Many LGBTQI people is facing stigmatization, discrimination and harassment amid coronavirus lockdown particularly in rural areas in Myanmar, reports UN News.
The United Nations is working to support those people.
When the first case of COVID-19 was discovered in Myanmar in late March, quarantine centres were set up in sites around the country. People arriving in a town—such as migrant workers returning home—had to quarantine at their local centre for 21 days.
One of the first people to work as a volunteer at the quarantine centre in the town of Pyay was a man named Min Min, who is a transgender.
Like other centres around the country, this one was in a school that was repurposed for the pandemic.
The roughly 20 volunteers were divided into two groups. The “outer circle”, according to Min Min, dealt with external affairs, such as coordinating donations, going shopping for food, and registering new arrivals. “Inner circle” volunteers distributed food among people in the centre, took out the trash, did the cleaning.
Strict Gender Roles
“The challenges we faced as volunteers were like in any other centre,” says Min Min, who was an “inner circle” volunteer. "There were shortages of personal protective equipment. N-95 face masks were in short supply. Gloves had to be reused.”
Min Min was concerned that he might face another challenge: the disdain and rejection of inhabitants of the center. Myanmar is bound by strict gender roles as he is a transgender.
But, he says, “I was fortunate that everyone knew me in town, and they accepted me for what I am and accepted the support I gave. I mingled freely with the occupants at the centre and even hung my sarong with the laundry of other men.”
In Myanmar society, families often separate their laundry not by colour but by the sex of the wearer. This is because women’s undergarments are considered to cause a man to lose his masculine “aura” or power. For Min Min’s sarong to be left undisturbed among those of other men was an unusual show of acceptance.
In conservative rural Myanmar, Min Min managed what other LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex) people could only dream of: he stood firm regarding his identity.
However, he says, several gay men volunteers were harassed by people who were uncomfortable with their ‘effeminate’ behaviour.
Rejection and stress
“When the pandemic reached Myanmar, the LGBTQI community did their bit by going out on the street, handing out masks, sanitizing gel, and educational pamphlets,” said Htike Htike of Asia Foundation, who is also an LGBTQI-rights activist. This was an educational role that some had taken on before, doing public education about HIV or other issues. “They wanted to show that they are one with the people.”
The stay-at-home order was especially difficult for many in the LGBTQI community. Some live with their families, or had left but now had nowhere else to go but back home. Their acceptance at home was largely due to their steady income, but because the lockdown meant a loss of jobs and income, they were again met with rejection and stress.
Many other LGBTQI people had been turned out by their families, and some found acceptance and jobs in such industries as beauty and lifestyle. They created homes with their friends or partners. But here, too, there was peril. “LGBTQI people living with their partners started facing increased domestic violence,” says Aung Myo Min, the Executive Director of NGO Equality Myanmar. “Desperate for income, some sought to become sex workers, breaking the curfew and sneaking out at night, only to fall prey to further violence or to be harassed by police.”
The legal status of the community is grim. “There is nothing in the law that protects LGBTQI people,” says Aung. Section 377 of Myanmar’s law criminalizes homosexual sex. There is no gender-neutral definition of rape in the law. When cases of violence against the community are reported to the police, they are ignored. Transgender women are not recognized as women. Transgender men face discrimination as well, but they have some legal protections, as they are considered women.
For example, a recent statement by the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission spoke of protecting women—and only women—against cyber bullying. For trans people to take advantage of such protections, however, means denying their gender identity. Some trans people give themselves hormone treatment, but it is unregulated; the closest place to get sex reassignment surgeries is in neighbouring Thailand.
But these troubles are not the only thing defining the community.
“Around the world, just as here in Myanmar, LGBTQI people should not be seen as victims, but as drivers of change”, says Nicolas Burniat, Country Representative of UN Women in Myanmar. “They have contributed to the COVID-19 crisis response. Society cannot just accept their contribution when it is convenient and forget them or discriminate against them the rest of the time. It is essential that the rights of LGBTQI people be respected during this crisis and beyond and that their specific needs be addressed in the COVID-19 response efforts.”
The struggle remains
UN Women is working with UNFPA, UNAIDS, and other UN agencies, as well as local organizations in Myanmar, to support the country’s LGBTQI community—especially as COVID-19 upended daily life. With just over 300 reported cases and only a handful of deaths, Myanmar has fared relatively well—thanks largely to the strict quarantine, which over 30,000 people nationwide have undergone. Min Min’s centre and many others have wound down operations. The ongoing struggle remains.
“The UN is there to support the LGBTQI community,” says Burniat. Sometimes the UN’s support is symbolic, such as when it flew the rainbow flag on International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia. Other times the help is practical, as when UN agencies coordinate to protect LGBTQI human rights. A recent UN-sponsored online conference brought together organizations concerned about human rights during the pandemic, and Min Min and other activists spoke.
“COVID-19 does not discriminate by your race, religion, gender, or sexuality,” says Min Min. “I volunteered because I believe it is the human thing to do. I ask only that we be treated the same by society.”
