Trans rights and COVID19: LGBTIQ+ Activism in the UK with Eli Fitzgerald

Pride month is celebrated across the world every June to mark the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots in the USA, a watershed event for LGBTQI+ rights. This year, because of Covid-19 pride celebrations have been cancelled in most parts of the world and/or have gone online. We have gathered five stories of young LGBTQI+ activists from across the globe to showcase their resilience in the face of uncertainty and how they are celebrating pride during the pandemic. 

This interview is part of our Pride 2020 series spotlighting LGBTQI+ Activists around the world. In this instalment, Aapurv and Jenny spoke with Eli Fitzgerald from the UK.

Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your activism?

I am a human rights activist and campaigner, for transgender people and those living eith HIV and AIDS. I advocate for young people living with HIV; working and volunteering with The Children’s HIV Association (CHIVA) and Youth Stop AIDS to raise issues and concerns that affect young people living with HIV nationally and globally. I also volunteer with a local HIV service, Brigstowe, as part of their campaigns group.

Within my transgender rights activism I try to ensure that transgender voices are heard within healthcare and specifically in sexual healthcare. I work to ensure that access to healthcare is more inclusive and accepting of trans and non binary people. Also to bring awareness to the risk of HIV transmissions within trans communities as trans voices are often left behind within HIV support, resources and research, regardless of their known higher risk of HIV diagnoses. 

What are the biggest concerns of LGBTQI+ communities in the UK?

One of the biggest concerns of LGBTQI+ communities in the UK is regression on LGBTQI rights. This is a particular concern for trans rights, but especially trans women. We are currently facing very high rates of homophobic and transphobic hate crime, with an increase of 80% since 2018. 

There is constant ongoing transphobia spreading throughout the media in the UK, people who claim to be feminists but discriminate against trans people (TERFs or gender critical feminists) have large followings and power here. And currently there is a discussion about the future of trans healthcare and trans rights, as members of parliament have begun to set out policies that discriminate against trans people, reducing access to spaces that fit their gender. Toilet access is an example of this, and again this discrimination is particularly aimed towards trans women but effects the whole of the trans community. 

Trans kids and trans young people are constantly being put into the spotlight as people, who often claim to be supporting them, are trying to take away their access to gender identity services, puberty blockers and hormone therapy. All of these are life saving for trans kids and trans people across the UK. Furthermore trans healthcare and trans services are awful in the UK, waiting lists for appointments to see gender specialists are over 2 years.  Personally I got referred to a gender clinic in February of 2017 and as of today (June 2020) I am still yet to hear anything at all – all of this forces trans people into difficult financial decisions as many trans people choose to go private for their trans healthcare, which is very expensive, especially for surgeries. 

Elsewhere within the UK we are still struggling to get PrEP accessible for everyone on the NHS.

Eli Fitzgerald gay and trans rights activist working at Brigstowe
Eli campaigning for and supporting HIV services with a colleague from Brigstowe.

 

How has Covid19 impacted the LGBTQI+ communities in the UK? 

Covid-19 has had a huge impact on LGBTQI communities.  Firstly, the UK, especially England, has taken various steps to roll back on trans rights – making most major announcements during the COVID19 lockdown. This is particularly damaging as LGBTQI+ support services have become inaccessible to many, and there are huge issues with mental health within trans communities. It has also meant loss of access to medication and medical services that provide hormone injections, some trans people are having their life saving surgeries cancelled which has had a huge effect on the lives of trans people. 

Young LGBTQI+ communities rely on support groups and safe spaces. Many of these have moved online with group video calls but this can be very inaccessible to many young queer people as their home envornments may not be safe places to join these calls and talk openly about their gender and/or sexuality. Further to this financial difficulties in being able to afford technology or wifi are excluding many. 

HIV services have also become hard to access and young people living with HIV are going for long durations without speaking to their HIV nurses and clinicians. With HIV often being so stigmatised at home that they are finding it hard to talk openly and get support. Sexual health testing and screening is now hard to come by. However lockdown presented a once in a lifetime chance to have people tested and lower HIV transmissions post lockdown, this is done by home testing kits however these are often aimed at cis gay communities leaving other members of LGBTQI+ communities out of the conversation. Not to mention that home testing kits are still not available across the whole of the UK. 

How can International NGOs support LGBTQI+ communities in these times?

Personally I believe that we all need to do more to raise awareness of issues affecting people around the globes. We cannot always fight our fight when there are those with voices louder than ours. Trans people can often be ignored which is why it’s important that cisgendered people speak up, that organisations speak up for us and our rights. This is especially important right now as trans rights are being targeted during COVID19 and lockdown, but also during pride month.

Often organisations show their support by changing their logo’s colours or making one statement about their support for the LGBTQI+ community, but this isn’t enough. We need to see action in what they do and why they do it. We need to see more than the rainbow profiles because LGBTQI+ communities are not just worthy of representation when it is fashionable to do so. Pride month may be just once a year, but LGBTQI+ people are here everyday and we are not going anywhere. If we all do something to show our solidarity to LGBTQI+ people, then it will out number the hate we receive. 

And how are you going to mark Pride month?

As someone who has to shield due to COVID19 there are few things I can do. However I am going to try and do more self care; being an activist during times of austerity targetted at trans people, and also during a global pandemic, life can get very overwhelming and exhausting – so the best thing I can do for myself is to ensure that I am kind to myself. 

I also will post a lot on social media and use my voice to try and amplify the voices of trans people and young people living with HIV during these difficult times. It’s important our voices are heard, especially in pride month and especially when there is so much hate going around. 

Check out the rest of our Pride2020 interviews with LGBTQI+ activists around the world.pride2020
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Jenny Bowie

Jenny Bowie

Jenny is a passionate advocate for youth engagement, gender equality and LGBTQI+ rights. Jenny grew up in London before studying African Studies and Politics at the University of Birmingham. After her studies, and a short stint working in pubs, Jenny moved to Tanzania, followed by Uganda to work with different community and youth organisations. On returning to London, she worked at Bond on campaigns and advocacy before joining AbleChildAfrica to support disability rights. Jenny joined Restless Development in 2017 as Global Capacity Building Manager working on the MTV Staying Alive Foundation Programme. In 2019 she transitioned into the role of Senior Youth Engagement Manager where she has led our youth engagement consultancy services. Outside work Jenny is studying for an MSc in Gender and Sexuality and enjoys supporting Queer arts spaces in London.

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Trans rights and COVID19: LGBTIQ+ Activism in the UK with Eli Fitzgerald

by Jenny Bowie Reading time: 5 min
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