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LGBT Africans Share Challenges of Life During Pandemic

AfroQueer Podcast Explores Varied Experiences of Coping with Covid-19

A Ugandan transgender woman in a town near Kampala, shortly before she fled the country. She left to escape police harassment and violence. © 2014 Human Rights Watch

AfroQueer podcast recently launched a special episode in advance of its upcoming third season. Checking in with queer Africans on how they are faring during the Covid-19 pandemic, the episode was aptly titled “How are you doing?”

The wide-ranging answers surfaced in the podcast reflect the different realities faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. There is no singular “LGBT experience” of Covid-19. United Nations agencies, activists, and some governments have rightly identified particular vulnerabilities of LGBT people that need to be taken into account in the pandemic response. But levels of vulnerability vary according to factors like economic status, immigration status, and where one calls home.

Prisoners’ rights are LGBT rights.

If you are LGBT and homeless in Uganda, you could find yourself in prison. AfroQueer interviewed Adrian Jjuuko, lawyer and director of the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum, who tirelessly defended 19 homeless gay, bisexual, and transgender youth whom police detained shortly into Uganda’s Covid-19 lockdown on charges of “negligent act likely to spread infection of disease.” Their crime? Living in a shelter. For 50 days they languished in jail, where prison officials refused to allow lawyers to visit them on Covid-19 pretexts. The director of public prosecutions finally withdrew the charges on May 18.

Economic rights are LGBT rights.

In Burkina Faso, Emma, a trans activist, told AfroQueer the hardest thing for many LGBT people who have lost jobs, largely in the informal sector, is having to move in with family members to stave off hunger – “a terrible choice, as many of them have homophobic parents.” At least, Emma says, the government is providing free water to those who need it.

Refugee rights are LGBT rights.

David, a gay refugee from Nigeria, lives in Boston with his American husband. As a Lyft driver, he transports essential workers, sanitizing his car after each drop-off. The gig economy is hard, he says, but “I’m doing my best to keep the economy running, which I’m very proud of as an immigrant.” Juliet, a refugee in Sweden, may be safer from homophobia than in her home country of Zambia, but finds that far-right groups scapegoat immigrants and refugees as vectors of disease.

Protecting LGBT people’s rights during the pandemic will depend on addressing a range of rights issues. A more just world, on all levels, will keep LGBT people safer in future global crises.

This dispatch is the first of a six-part collaboration between Human Rights Watch and AfroQueer podcast, seeking to amplify the voices of LGBT Africans.

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