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has accused the Trump administration of messing with the health of children by their risky push to fully reopen schools amid global coronavirus pandemic.
“Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' aggressive push to fully reopen schools this fall is "malfeasance and dereliction of duty," said the house speaker on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday, reports AXIOS.
"We all want our children to go back to school. Teachers do, parents do and children do. But they must go back safely," she said.
"And when we hear what the administration is saying, we know they have no appreciation for the failure that has brought us to this point. Going back to school presents the biggest risk for the spread of the coronavirus. They ignore science and they ignore governance in order to make this happen," said Pelosi.
"If there are CDC (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines, they should be requirements. But most importantly, and I hope the Republicans will join us, we have to call upon the president to implement the Defense Protection Act so that we can have the PPE, the personal protective equipment, as well as the testing equipment and equipment to evaluate the tests."
Trump has demanded that schools reopen as part of his efforts to juice the economy by allowing parents to return to work, despite caution from health officials that little is known about how the virus impacts children.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told "Fox News Sunday" that public schools that don't reopen in the fall should not get federal funds, and that the money should be redirected to families who can use it to find another option for their children.
The Trump administration is engaged in a full-court press to reopen schools this fall, despite warnings from some public health officials that the coronavirus outbreak is out of control in many states and that it will be difficult for many schools to reopen safely.
The hard-hit US has registered 3,302,665 confirmed coronavirus cases.
Besides, so far 135,176 fatalities have been recorded in the country till Monday morning, according to data of John Hopkins University.
Currently, there is no adequate evidence of the transmission of COVID-19 from pregnant women infected with the virus to their fetuses, a Chinese medical expert has said.
The severity of the illness of pregnant COVID-19 patients is similar to that of other patients and the disease is not more likely to develop into serious cases for pregnant women, said Zhao Yangyu, head of the obstetrics department of the Peking University Third Hospital.
"According to researchers from home and abroad, the conditions of expectant mothers who have recovered from the disease are generally good, and there is no proof of the necessity to terminate the pregnancy," Zhao said.
With the current normal treatment and methods on pregnant patients, the fetuses are safe, she added.
Melita Vujnovic, the representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) to Russia, has said that the novel coronavirus could have existed in a dormant state long before its outbreak in late December last year.
"WHO has established a large team that will work together with Chinese scientists to analyse the origin of the virus," Vujnovic said in a recent interview with RIA Novosti news agency.
"This virus lived in animals and at some point passed to humans. It's hard to say when and where this happened. It's being investigated. Viruses can be found in waste water. But nothing can be said specifically," she said, reports Xinhua.
The novel coronavirus has existed worldwide and broke out whenever and wherever favourable conditions occurred rather than starting in China, Tom Jefferson, senior associate tutor at the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford and a visiting professor at Newcastle University, said earlier this month.
Spanish virologists have discovered traces of the novel coronavirus in a sample of Barcelona waste water collected in March 2019, nine months prior to the virus outbreak in China.
According to the Italian National Institute of Health, samples of sewage water from Milan and Turin showed traces of the novel coronavirus on December 18, long before the country's first confirmed cases.
Vujnovic said that scientists are studying these samples and if there is any "revolutionary result," the WHO will immediately announce it.
The official funeral for Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon will be held online this week over coronavirus concerns, his funeral committee said Sunday.
The announcement comes amid a heated social debate over how big a funeral should be arranged for Park, who was found dead on Friday.
He reportedly had been involved in sexual harassment allegations.
Lawmaker Park Hong-keun, who works for the interim funeral committee, told reporters that the online funeral will be held inside Seoul City Hall on Monday morning. He said the committee aimed to support a government-led anti-virus campaign and hold a “humble” funeral.
The lawmaker said about 100 people, including the bereaved family, are expected to attend the funeral, which will be broadcast live on YouTube. He said the funeral will include silent tributes, the laying of florals, video featuring the mayor and commemorative speeches.
Park Hong-keun said that as of 1 a.m. Sunday, around 18,000 people had paid their respects to the mayor at two mourning sites in Seoul, one at a hospital and the other at a plaza near City Hall. About 922,000 people had condoled the mayor’s death at a city-run online mourning site as of Sunday afternoon.
While the death has caused an outpouring of sympathy, many South Koreans have demanded that authorities investigate the reported allegations against Park and voiced opposition to a large-scale funeral paid for with taxpayer money.
A petition filed with the presidential office opposing such a funeral had garnered more than 535,000 signatures as of Sunday afternoon. “Holding a quiet, family funeral should be proper,” the petition says.
Seoul city officials said Monday's online funeral would be an official event paid for with city funds.
Police said there was no sign of homicide when Park's body was discovered. But they’ve refused to disclose the exact cause of his death. Seoul officials said Friday that what they described as Park’s “will” was found at his residence.
Police launched massive searches for Park, 64, on Thursday, after his daughter had called police and reported her father missing. While the searches were underway, South Korean media reported that one of Park’s secretaries had lodged a complaint with police on Wednesday over alleged sexual harassment.
Police later confirmed that a complaint against Park had been filed but refused to provide further details, including whether the complaint was about sexual behavior.