The COVID-19 pandemic has set the LGBTQ rights movement back several years and amplified pre-existing discrimination against the community by a thousand. Therefore, it is not surprising that members of the LGBTQ community have faced several challenges in accessing treatment for the COVID-19 virus and are now struggling to get vaccinated as well.

According to Cowin’s dashboard, only about 35,000 of the 4,8803 trans community members have received the vaccine so far. While the low numbers can be attributed to a reluctance to vaccinate, we must now ask ourselves: what has been done to include the LGBTQ community in the vaccination process?

Registration difficult

Many trans members are immunocompromised and therefore more exposed to the virus, although no effort has been made to make the vaccination registration process more inclusive for them, said Koyel Ghosh, managing director of Sappho for Equality. , an organization that works to establish the rights of transgendered marginalized women and men.

In an interview with News18, Ghosh explained that many LGBTQ members, especially from marginalized backgrounds, do not have proper photo ID. In the case of trans members, it is often difficult for them to use documents that take into account their birth sex instead of the sex they have chosen and identify with. Therefore, they initiate a change in the documentation.

“However, these changes in the documentation can take a long time, as many of them may not have updated documents with them for immunization yet.” She explained. “It also doesn’t help that trans people don’t have the opportunity to choose their gender when getting vaccinated. Vaccination forms do not have the provision that allows anyone to choose ‘transgender’ as an option and have an ‘other’ generic listed in the gender section instead, ”she explained.

Limited research on the trans community

So far, little to no research has been done on the LGBTQ community regarding the COVID-19 vaccine, so there is some skepticism regarding the efficacy and side effects of vaccines among community members. Even the Commission on Human Rights has highlighted this under-representation of these marginalized groups in medical trials, including those for vaccines.

Dr Narendra Kaushik, a plastic surgeon, said he has had to delay sex reassignment surgeries for many of his patients due to the surge in COVID-19 cases over the past year. “These delays are very undesirable for the individual and can be psychologically traumatic for them as their gender dysphoria can only be helped by performing these surgeries.”

Maya, a trans person in Vikalp’s women’s group, explained that during the pandemic, many trans people on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) also experienced extreme mood swings after abruptly stopping their HRT. due to the pandemic.

Maithilee Sagara from Nazariya, a queer feminist resource group that works to uphold the rights of queer women and trans people, also added that there is growing misinformation that HRT can cause sexual violence. blood clots if taken with the vaccine. She said that is not entirely true, but that it has made the community reluctant to get vaccinated.

“These people should ideally consult their endocrinologist before being vaccinated, rather than hesitating. The media should also highlight the stories of trans rights activists who have shared their experiences of immunization. This will encourage more people to opt for vaccines, ”she explained.

Access to health care

During the pandemic, members of the LGBTQ community also faced discrimination when they tried to access even basic health facilities.

Quarantine centers were spaces of exclusion, where people with non-normative gender and sexual expression faced negative reactions and challenges and did not feel safe to be open about their gender, that is why some nonprofits have demanded inclusive healthcare spaces.

Such spaces were, in fact, opened in Manipur on the initiative of the association All Manipur Nupi Maanbi (AMANA), founded by the trans activist from Manipur Santa Khurai. As a result, the Manipur government opened two quarantine centers specifically for trans people returning to the state.

Ghosh, the administrator of Sappho for Equality, said her organization has also requested special beds for the LGBTQ community. “They are often denied access to health care, so it is important to have special arrangements for them,” she explained.

Return to dangerous homes, difficult places

In addition to the challenges of not getting primary health care and immunizations, the impact of the COVID-induced lockdown on LGBTQIA people has been excruciating and traumatic.

Ghosh explained, “LGBTQ people who are kicked out of their homes at an early age have had to return to these dangerous and intolerant homes once again, as COVID has reduced their livelihoods and their ability to pay rent.” Those who chose not to return found themselves homeless. Therefore, during the pandemic, we have seen a steady increase in homelessness among members of LGBTQ communities.

Maithilee Sagara from Nazariya said her helpline responds to a significant increase in the number of calls. They are increasingly receiving requests for therapy from members of the LGBTQ community.

“The majority of distress calls relate to domestic violence from families. Additionally, people complain about mental health issues resulting from endless questioning and examinations. To meet the growing demand for therapy, we have hired an additional counselor, ”said Sagara.

Mental health problems

Sagara also said that domestic violence is not only physical but also psychological. “Domestic violence has dramatically increased as community members cannot come out due to the lockdown and it is no longer possible to access their safe spaces such as schools, colleges and community gatherings. There is a lot of daily abuse in the home by insensitive loved ones, which can also be traumatic. Therefore, for many LGBTQ members, it has been about a year since they were allowed to express themselves freely at home. “

For example, Rach, a pansexual person from Delhi, said he experienced gender dysphoria when he was tried by his parents at home for wearing nail paint and doing something feminine.

Tahoe, a bisexual from Mumbai, said he faces mental health issues as all of his safe spaces have been ripped off, and as a locked up queer there were few people he could confide in. “Not being able to meet these people put me on a downward spiral,” Tahoe said.

Mansi, a 22-year-old queer woman from Delhi, said gender and sexual minorities are at increased risk for depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation. “The isolation and loneliness of physical distancing made it worse for us,” she explained.

The path to follow

Social scientist and mental health clinician Vasundharaa S. Nair said that since the lockdown in many states, members of the LGBTQ community have been unable to meet. “Their whole link with their community has been severed because of their confinement,” she explained.

Nair said the researchers are proposing frameworks and trying to plan out all of the guidelines needed to support the community, but it’s still in the ideation stage. “The judgment rendered by Madras Judge HC N Anand Venkatesh in issuing guidelines to protect the LGBTQIA + community is important and a way forward,” said Nair.

She also added that in any health care policy, the community should be the primary stakeholder. Additionally, she said clinicians who are not trained to deal with issues faced by LGBTQ people should receive relevant training. “LGBTQ people shouldn’t feel like a second priority. They should have created support groups and spaces to come out and express themselves, regardless of the extent of the crisis we find ourselves in, ”she concluded.

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