LGBTQ+ groups in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic and are in dire need of financial and other support, a forum heard on Wednesday.
ASEAN Sogie Caucus (ASC), a network of human rights activists from Southeast Asia, held a virtual seminar called “The Impact of COVID-19 on LGBTQ+ Organisations in Southeast Asia”. It also launched a report written from April-December 2020 at the event.
The report showed these organisations were struggling to stay afloat and required urgent assistance to press their mandate of protecting vulnerable LGBTQ+ groups and individuals.
Yulita Molyganta, a researcher who helped compile the report, said the pandemic had further marginalised these groups.
“When the pandemic came, it was not only the virus that the LGBTQ+ had to fight, but other things such as national affairs. For example, our partners in Thailand said they also faced their own problems inside the country,” she said.
Thailand’s Sangsan Anakot Yawachon Development Project said in the report that it was “traumatised” by having to deal with the fallout from COVID-19 at the same time as the country was fighting for democracy.
Ms Molyganta said LGBTQ+ organisations has taken responsibility for leading humanitarian responses to support their own communities because there was no evidence of any special state-led support for them in the region.
“Although they tried to keep their heads and the heads of other LGBTQ+ members above water, the organisations did not have enough resources to meet all of their needs,” she said.
She gave the example of the Cangkang Queer organisation in Indonesia, which reported a rise in domestic violence against LBQ and transmen but did not have enough space to shelter them, resulting in the group offering up its own office to victims.
Ms Molyganta said these groups tried to operate as normal by using online platforms but were hindered by the region’s yawning digital divide.
The pandemic “also exposed many LGBTQ+ defenders to a security risk and well-being concerns due to the regulations imposed to curb the pandemic, and many have been suffering from mental health issues”.
The ASC called for reassurances that LGBTQ+ communities would be included in response measures during the pandemic.
It also sought support such as institutional grants and the provision of more learning spaces to teach people how to operate online.