[BigDataSur-COVID] The LGBTQ+ community during the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil

At a time when the World Health Organization and other government officials say “do stay at home!”, which home does the LGBTQ+ community has the option to stay in? This article illuminates the struggles lived by the LGBTQ+ community during the COVID-19 crisis, also illustrating some of the initiatives taken in response.


By Ricardo H. D. Rohm e José Otávio A. L. Martins 

On May 17th the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia was celebrated, a date aiming to promote international events that raise awareness of LGBTQ+ rights violations worldwide. This date was chosen due to the decision of the World Health Organization (WHO) to remove the term “homosexuality” from the list of mental disorders of the International Classification of Diseases in 1990, disregarding homosexuality as a pathology. Even though the date is now remembered as the day against LGBTQphobia, it is important to remember that the so-called “gender incongruence” was only removed by the WHO from the International Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD 11) on June 18, 2018.

This date is a great achievement for the LGBTQ+ community, especially if we consider the context in which the decision took place – the early 1990s, still reverberating the spread of AIDS. For the LGBTQ+ community, notably for those who were born in the 1950s and 1960s and fully experienced the demonization of their bodies during the 1980s, the situation in which we live today, with the COVID-19 pandemic, recalls painful memories.

Still recovering from being considered as the source and proliferator of HIV/AIDS, the “gay cancer”, the LGBTQ+ community seems nowadays once again being held accountable by some authorities and public personalities, without grounds other than homophobia, for the current pandemic, as we can see in examples in the United States,  Israel, and  Iraq. Situations like these portray the constant and hostile prejudice, discrimination, and attack which the LGBTQ+ community suffers, day after day, year after year, century after century. Even if we are not at the heart of the matter, we are blamed for it.

This system of oppression constantly puts our community in a situation of social and emotional vulnerability. The vast majority only lives in the fullness of their sexual orientation and gender identity far away from the utopian coziness which family and home should symbolize. Many LGBTQ+ people, however, are only free when they are among friends, a chosen family, lovers, on a stage performing with a wig on or waving their flags, once a year, at the pride parades. This distance from their family and home could be by choice, when it is unbearable to cope with prejudice, or not – just like when they are rejected, abused, or thrown out of their home. We should ask again, therefore, at a time when the WHO and other government officials say “do stay at home!”, which home does the LGBTQ+ community has the option to stay in?

In Marseille, France, a couple was kicked out of the apartment they rented because they were “the first to be contaminated” by the COVID-19, an affirmation that has no scientific base, just homophobia. Exposed to a peculiar extra vulnerability now, which increases the existing one which the LGBTQ+ population has been facing, our community is even more targeted within the coronavirus crisis, as pointed out by the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations (UN),  Michelle Bachelet.

The UN draws attention to those who are HIV positive in the LGBTQ+ community. In Brazil, HIV among men who have sex with men is a reality classified as an epidemic and, although they are not part of the risk group, they do have a specific health care routine and ongoing medical treatments which require, for example, going out to withdraw retroviral drugs in health units. The UN also reinforces the importance of the local authorities to ensure the maintenance of these treatments and the continuous supply of HIV medication during the pandemic, not allowing prejudices to affect access and availability of these drugs.

Other health issues raise worries when we are facing the dissemination of a virus which attacks the respiratory system. Some Studies show that the LGBTQ+ population uses tobacco at rates that are 50% higher than the general population. The community still has a significant amount of people with cancer and, consequently, with a fragile immune system. It is important to note that LGBTQ+ people are historically discriminated by both health employees and the health system itself. As a result, many are reluctant to seek medical care, even in urgent situations. That can mean a health risk in times of COVID-19.

Talking about employment issues in Brazil, a national survey conducted by the group #VoteLGBT, with the participation of researchers from two major Brazilian universities, points out that, within the LGBTQ+ community, 21.6% of respondents are unemployed and 20.7% have no income. This survey was conducted through online questionnaires, therefore, there is a considerable possibility that it has not reached some of the most vulnerable people in the community and the results could be worrisome. It is also relevant to highlight the difficulty in the  access to income by trans and transvestite women who are sex workers  (90% of Brazilian trans population uses prostitution as a source of income) who, in times of social distancing, can no longer carry out their activities, losing their source of income (unless able to resort to virtual sessions instead).

Opening a short parenthesis to talk about the trans population, as if the suffering of the most vulnerable portion of the LGBTQ+ community was not enough, transphobia does not cease during a pandemic. Some Latin American countries have determined that, among the measures of social distancing, men and women can only leave their houses on separate days. There have been cases of trans women being fined for leaving their home on the day designated for women, making the pandemic period even more difficult for the trans population, who in addition to fighting the virus, has to still fight to reaffirm who they are.

