March 31, 2020 at 12:40 pm EDT | by Richard J. Rosendall
Striving to connect amid a pandemic
social distancing, gay news, Washington Blade
(Photo by Grendelkhan via Wikimedia Commons)

A coffee shop friend last week set up a recurring meeting on Zoom that our group uses each morning to chat and relieve our isolation while staying home and practicing social distancing.

Having everyone in a single online chat does not allow for the side conversations that occur when we’re actually sitting around a couple of tables together. So we’re adjusting. Nor does it allow chance encounters like the ones I have with baby Felix in his stroller (or did prior to the outbreak), who would pass the time, while his mother was getting her coffee and muffin, by pointing at things and throwing his pacifier on the floor for me to retrieve. I expect he is at home with her now, innocently battling her efforts to sterilize what he puts in his mouth.

At-Large DC Councilmember Robert White, father of two, tweets, “My 3 year old daughter just prayed ‘for the bad cold to go away from the school and for no one else to get sick.’ She misses her school, her friends and playing at the playground. Parents, this is rough. Any suggestions on what you’re doing to ease this pain for your kids?” It turns out he and Mom already FaceTimed a couple of her classmates: “They get so happy when they see each other‘s faces.”

My kaffeeklatsch moves on from the drama surrounding the $2 trillion stimulus bill to topics like rehabilitative exercise after surgery, painting the basement stairs, scheduling an online breadmaking class, and using Clorox wipes to disinfect food delivery containers.

Virtual gatherings have the advantage of allowing faraway friends to participate, like legislators voting remotely—a topic we also discuss.

Speaking of remote, I have been corresponding with Aisha, a lesbian refugee from Uganda living homeless in Kasarani, Nairobi after the church where she was sleeping closed. She has contracted malaria, and I agree to pay for the medication. She is also despairing. I assure her of her worth as a human being, the injustice of her circumstances, and her right to be herself. She had her eligibility interview with the Kenyan government’s Refugee Affairs Secretariat in November 2018. Now she looks for a place to hide from the rain.

I first wrote to UNHCR on her behalf a year ago. I follow up: “I am aware that the worldwide coronavirus outbreak has impeded your work. But speaking of that, Aisha is afraid of contracting the virus because she has no home to stay in to escape it. She tells me that you recently gave her an extension of six months, which only means that her case has been stalled for nearly a year and a half.”

Malaria medication costs 6000 Kenyan shillings, or $60. Given global unreadiness on top of the rampant xenophobia and homophobia in Kenya, a lesbian refugee with COVID-19 would likely have trouble accessing a ventilator at any price. This reminds me of a California teen who died last week after being denied critical care for lack of health insurance.

Homeless people have camped for some time in tents on the sidewalk up the street from my home in Dupont Circle. One morning as I headed to the grocery, a trans woman who sleeps at a shelter rode up on a scooter begging for money. This incongruous presentation was interrupted by the curbside campers demanding she leave. She was on their turf.

Abandoning people to the streets is bad for physical and mental health anywhere. But with the racist cruelty of Stephen Miller guiding our own president, I wonder if whatever I might say to UNHCR will be dismissed with a laugh when they see where I am writing from.

One pensioner is no match for a nation’s hatred or a malignant leader who uses “Chinese virus” like a captured culprit clinging to a thin excuse. I am simply doing what I can for a handful of my brothers and sisters across the sea. The need is so much greater, it breaks the heart.

Connecting across all that divides us can be hard; essential things often are. As Oscar Wilde said, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist at rrosendall@me.com.

Copyright © 2020 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.

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