May 17th is the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT). IDOHOBIT was initiated in 2004 by community activists who aimed to create momentum for, and coordinate, events internationally to raise awareness of violations against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.
The COVID-19 pandemic will change how we reflect on and celebrate IDAHOBIT this year. While social distancing may necessitate new and creative ways to mark the day, the purpose of and need for IDAHOBIT has not changed.
Rainbow Health Victoria has recently produced a briefing paper addressing the likely impact of COVID-19 on LGBTIQ communities, both in terms of the disease itself and the public health measures required for its control. While no-one in the community will be untouched, issues such as mental health are a particular concern for LGBTIQ communities since research indicates they experience higher rates of mental ill-health, suicide and self-harm.
The Australian Research Centre for Sex, Health and Society is concerned that health, social and economic disparities may be worsened by COVID-19. However, our experience from working with LGBTIQ and other communities in research also shows enormous resourcefulness and resilience in the face of crisis.
The results of two major surveys of LGBTIQ communities will be published this year – Private Lives 3 and Writing Themselves In 4 (now called This is Me). These surveys will show powerful and positive experiences of friendship, relationships and community connections, but also continuing violence and discrimination and significant mental health challenges.
LGBTIQ communities have long experienced social isolation and exclusion, and are experienced in dealing with deadly epidemics. Their histories include heroic individual and collective responses in organising for rights, inclusion and resources to tackle stigma and disadvantage. They have also been part of driving Australia’s effective response to HIV. The expertise, infrastructure and respect that has been built up across community, public health, clinical, scientific and policy responses to HIV have already contributed substantially to Australia’s success in combatting COVID-19.
Going forward, there is an urgent need to consider service responses and innovative ways to promote LGBTIQ community organisation and resilience.
Rainbow Health Victoria has called for greater recognition of the likely disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the health, mental health and wellbeing of LGBTIQ communities. This necessitates work to enhance both LGBTIQ community-controlled and LGBTIQ-inclusive mainstream service delivery.
ARCSHS and Rainbow Health Victoria are committed to building knowledge about the effects of COVID-19 on LGBTIQ communities in real time, as the current situation changes, and about effective ways to respond rapidly through research, policy, resources and programs. In doing so, it is worth reflecting on the unique capacities LGBTIQ communities have in responding to COVID-19, from which others can no doubt learn. We look forward to continuing to work with and alongside LGBTIQ communities into the future.
Director, Rainbow Health Victoria