As COVID-19 sweeps the world, lakhs of people in India as well have contracted the virus, and various communities are getting affected. COVID 19 is adversely affecting the lives and livelihood of the LGBTQIA+ community at disproportionate rates. We are at greater exposure and risk of both economic and health complications. The experiences with poverty, jobs, and health disparities are pulling crucial safety nets away from the marginalized.
As per the census reports, a total of 4,90,000 individuals of all ages reported the "other" option when it comes to gender identity. This reflects 0.04% of the total Indian population of 1.2 billion people. As per the World Bank Data, 0.6% to 3.8 % of the workforce in India is from the LGBT community. This is neither real-time data nor an appropriate census; we use these numbers to chart a programmatic roadmap.
Most of the LGBTQIA+ persons are unemployed and are more likely to live in poverty which means that we have a greater risk of health complications, we usually do not have access to adequate medical care and necessities for survival. Some of us who are employed are also majorly working in industries like retail, hospitality, entertainment which are the worst impacted sectors by COVID 19.
Apart from the 2% of the Transgender folks who are privileged to be with their families, the majority of the trans* persons are facing the brunt of the lockdown/unlocking. When the coronavirus was declared Pandemic in India, members of the Hijra community who earn for their livelihood through 'Badhaai' (collecting money by offering blessings) and Commercial Sex Working (CSW) had to stop doing their activities. This gave the community a significant hit as the affordability to fulfil their basic needs such as food, shelter, medical treatment, etc. became a problem that needed a solution.
People from the LGBTQIA+ community, especially those living with HIV are facing barriers in getting their medications. Being able to afford and access medical care is essential for testing of COVID 19 as well as treating the symptoms of the disease. However, LGBTQIA+ people are more likely to lack health coverage or monetary resources to visit a doctor even when medically necessary because of a lack of support and acceptance of us in the society and awareness among doctors. The community is vulnerable to COVID 19 infection, and it continually bothers each one of us that how gay, trans, or non-binary identities will be treated at the isolation facilities as the system remains binary.
Amidst this lockdown, most of the community members are restricted to spend time in unsupportive environments where we are facing constant rejections, isolation, and other forms of social stigma. It's a fact that LGBTQIA+ people still fight every day to have our families recognize us. Yet, the systematic difference results in an increased risk of poverty, housing security, health disparities, and social barriers. This is impacting both their mental and physical wellbeing. Older LGBTQIA+ people are likely to be living alone with no one to take care of them or support from family.
In these testing times, Keshav Suri Foundation is actively providing support to people from marginalized communities including LGBTQIA+ community, migrant labourers, and sex workers with fruits, vegetables, and groceries to help them battle hunger. To some NGOs, we have donated funds to enable them to carry acts of kindness further. The Foundation has also taken the initiative of extending mental health support for free. Our onboard counsellors are taking LIVE sessions and providing personal counselling to help people cope up with the situation and make it better. The Foundation has also started 'Queering Quarantine', an online series of talks, interactions, and workshops to help people cope with this lockdown and utilize their time in learning and exploring new areas of interest.
Keshav Suri Foundation extended support to NGOs including Kinnar Maa Trust, Basera, Aarohan, Mitr Trust, Saksham Trust, and many more. KSF supported Grace Banu for her initiative to raise funds for the trans community in rural areas of Tamil Nadu, which has been adversely affected by the lockdown brought about by COVID-19. Grace's challenges in raising funds have been multifaceted. As many trans folks are still struggling with essential identification documents like Aadhar, Passport, and Pan Cards, which also means that they are not part of many benefits and relief activities currently underway nationally. We at the foundation understands these challenges as we have been battling similar issues while working to uplift the marginalized. Mohul Sharma, a Transman employed at The LaLiT New Delhi, while speaking about his experience, says, "I have found myself, my identity, here" he is Food and Beverage associate with The Lalit, New Delhi.
To further ensure relief reaches to various sections of the trans* community, we joined hands with Tweet Foundation, run by trans activist Abheena, providing basic amenities like food and shelter for trans men living in the shelter home. We are working tirelessly to ensure that trans* folks who have been uprooted because of the pandemic find support. The current situation, however, looks very alarming. Many have lost jobs, especially those who earned a living while working in the unorganized sector and are facing issues with basic survival. It will be great if you, in your capacity, join hands with us and help support those who are suffering the most at the moment.