Editor’s note: The Washington Blade published a Spanish version of this op-ed on April 24.
BOGOTÁ, Colombia — The transgender community, which is one of the populations that has been most affected by the coronavirus pandemic, has been explicitly excluded from contingency plans that seek to prevent the virus’ spread.
Sex workers have been left to their own devices during this health crisis and they can practically only count on themselves. Due to confinement, most of them can’t go out to work, and to stop working is not a choice when they live on a day by day basis and the only housing they can afford are “pagadiarios” (places for which they pay by the day.) Some of the sex workers who can’t get enough money to pay them do not have anywhere to stay during the lockdown or, even worse, they have had to live on the streets where they are more prone to get infected with COVID-19.
Different community-based organizations like Calle 7 Colombia and Fundación Red Comunitaria Trans have created initiatives to mitigate the impact of this situation.
Red Comunitaria, for example, created an emergency fund for sex workers during the pandemic. It has given — aside from safety — economic support, food and housing to thousands of trans people. However, individual private donations alone will not be enough to benefit everyone who needs it.
(You can donate to the foundation’s fund here.)
That is not the only problem the trans community is facing. Many different Colombian cities, including Bogotá, from April 13 have implemented “pico y género”, a gender-based measure that allows only men to leave their homes on odd days, only women to leave their homes on even days and trans people to leave their homes on those days based on their gender identity.
Although this decision was taken as a strategy to diminish both the number of people in the streets and to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, this decree makes non-binary or gender non-conforming people and the trans community more prone to violence.
The main concern with the decree is the police become the identity definer and watchdog. Their use of violence and abuse of power has been a historic phenomenon that has served to kill many people.
As of the date of this publication, they have already been numerous physical and verbal assaults against trans and non-hegemonic gender people. These include the case of Joseph, a trans man who was denied the right to enter a supermarket because the employees thought he was not enough of a “man.”
A similar situation happened in Peru, which alongside Panama also applied this measure. The government rescinded the policy after a video posted to social media showed police officers forcing three trans women to squat while they were forced to repeat “I want to be a man.”
It is understandable that a pandemic’s reality requires the adoption of measures for controlling the spread of the virus among citizens and that some of them demand the restrictions of some fundamental rights, such as freedom of movement and association. All of this is aimed to protect public health, but these policies cannot, in any moment, infringe on nondiscrimination rights.
The Colombian government must therefore listen to the voices of the most vulnerable populations during the crisis, who have been forced to endure unfair exclusion and assume the State’s responsibilities. Countries around the world must adopt mechanisms to restrict movement without using criteria that fosters additional risks for populations that already cope with structural exclusion in society because they are constantly criminalized and persecuted.