraguay, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, the USA, Uruguay and Venezuela.
In terms of the right to health, the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced the capacity of health systems to provide services specifically aimed at LGBTIQ+ people promptly. This has been the case, for example with the lack of hormone replacement therapies for trans women, of sexual health services and of access to and opportunity for antiretroviral treatment for people living with HIV – another pandemic that for almost four decades has had a significant impact on gay men and trans women in the region. In addition to this, it is important to remember that persistent discrimination in health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, places LGBTIQ+ people in a situation of increased risk situation as regards COVID-19.
In addition, the economic impact of the pandemic has begun to make itself apparent in unemployment rates in a region where the chances of accessing decent employment were particularly limited for the trans population, as well as for sexually diverse individuals even before COVID-19. Unless public policies include training programmes and initiatives to ensure their inclusion in the labour market, it will be difficult for LGBTIQ+ people to earn livelihoods that guarantee them an adequate standard of living.
We will not rest until full recognition of the human rights of LGBTIQ+ people and their right to live in dignity become the norm.
Finally, it is important to emphasize that, although in political discourse LGBTIQ+ people are seen as a cohesive group in the fight for their rights, many face diverse realities and multiple forms of discrimination that place them in situations of extreme danger and at risk of human rights violations. This is the case of LGBTIQ+ migrants and refugees who have left their countries fleeing from situations of violence and persecution or in search of better life opportunities; people with diverse sexual orientation, identity or gender expression who belong to Indigenous Peoples and rural communities and who experience greater violence and discrimination in their communities; as well as people who are incarcerated and who face segregation and a higher risk of violence in prison facilities.
Five decades after the first public demonstrations of struggle and pride in sexual non-conformity, LGBTIQ+ people face many complex human rights challenges, which are becoming more acute in the context of the pandemic. However, this situation also represents an opportunity to bolster activism and strengthen alliances between networks, organizations and groups expressing sexual diversity. LGBTIQ+ people and human rights defenders who support them in their fight continue to resist and to demand, from our lockdown and virtual spaces, that states listen and hear their voices. We will not rest until full recognition of the human rights of LGBTIQ+ people and their right to live in dignity become the norm.