How is the Covid-19 pandemic affecting LGBTI activism worldwide?

ILGA World is collecting the stories and experiences of our member organisations, who are sharing with our global family how they have re-organised their work and continue to reach out to our LGBTI communities on the ground.

As the World Health Organization reports, the disease was unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China in December 2019. The country has been among those hit hardest by the coronavirus disease: as of 29 April 2020, 83,940 cases were confirmed (sourceJohns Hopkins University and Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center). Now that the country is beyond its dramatic peak, it is time to reflect of how the pandemic has hit on LGBTI persons in the country and impacted advocacy work.

We spoke to the team at Common Language – an ILGA World member working with Chinese communities who suffer from violence and discrimination based on their SOGIE. They told us of weeks where circumstances made community members at heightened risk of domestic violence, and when accessing vital services was particularly difficult. Despite these hard moments, their work has never stopped, and many activities were moved online: “Even more community members (not only those based in Beijing) could attend, which strengthened our reach nationally.”

“Seek out the positives (however small) in this difficult time”, they tell us, “and build on these gems as we adjust to a possible ‘new normal’. Support each other, especially the most vulnerable”.


What is the situation in your country at the moment, and how is it specifically affecting our communities?

China’s COVID-19 situation is largely different from the rest of the world, as the outbreak was experienced earlier and peaked rapidly due to aggressive epidemic control measures. Now that we are at the downhill curve of the pandemic (domestically), we can reflect on some of the ways the pandemic has affected our communities and our advocacy.

As the height of the pandemic outbreak in China was during the Lunar New Year holidays, during which most community members are quarantined with their families, increasing risk of domestic violence. Especially in the Chinese context, most people are with their parents during this time, even adults face risk of domestic violence with no escape if they were to come out (or forced out) during the quaratine period.

During the quarantine period (as well as it coinciding with Lunar New Year holidays), most public services were on break and public/community spaces closed for the holidays, so it became even more difficult for community members to access vital services.

Furthermore, as new surveillance technologies are introduced as part of pandemic control measures, many community members also fear for invasion of privacy amidst an already terrifying time.

After the Lunar New Year holidays ended, we could not immediately resume our work in our office, as is the case with most of our partner organizations as well. Also due to logistical challenges with returning to work (ie. Following strict government-sanctioned pandemic control measures, ensuring adequate PPE supplies, and disinfection protocols for the office), most advocates that cannot return to work can only complete a fraction of our work, dampering progress on advocacy.

As Congress is also suspended and court systems have yet to return to a normal schedule, as well as travel restrictions imposed, it is difficult for us to conduct policy and legal advocacy.

How has your activism changed under these extreme circumstances? How are you re-organising your work, and reaching out to communities on the ground?

While we had to postpone most of our offline activities, we have increased online components of our advocacy and service provision. Most of our offline activities were able to be moved online, which meant even more community members (not only those based in Beijing) could attend, which strengthened our reach nationally.

We’ve also re-allocated time from our postponed work to start more internal capacity-building, especially on innovative topics that interest the team but could not be pursued during our hectic pre-COVID schedules.

During the peak of the epidemic, we also supported our partner organizations based in the epicenter (Hubei Province), adjusting our comprehensive service delivery to accommodate referrals to mental health support as well as our violence internvention and legal counselling work.

Have you got any tips to share with activists from other countries?

Safety first. We realize that often we are eager to return to work and normalcy, but we should only do so when we are confident that we have to the best of our abilities ensured the safety of our staff. It is also absolutely okay to take a break from work and pivot to self-care during this incredibly difficult period.

As the pandemic continues, how do you take selfcare measures?

We also took this time to reflect on our work and self-care strategies. We decided that during this time of uncertainty, it is vital for us to invest time, energy, and resources into developing our organizational strength, both in terms of professional capacity and wellbeing. Since the quarantine period, we’ve instituted a “check-in” during our regular staff meetings for colleagues to vent and offer mutual support.

If you could share one positive message to our global communities at this difficult time, what would it be?

Seek out the positives (however small) in this difficult time and build on these gems as we adjust to a possibly “new normal”. Support each other, especially the most vulnerable members of our communities who experience multiple and intersecting forms of violence and discrimination that is now compounded by COVID.

Would you like to highlight any initiative happening in your country right now to provide support for LGBTI people in immediate need?

As we are already past the peak in terms of the domestic pandemic situation, most of the pressing emergency crisis relief work has ended. Some of the critical work undertaken by our partners who are based in the epicenter areas were truly amazing, including helping community members living with HIV/AIDS collect medicine from designated hospitals (as hospitals no longer received patients for anything other than COVID), and the trans community also formed ad hoc support networks to access hormone replacement therapy which was made especially difficult as postal and courier services were suspended.

Currently, as we are approaching IDAHOTB, we are working on creative and innovative ways to organization our advocacy work in lieu of the offline gatherings we usually hold pre-COVID.


Help is at hand! Check out Common Language’s website to find out more on the support that they can provide.

ILGA World has also created a developing collaborative list of remote working and wellbeing resources, and started a campaign to spread positive messages for LGBTI communities in this difficult time. Join us!