A post-pandemic world could be one in which LGBTIQ people are healthier, more connected and better respected. It could also be the opposite. According to Rodney Croome that depends on the choices we make now.
Epidemics bring out the best and worst in us. We saw that with HIV, and we see it again with COVID-19.
New Zealand has led the world with a strong, compassionate and inclusive response. However, the Hungarian Prime Minister used the pandemic as an excuse to violate transgender human rights.
Where LGBTIQ Australians find ourselves in a post-pandemic world depends on what we do right now.
Elderly people are not the only at-risk group for COVID-19.
All groups with below-average health outcomes are at greater risk of serious illness and death. Therefore, the disease poses a significant risk for Indigenous people, people with disability and low-income earners,
It also endangers LGBTIQ people who already experience higher rates of physical and mental health problems because of minority stress.
Indeed, LGBTIQ people are more likely to experience precisely the pre-existing conditions COVID-19 experts say most increase risk of serious illness and death. Diabetes, pre-diabetes, smoking, other substance use, stress and suppressed immunity are all major health issues in our communities.
Exacerbating the vulnerability of LGBTIQ people is continuing discrimination in the health care system. That can deter us from accessing the services we need.
COVID-19 underlines the long-term structural health problems faced by the LGBTIQ community and focuses our attention on solving them.
Given the health risks I have outlined, and given governments have finally realised health care needs better funding, there is the potential to solve the chronic under-funding LGBTIQ health and support services have faced for decades.
Therefore, LGBTIQ community leaders must act now. We must ensure our health services have the resources they need to address underlying systemic health problems.
With every new government health initiative, we must make the case for funding specifically addressing LGBTIQ health needs.
As physical isolation ramps up, governments will soon seek new and more effective ways to foster social connection.
We must ensure these initiatives are inclusive of LGBTIQ people and also recognise our particular needs.
Many LGBTIQ people experienced social isolation and disconnection from family and community long before the pandemic.
Isolation has been a particular problem for LGBTIQ people who are young, old or part of rural or faith communities.
We know from decades of psychological studies that isolation and disconnection are key contributors to the higher rates of anxiety, depression, alcohol and substance abuse, self-harm and suicide that a disproportionate number of LGBTIQ people experience.
This situation will now become worse. We’ve already seen the closure of venues, clubs and support groups. Potentially some online news and discussion sites will follow.
But the impact of measures to contain the pandemic can run even deeper than that.
Current restriction echo old anti-LGBTIQ laws
For some LGBTIQ people, COVID-19-related restrictions on embracing, kissing and who we spend the night with, as important as these restrictions are right now, echo old laws and attitudes that punished us for who we loved.
For too many of us, the silence on corona-cleared streets fortifies an inner silence where love, connection and a sense of belonging should be.
Into this silence and sense of isolation easily seep old, familiar feelings of self-loathing and thoughts of self-destruction.
The job of community representatives is to build a new infrastructure of community support. We can utilise both conventional and new media. Indeed, we must use every tool at our disposal.
Additionally, this new infrastructure must achieve what previously proved difficult. Forthwith, it must reach those LGBTIQ people without an existing connection to their queer kin.
Three cheers to community organisations across the nation for reaching out to LGBTIQ community members. The QNews LIVE Facebook live events are a good example.
But if we are to reach those most in need, we have to persuade governments to provide the required resources as part of their broader campaigns to re-establish social connection.
Law reform and human rights
I hope the world will emerge post-pandemic with its faith in science and community restored and its flirtation with delusion and authoritarianism over.
If that is the case, LGBTIQ people can expect readier acceptance of important reforms. We need a ban on conversion practices, legal recognition of transgender folk and an end to discrimination opt-outs for religious organisations. We also need to see the gay blood ban consigned to history.
I particularly hope we won’t hear anything more about the Religious Freedom Bill and the license it gives for anti-LGBTIQ discrimination.
Experts like Alastair Lawrie argue persuasively that if the Bill was now law it would worsen the pandemic’s impact. LGBTIQ community leaders should amplify that message.
Fortunately, some extremist pastors and priests already demonstrated that by declaring they have the ‘religious freedom’ to hold services against the advice of health experts. They thereby put their parishioners —and the wider community — at risk.
These religious outliers hobble the entire ‘religious freedom’ project by exposing it for what it really is, the legitimisation of harm.
Corresponding to my hopes is my fear the pandemic will give rise to panic, resentment and hatred directed at LGBTIQ Australians as already directed at Chinese Australians and at LGBTIQ people overseas.
Or worse, COVID-19 could give governments cover to permanently roll back the human rights protections and democratic values that minorities depend on.
We must prepare to respond to any signs of hate crime strongly, proudly, and with influential allies at our side, rather than wait for it to happen.
We must take part in the growing movement to restore democratic oversight to government decisions on our health and economy.
Us, here, now
The world we knew until a few weeks ago is gone. The post-pandemic world could be a significant improvement for LGBTIQ Australians, or it could be much worse.
Which, depends on our preparedness to make our hopes real and stare down the challenges we may face.
Never has the chance for such profound change presented itself.
It is up to us, here, now to make sure that the change post-pandemic is for the better.
Join Rodney Croome at QNews LIVE this Wednesday at 2 pm.
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