LGBTQI+ rights need attention during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond

LGBTQI+ rights need attention during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond

This joint statement is issued by the United Nations system in Georgia; the Ambassadors to Georgia of the European Union (EU), Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States; the Head of the Council of Europe Office in Georgia; and the Head of the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia.

Today marks 30 years since the landmark decision by the World Health Organization to recognize that homosexuality is not a disease. On this International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), we express our support for and solidarity with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI+) community in Georgia.

This year’s IDAHOBIT passes in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. No one is immune from the health threat, nor from the risks to livelihoods that stem from the measures imposed to halt the outbreak. But the hardest hit are the vulnerable and the marginalized, including the LGBTQI+ community. (1)

The discrimination and stigma that LGBTQI+ people routinely face in accessing healthcare and other social services can prove fatal in a pandemic. Lockdown measures increase the risk of domestic violence against LGBTQI+ persons; and the economic shutdown has left the many who work in the informal sector facing debilitating losses in income without any social safety net.

In this context, we welcome the efforts undertaken by the Government of Georgia, through the Human Rights Council and the Prime Minister’s Advisor on Human Rights and Gender Equality, to help the LGBTQI+ community and other vulnerable and marginalized groups weather the pandemic. We urge Georgian officials to heed their voices and address their needs without bias or discrimination.

But the challenge goes beyond the immediate crisis. On this date last year, the international community in Georgia spoke out (2) about the discord between the sweeping human rights protections enshrined in law, including the prohibition of all discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and the routine prejudice and violence that LGBTQI+ persons face in their everyday reality.

We commend the steps that have been taken since then, including the adoption in February of Chapter 15 of the National Human Rights Action Plan, which sets out to combat hate crimes, raise awareness about sexual orientation and gender identity, and deliver services tailored to LGBTQI+ needs. We look forward to firm commitments and swift, coordinated action to deliver on this plan.

Government actors at all levels need to work with resolve to create the conditions to enable LGBTQI+ persons to exercise their rights and express their identities without risk or fear (3). The responsibility does not end here, however. Religious and community leaders, civil society and the wider public all have crucial roles to play in creating a climate of tolerance in Georgia.

COVID-19 has shown Georgia at its best, with individuals acting in solidarity to ensure that their own actions do not jeopardize others. Looking ahead, this spirit needs to embrace the full diversity of Georgian life, including the LGBTQI+ community, in the interest of building a harmonious and resilient society. Working together to advance the Sustainable Development Goals, we can see a future in Georgia where “no one is left behind.”

Author: The FINANCIAL