A bicameral group of congressional lawmakers led by Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) and Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) are calling on the Trump administration to ensure international efforts to assist with the COVID-19 pandemic overseas include relief for LGBTQ people.
In a letter dated May 7 obtained exclusively by the Washington Blade, the 47 members of Congress — all Democrats — make the case the U.S. response to the coronavirus overseas “will be seen as a test of our country’s commitment to the protection of human rights and American values of fairness and equality.”
The lawmakers urge the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development to protect LGBTQ human rights overseas during the coronavirus crisis in three ways:
First, the letter calls on the Trump administration to “intervene at senior levels with governments that are using the COVID-19 crisis to persecute or discriminate against LGBTQI and other marginalized communities.”
As an example, the letter cites Ugandan authorities in March raiding a homeless youth shelter, arresting 19 LGBTQI people and charging them with “a negligent act likely to spread infection of disease.”
Also, the lawmakers seek the inclusion of LGBTQ people in both short- and long-term response and recovery programs in addition to calling on partner countries to adopt the same approach.
“Restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 have placed a large burden on those in the informal economy, cutting off income streams and preventing them from obtaining food or secure shelter,” the letter says. “As a result, the pandemic has heightened the vulnerability of LGBTQI and other marginalized populations to poverty, food insecurity and homelessness.”
As an example, the letter cites governments such as Panama and Colombia are using gender to determine when people are allowed to leave their homes for essential services. As reported by the Blade, critics say those policies in Latin American countries have resulted in arbitrary arrests and harassment of trans and gender non-conforming people.
Finally, the lawmakers call for access to health services the United States provides overseas, such as “treatment for HIV and other COVID-exacerbating conditions, as well as other necessary healthcare services, including sexual and reproductive health.”
“LGBTQI people and other vulnerable populations face stigma and discrimination in obtaining healthcare services, especially in countries where same- sex sexual conduct or non-normative gender expression is criminalized,” the letter says. “This hinders access to lifesaving healthcare services and puts their lives at even greater risk during this pandemic.”
The State Department declined to comment on the letter, citing a general practice of no comment on congressional correspondence. USAID didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment.