Press Release

The IACHR calls on States to guarantee the rights of LGBTI people in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic

April 20, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), in the framework of its Rapid and Integrated Response Coordination Unit for the COVID-19 pandemic crisis (SACROI COVID-19), calls on States to guarantee the right to equality and non-discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons in the measures adopted to contain and attend to the pandemic; particularly, the IACHR calls on States to ensure their access to health services and social care programs under a comprehensive human security perspective.

The IACHR is concerned that some of the provisions adopted in the States of the region in response to the pandemic may bring about risks to the rights of LGBTI people, or those who are perceived as such, and lead to prejudice-based acts of discrimination and violence. In this context, the Commission was informed of measures adopted by some States to designate specific days for the free movement of persons, differentiating between women and men, which, in itself, is discriminatory against trans and gender-diverse persons, and may lead to other acts of discrimination.

This, because, in general, these containment measures do not establish clear protocols for the freedom of movement of trans and gender-diverse persons, or guidelines for security forces in the case that personal identification documents held by these persons do not correspond to their identity or gender expression. The IACHR notes, for example, that Peru's Supreme Decree 057-2020-PCM extended the state of emergency and established specific days for the movement of men and women. Although this decree, which was repealed on April 11, 2020, contained a clause prohibiting discrimination, it did not provide for respect for gender identity and/or expression in its content and, despite clarifications made by high authorities that trans persons should not be discriminated against, during its validity, certain acts that concern the IACHR occured.

In this regard, the Commission noted, with concern, that trans women detained by security forces in observance of these restrictions in Peru suffered physical and verbal abuse by law enforcement officials; they were even forced to repeat phrases that denied their self-perceived gender identity, such as "I want to be a man".

In a similar vein, the IACHR was informed that, in Panama, a trans woman and human rights defender was detained by the police while she was delivering bags of food to people in a situation of poverty. The detention took place on a day reserved for the movement of women, on the grounds that the detainee's identity card identified her as “male”. Finally, the woman was taken to court and given a fine for fifty dollars, despite having explained her gender identity and expression to the authorities.

In this respect, the Commission has stated, on several occasions, that the police and other security forces in the States of the region often share the same attitudes and prejudices against LGBTI people that prevail in society at large. Considering the functions that the police and other security forces carry out during the containment measures of the pandemic, the IACHR urges the States to adopt awareness-raising policies directed at the forces of public order and judicial authorities, in regard to gender identity and expression. Such policies must take into account that trans and gender-diverse persons, frequently, do not hold a personal identification document that adequately reflects their gender identity and/or expression.

Furthermore, the IACHR calls on the States to issue public statements categorically rejecting any acts of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression by the security forces in their interventions towards civilians. In cases of allegations of acts of violence or discrimination against LGBTI persons, or those who are perceived as such, the Commission reminds the States of their duty to observe due diligence in all investigations and proceedings, both judicial and administrative, resulting in the sanctioning of these conducts. In this regard, the IACHR welcomes the investigations conducted by the Peruvian National Police that have resulted in sanctions against officers involved in some acts of discrimination against trans persons, and urges the State to continue this effort. Moreover, the IACHR notes that the measures of differentiated freedom of movement were repealed in Peru, because they did not achieve their objective of social distancing.

In addition, the Commission reiterates its recommendation to guarantee simple and expeditious legal mechanisms that make it possible for any person to register and/or change, modify, or adjust their name and the other essential components of their identity, such as image or any reference to sex or gender, as a matter of priority during the pandemic.

The Commission has repeatedly drawn attention to the situation of poverty affecting LGBTI persons. This is characterized by social exclusion and high rates of homelessness, which pushes them into the informal economy and to participate in sexual work. Trans individuals, in particular, face high rates of exclusion from income-generating opportunities as well as access to social welfare programs and health services. In this regard, the IACHR has received information from trans women and sexual workers who continue to carry out their activities even in the context of the containment of COVID-19, due to the fact that they do not have other sources of income.

The Commission received information that, with the suspension of lodging services as a contingency measure for the health emergency, some trans women in Mexico City have been evicted from hotels where, in addition to living, they conducted sex work. This situation leaves them experiencing homelessness, and, consequently, in a condition of serious vulnerability. However, based on information provided by the State of Mexico, the IACHR takes note of the actions taken by the Secretariat of Inclusion and Social Welfare, alongside the Mexico City government, to provide care and protection to populations in particular conditions of vulnerability, including economic support for sex workers and people experiencing homelessness.

In addition, the Commission notes that LGBTI people who have formed family networks often do not enjoy the legal recognition that guarantees control over their economic resources or access to social security benefits. The IACHR also highlights that older LGBTI persons are often invisible in the formulation of social policies, which increases their vulnerability during the pandemic.

In light of the above, the Commission urges States to guarantee access for LGBTI people to social care programs with a comprehensive human security perspective. In particular, the Commission calls on States to guarantee safe shelter, access to food and medicine for LGBTI people who are experiencing homelessness, that include, particularly, trans women in the field of sexual work. In addition, the IACHR calls on States to include LGBTI people as beneficiaries of any economic recovery measures adopted to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19.

In terms of access to health services, according to reports received by the IACHR, LGBTI persons who seek medical care in several OAS member states face mistreatment, harassment, physical violence and the denial of necessary medical care by health professionals. In this regard, the Commission notes with particular concern information regarding hospitals that are owned or operated by religious groups that would be denying access to COVID-19 treatment to persons of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity and/or expression.

The Commission also notes that people whose immune systems may eventually be compromised, including LGBTI people living with HIV or who have developed AIDS, may be particularly impacted by the coronavirus, if their access to antiretroviral drugs is not guaranteed without interruptions during the pandemic. Furthermore, the IACHR notes that in some States of the region, gay and bisexual men face restrictions on donating blood, which has an impact on the health system in general.

In that order, the Commission urges States to guarantee access to health services for LGBTI people, observing the right to equality and non-discrimination, mainly during the pandemic, including the continued distribution of antiretrovirals for people living with HIV. The IACHR also reiterates that respect for gender identity must prevail, even in hospital settings, and therefore it urges States to adopt or strengthen their policies in this area and to guarantee the continuity of services provided to the transgender population.

Finally, the IACHR stresses that the physical distancing measures implemented to contain the pandemic imply that LGBTI persons, or those perceived as such, including children and adolescents, remain in their homes for prolonged periods. As indicated by the IACHR in previous opportunities, LGBTI children and adolescents often face rejection from their families and communities that disapprove of their sexual orientation and gender identity, which places them in a particular position of vulnerability. Furthermore, it does not escape the Commission's attention that many people, including children and adolescents, have been forced to leave their homes because of prejudice against their sexual orientation, gender identity or expressions.

The Commission, therefore, urges States to adopt or strengthen care protocols and individual complaint systems for LGBTI people, including children and adolescents; and to take into account the prejudice, discrimination and violence they may suffer in their homes in the context of the pandemic, ensuring safe refuge for people who have been expelled or forced to leave their homes.

Recognizing the unprecedented challenges currently faced in the region and understanding the call from the international scientific community to adopt physical distancing measures, the Commission recommends that States include LGBTI people in the formulation of their social containment and economic support policies, in compliance with their international obligations to guarantee equality and non-discrimination.

In view of the above and considering the COVID-19 pandemic containment measures in the framework of the rights of LGBTI people, the IACHR reiterates the recommendations contained in Resolution No. 01/20, numerals 68-71. Complementarily, it recommends that States:

1. In regard to the inclusion of LGBTI people in social care policies during the pandemic, ensure that LGBTI people in experiencing homelessness and transgender women who engage in sex work benefit from the measures taken.

2. Strengthen national systems for the protection of children and adolescents, recognizing the particular vulnerability of those who have been expelled or forced to leave their homes because of prejudice against their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.

3. Guarantee continuity in the distribution of antiretrovirals for people living with HIV as well as comprehensive health care for trans people, observing the right to equality and non-discrimination.

4. Promote awareness and train public security forces and judicial authorities in the area of gender identity and expression, even through digital trainings, in order to prevent acts of discrimination and violence during police controls implemented within states of exception due to COVID-19.

5. Issue public declarations rejecting acts of discrimination or violence caused by security forces, as well as investigating and punishing these acts in compliance with the duty of due diligence.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 081/20