How do you come together, when you’re not allowed to share the same space?

This is an opinion piece by
Tuisina Ymania Brown and Luz Elena Aranda (ILGA World)
and Joel Bedos, May17.org

A condensed version of this article was published on Openly

COVID-19 has imposed on LGBTI people an unprecedented dual reality – the need for community clashing with the imposed necessity for social distancing – when in fact LGBTI people have been victims of the most extreme forms of social, legal and religious distancing known to humane societies for millennia.

And what a contrast that is as we are only one month away from the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (or IDAHOBIT)! Every May 17, our global community comes together to draw the attention of the world to the realities of people with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, and sex characteristics. It is a day to call out human rights violations that we keep facing every day, but also a moment of global pride and hope which has been celebrated in over 130 countries over the years. What will become of this day in 2020, as COVID-19 is pulling us apart?

This year, the global theme on May 17 is “Breaking the Silence”, and the coronavirus disease has made it all the more relevant: our communities will not have the chance to physically gather together in one of the few moments of the year where they can do so safely because of the media attention to official IDAHOBIT events.

Understandably, COVID-19 is front and center in every conversation right now. However, more appallingly, it is also being actively used by some governments to erode human rights protections through increased surveillance. Whilst we understand the priority of governments and states in dealing with COVID-19 and its effects, this cannot ever be used as an excuse to sideline LGBTI persons and their allies as they continually push for a world that is truly free and equal for all.

Around the world, LGBTI organisations are at the frontlines
of providing support to our communities on the ground,
and COVID-19 hasn’t eased or stopped these humanitarian efforts

Around the world, LGBTI organisations are at the frontlines of providing support to our communities on the ground, and COVID-19 hasn’t eased or stopped these humanitarian efforts. Their extraordinary work has given us amazing stories of resilience rooted in yet-uncharted territories: emergency survival funds and community initiatives being set up and running, catering for the needs of those in need for food and shelter, thinking of those who have been left without social protections and risk turning to more precarious and dangerous situations to survive.

Consultations were moved from physical to virtual spaces, entire offices quickly recalibrated and reorganised to continue working remotely, and activists found new, creative and safe ways to keep up contacts with the most isolated.

All around us, spontaneous acts of kindness are spreading just as fast as the despair they are trying to counter. To the fearmongering voices that are pitting communities against one another, we have responded by looking out for each other, in our own capacity, offering what we can – whether it’s a little or a lot.  This is perhaps the most surprising effect of all this social distancing – that these unprecedented times have actually pushed us closer, allowing us to find solidarity in our solace.

Communities are where we gather our strength,
and May 17 has always been a moment to celebrate our global LGBTI family connecting us across our differences.All of this is now more important than ever

It has always been clear that communities are where we gather our strength from, and May 17 has always been a moment to celebrate our global LGBTI family connecting us across our differences, elevating our visibility knowing that we are not alone, and collectively resisting lesbophobia, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and interphobia.

All of this is now more important than ever, because whilst our communities are especially vulnerable  – all of them in unique ways –  we also have a lot to offer to ourselves and to the whole world using our resilience, our imagination, our ability to come together and help each other out.

We know all too well how our LGBTI persons can face unique challenges during health and economic crises. These past few weeks have already given us many examples of how stigma, discriminatory legislation and prejudice rear their ugly heads even higher in times like this, especially against the most marginalised amongst us.

Our experiences have taught us how to overcome social isolation through our communities and chosen families: this is a truly precious gift, a wisdom that everyone could benefit from in these special days.  And we also know that especially now, when we are surrounded by darkness, we must always remember that we will always have each other, and even the smallest of gestures can make a difference.

If you can, please consider donating to COVID-19 survival funds, including those supporting LGBTI persons and those who don’t have a safe home or space to practice self-isolation and social distancing. Check in with others in your local communities to see how you can be there for them.

If you have words of support, join the ILGA World #inthistogether campaign: they will become postcards that will create an outpour of positive messages for LGBTI people on social media.

If you are planning  a community event on May 17, here you can find ideas to keep the action happening despite the lockdowns.

Most important of all: please let us remember that whilst COVID-19 will not affect LGBTI communities equally, we are all connected. We are all a part of one LGBTI community, and we are all a part of one human race.  What better opportunity for us all to consider our renewed awareness and act in a small way to shape a new world, to join our voices with our allies and communities at large to break the silence!

On May 17, tens of thousands of us LGBTI persons will speak up.
We will take up virtual spaces, we will amplify voices and we will send a message loud and clear to our world:  we, the LGBTI communities, will not be left behind any longer.


This is our call to the world and its leaders: please listen to the cries of hope and solidarity from our community to yours, and together we can survive and thrive during and after COVID-19.