The progression of the COVID-19 virus in Colombia has been a slow one, thanks in great measure to early precautions — such as drastic stay-at-home orders — taken by local and national governments.
With citizens confined in their homes, however, many LGBT persons have reported experiencing homophobia and transphobia. To serve these communities in this time of crisis, rights groups Colombia Diversa and Fundación Santamaría, both based in Bogotá, have promoted hotlines for LGBT persons who have been subject to harassment and are offering free mental health counseling for those experiencing problems with their families who may not be accepting of their orientation or identity.
For those who do not feel safe in their families’ homes, as a last resort, a “Casa Refugio” remains open as a safe place for LGBT persons to stay in the city.
The need for this kind of intervention became evident as, according to reports received from Mexico by Colombia Diversa, during the first days of that country’s quarantine, 15 youth were expelled from their homes because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
As governments battle the virus with various restrictions, concern for vulnerable communities has also been expressed by international organizations such as the Organization of American States (OAS) and the UN Human Rights Commission. The OAS created a guide for Latin American and Caribbean governments on how to fight the virus while respecting the rights of LGBT persons, for example.
Of particular concern there has been a gender-based restriction on movement in Bogotá. Trans-rights groups have expressed fear that these will give the national police, an organization with a dubious human rights record when it comes to LGBT persons, ample authority to harass.
So far, implementation of the measure has led to only a handful of human rights violation complaints, and those are currently under investigation by authorities.
Some violence against trans persons — particularly against sex workers — has been documented during the quarantine in Bogotá. But one particularly shocking event took place recently in Medellín. A well-known social activist, Jhon Restrepo, was brutally beaten as he was delivering food to those affected by the loss of income due to the quarantine in one of the poor comunas (neighborhoods) of the city.