COVID-19 Reports on Latin America and the Caribbean: No. 36 (En Español)
Throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, national states of emergency, permanent lockdowns, ever changing curfews and all-encompassing quarantine measures have tremendously affected and impacted historically marginalized and vulnerable groups, including trans and non-binary communities. In enacting and implementing these measures and policies, governments have at times paid little or no attention whatsoever, whether purposely or not, to trans lives and their livelihoods. The precarious situation in the region prompted the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to call upon all states to guarantee essential rights to all LGBTI people.
In this brief report, I will broadly enumerate a few areas in which we can explicitly observe the severe impact of rapid government actions on trans lives. COVID-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean has exacerbated an already fragile and precarious situation for trans and non-binary communities in the region. Patterns of lack of access to much-needed and affordable health care and basic services, institutionalized violence and fear to report abuses are problems which were already plaguing these communities even before the arrival of COVID-19. With the new normal, there is an unprecedented need for the community to remain together and rely on solidarity more than ever despite in the face of some legislative and political gains this year.
“Pico y Género” Lockdown Threatens Trans Lives
On April 2, 2020, Peru, together with Panama, began restricting movement by gender in a policy called Pico y Género (Peak and Gender in English). Women and men were allowed to leave their houses exclusively on the three days assigned to their gender. No one was allowed to leave their houses on Sundays. This gender-based restrictive policy proved to be controversial with the transgender community notably in Peru where it created a significant amount of confusion and chaos. On April 10th, Peru cancelled the controversial policy. However, Panama has continued its implementation, including when new surges have prompted new restrictive measures. Colombia’s capital city, Bogota has also implemented a similar policy since the end of April and until May 2020. In Colombia, gender-based lockdown measures have returned at different intervals in several other cities.
These failed and discriminatory policies are unfortunately part of a pattern of transphobia which COVID-19 has exacerbated and/or has brought to everyone’s attention: lack of access to health care, harassment by the public as well as police forces, and fear to report any abuses. Pico y Género has been discredited as not effective against preventing the spread of the disease. Instead these gender-based restrictive measures created an untenable and precarious environment for trans people fearing for their lives while trying to obtain and access vital services and basic products.
Lack of Access to Financial, Social and Health Services
COVID-19 is restricting access to health care for many transgender and non-binary people. Due to the rapid developing pandemic and saturation of hospitals and medical facilities, many trans people are fearful of seeking much needed care. Access to HIV and trans-related care is also being restricted, as medical providers prioritize COVID-related care. In some cases, transgender persons are desperately awaiting the restoration of health services. Additionally, the socioeconomic conditions that are insufficient to guarantee a dignified survival affect the capacity of most transgender people to purchase any medication, as well as personal hygiene supplies.
The livelihoods of transgender and non-binary people are being decimated during the pandemic. Discriminatory patterns and policies have prevented them from accessing any safety or financial help provided to other citizens. Due to the exclusion in workplaces and social isolation, a significant number of transgender people previously relied on informal and fragile sectors within national economies. Abrupt and all-encompassing lockdown measures destroyed livelihoods which were extremely tenuous and without any insurance of official recognition or solvency from governmental authorities.
Pervasive Institutionalized Violence
Transphobia and stigma are constantly present in most governments and institutions in the region. These patterns are so widespread and prevalent that violence, either physical or psychological, has become endemic in the institutions which should be protecting and safeguarding these vulnerable communities in the first place.
Transgender and non-binary people have been victims of abuses from police forces and authorities. Those who are socially perceived from economically disadvantaged backgrounds tend to meet the criteria of police selectivity and are recurrently arrested and interrogated. Those who have documents that identify them as men or female but an image read as “ambiguous”, or who have not changed their documents and instead are socially perceived as male or female experience situations of violence in the street which include selective searches, questioning of their right to movement and their gender identity, undue and unjustified physical contact, and arbitrary arrests.
Lack of accountability and transparency when these traumatic instances and abuses happen feed into a pattern of fear to report. Several countries in the region are sadly entrenched in a culture of impunity which leaves transgender people with zero possibilities or any alternatives to demand legal protections or the implementation of existing laws. Most of the time, transgender people are afraid to report discrimination or any violence because of previous cases of abuse of power. These patterns of insecurity create a perfect environment for killings and disappearances which extend for significant periods of time and are completely unpunished in most cases.
Trans Solidarity Showing Signs of Hope
In the face of an ever increasing cascade of unprecedented crises and immense challenges, the transgender community show resilience and perseverance by relying on each other. From Argentina to Mexico and Peru to Barbados, the different local, national and regional organizations have led the way in creating and sustaining multiple initiatives such as funds, networks and raising awareness at all levels. Organizations such as RedLacTrans , IGLALAC and TvT are great examples of how these organizations can play the middle ground between connecting local grassroots groups with highly influential international organizations.
UNAIDS, World Bank, Human Rights Campaign, UNDP, UNESCO among others have all expressed concerns regarding the precarious situation for the transgender and non-binary communities in the region only exacerbated during the COVID-19. They have also contributed to create specific programs and funds targeting those in need and mobilizing significant resources for a greater impact. Local communities and groups are also focused on using every tool and connection at their disposal to raise awareness and more importantly to help each other survive the multitude of crises.