Published: Tuesday 29 June 2021

BY Sudarshana Chakraborty

Pride month and the pandemic. Photo: Ambadyanands / Wikimedia Commons

Over the years, Pride celebrations have become a symbol of protest against discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual identity, state repression and criminalising homosexuality. India was no exception. 

June marks the Pride month for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and allied (LGBTQIA+) community across the globe.

But amid the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, it also will also highlight the fact that the community, especially those who are visibly queer like the transgender people, remained at the bottom of the priority list of healthcare measures.

Voices from the margins

The last one and half years of pandemic have laid bare the government’s negligence towards the basic healthcare needs of the marginalised LGBTQIA+ community, which are closely related to their livelihood and social existence.

The transgender community, specifically, has a very little access to healthcare services and the pandemic made it more difficult for accessing COVID-19 and general health services.

The livelihood options have dried up during the pandemic, Disha Pinky Shaikh, a dalit transgender activist from Maharashtra said, adding:

“The reality is that we are struggling to survive. In our community many of us who don’t have Aadhar cards are facing problems to get tested for COVID-19. If a transgender person is tests positive, neither are there hospital wards or shelters to quarantine for them. In a country where an LPG gas cylinder costs Rs 850, how will the Centre’s Rs 1,500 one time allowance for us help?”

This cash allowance has only been provided to about one per cent of the transgender community, said Meera Sanghamitra, a transgender rights activist and convener of the National Alliance of People’s movement. “Access to food has become such a severe crisis as many transgender people still do not have access to entitlements like social security and ration cards.”

The government was slow in ramping up healthcare system and should provide healthcare, access to nutritious food and basic minimum livelihood support, Sanghamitra added.

Many from the community feel since they are facing exclusion from the social fabric, a sudden inclusion during the pandemic will not serve their purpose. They would rather avail special government services like getting vaccinated on a priority basis, getting free ration and medicines for the underprivileged within the community, separate infrastructure at government COVID-19 hospitals and doctors trained to treat them.

Nobody is able to guide us with the vaccination protocols for the trans persons undergoing who are hormone treatments, Aparna Banerjee, an LGBTQIA+ rights activist and representative of the traditional Hijra community, said, adding:

The LGBTQIA+ community faced immense domestic violence during lockdown, people’s orientation is being exposed, there is violence in the inter-personal relations also. Where are the shelter homes? The queer people are facing layoffs first at their workplaces.

Like every celebration, Pride will also have a part of protest in it because we have got everything only on paper and nothing is in real life, Banerjee added.

But such nuanced critique and dialogue gets lost in the Pride celebrations, said Anindya Hajra, LGBTQIA+ rights activist and founder of Pratyay Gender Trust, Kolkata. “I believe that conversation can be built and is already being built into several spaces. There is a lot of obfuscation of facts.”

There are claims of mass vaccination and free vaccination programmes and a lot of this credit building is concentrated in the domain of the state authorities, Hajra added.

It will be better if corporates that take part in the Pride celebrations hand out reimbursement for vaccination rather than rainbow-coloured goodies, according to Dr Sneha Rooh, a palliative physician and a LGBTQIA+ rights activist. Rooh added:

Even a simple survey of doctors in COVID-19 wards will show that not many transgender people turned up fir treatment. So, how many transgender people could access COVID-19 care? Are the governments taking extra steps? The government and private healthcare sector should provide sensitivity training to their ground staff.

West Bengal has a Transgender Development Board. During the second wave of COVID-19, the transgender community was included in the state’s list of beneficiaries who should get the vaccines on a priority basis.

During the first wave, one government COVID-19 facility had introduced four beds for the transgender persons but there is still no separate wards for them.

The state government and the West Bengal Transgender Development Board should keep proper data and information to address the exact problems like the physical and mental violence faced by the community, said Kolika Mitra, member of the West Bengal Transgender Development Board and member of Sappho for Equality.

“Members of the community are forced to be confined in extremely violent families and homes as many are out of work. This pandemic is snatching away their right to live a life free of violence and the government is paying no attention to this.”

Disabled trans people have it worse

The central government announced a budget of crores of rupees for COVID-19 care but did not include the transgender community and the disabled in that.

Kiran Kavya, a transgender person and disability rights activist, said:

“A transgender person is facing multi-level problems in this pandemic such as migration, renting a place to live. And if someone is trans and disabled then the challenges are double. A disabled person dependent on others may be denied treatment for being trans. I don’t think this is the time for celebration. This is the time to place our demands to the central government. How can we celebrate when our trans people are dying? How can we celebrate when our disabled people don’t have food?

The country’s legislature considers the healthcare issues of the LGBTQIA+ community of lesser priority that can wait even during a pandemic, Rakhshit Malik, a visually impaired student preparing for his Phd who writes and speaks on the issue of intersectionality of disability and sexuality, said.

Malik recalled a recent incident where a petitioner from the queer community appealed for adequate health measures for the community in a state’s high court and the court replied that it has prior issues in hand to resolve.

“The corporates are getting their employees vaccinated within their own spaces but there is no recognition of the queers. Do the unions include queer voices under their umbrella of demands?” Malik said.

Malik highlighted the need to ensure that the community itself is not marginalising some sections like the disabled. The queer who are not disabled are not celebrating Pride with those who are queer and disabled, just like the non-queer are not celebrating with the queers, Malik added.

courtesy Down ToEarth