Addressing the issues associated with staying at home during the pandemic and the difficulty of finding a safe place to be protected, a global survey conducted by the relationships app Hornet, with gay, bisexual, cis or transgender men points out that 1 out of 3 men feels physically and emotionally insecure in their own homes. The reasons are not only due to the intrafamilial prejudice, for those who live with their families, but also the loneliness of those living alone – data from #VoteLGBT`s survey also pointed out that 28% of the Brazilian respondents have been diagnosed with depression, which worsens the scenario presented  by Hornet`s survey.

When talking about LGBTQ+ people who are unable to earn a living or who have been kicked off from their families’ homes, an alternative to survival are the shelters (in Portuguese “Casas de Acolhimento”), present in several cities in Brazil. Although each has its administration, they support each other on joint projects to collect donations and carry out cultural actions. In addition to a shelter, they provide food and personal hygiene products for marginalized LGBTQ+ people, as well as develop academic, capacitation, and cultural activities for their residents and the external public, always relying on donations and sponsorships to maintain their activities. During the pandemic, where everything is more urgent and scarce compared to normal times, the shelters see the decrease of donations while the requests for shelter are increasing.

Initiatives to cope with this scenario

Amid the plight that the LGBTQ+ community faces today, some initiatives deserve not only visibility but also our support. They are the result of the mobilization of the community itself and, eventually, with the support of some LGBTQ-friendly companies and celebrities. Links to the initiative and organizations are copied herein under to bring awareness and visibility to the cause.

Speaking about the shelters mentioned above, some fundraising initiatives have managed to obtain significant support to these institutions in this time of crisis. A virtual live concert with a famous Brazilian DJ organized by NGO Casinha, produced by Tenho Orgulho, FestivalUniverso, and  TODXSraised more than 5,000 BRL for organizations such as Casa Nem,  LGBT+ Movimento and for Casainha itself. Another virtual live concert titled Festival do Orgulho was organized by Amstel Brewery and payment app AME. The Festival was headlined by artists of great national visibility (among them singer/drag queen Pabllo Vittar) and raised 115,000 BRL that were donated to the NGOs  Casa Florescer, Grupo Pela Vidda and  Projeto Séfora’s,  Família Stronger and Arco Íris de Ribeirão Preto

Another fundraising initiative for shelters across the country – in this case, without musical performances – was the crowdfunding organized by All Out Brazil movement to support these institutions in their maintenance, purchase, and distribution of cleaning and hygiene materials, as well as food. The initiative raised approximately 54,000 BRL and will benefit  CasAmor LGBTQI+  (Aracaju),  Astra Human Rights and LGBT Citizenship | Acódi LGBT  (Aracaju),  Casa Transformar  (Fortaleza), Casa Miga Acolhimento LGBT+  (Manaus),  Casa da Diversidade Niterói  (Niterói),  Transviver  (Recife), CasaNem (Rio de Janeiro), Casa Aurora  (Salvador), Casa dos Direitos da Baixada  (São João de Meriti), Casa Chama  (São Paulo), Casa Florescer 1 (São Paulo) and Casa Florescer 2 (São Paulo).

Another initiative, linked to the arts, was created by #VoteLGBT, the same group which conducted the aforementioned survey. Created during quarantine, LGBTFLIX is a free-access platform, not linked to any streaming service, that compiles more than 200 LGBTQ+ themed short films! The initiative aims to bring entertainment to the LGBTQ+ community during this period of social isolation; on the platform, you can choose short films with homosexual, bisexual or transgender themes.

Some nationwide initiatives are still ongoing and accepting donations. One of them is The Emergency Fund for TRANS people organized by Casa Chama, in São Paulo, which has already raised 83,000 BRL (all information about this initiative is listed in this link).

Those initiatives show a path of light amid so many adversities and also the capacity of the LGBTQ+ community to once again unite efforts to face another major challenge with COVID-19. It is essential to understand the reality of the LGBTQ+ community during this pandemic, to highlight good movements that have already accomplished significant results and call on everyone to support initiatives such as those mentioned herein, not only during the pandemic. With prudence, responsibility, union, and following scientific and WHO`s guidelines the COVID-19 pandemic will be surpassed.


About the authors

Dr. Ricardo Rohm is associate professor at the Faculty of Administration of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Founder and coordinator of the Study and Research Program in Human Development, Transformational Leadership Training and Social Governance: pep-rohm.facc.ufrj.br – rohm@facc.ufrj.br

José Otávio Martins is an undergraduate student at the Faculty of Administration of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and also an intern in research at the PEP-ROHM Program. zeotavioalm@gmail.com