2020: The Year in Queer Disaster Relief
In 2020 a series of disasters took place around the world. These disasters were exacerbated by issues of climate change, geopolitical tensions and incompetent government responses. However they were also challenged by the Queer communities, organisations and individuals’ participation in non-government funded relief efforts. These efforts were initiated in ways that were not tied to or even openly disrupting the usual political hierarchies and conservative priorities of aid in general for sustaining the world order ‘as it was’ and returning to its norms after disasters are over. The relief given was instead more disruptive and sometimes social, comical, musical, financial or based on alternative ideas about ‘relief’ …and how the world could re-form, after the disasters.
JANUARY: Freedom From… Flood?
In January a series of subversive news articles in the alternative and Queer press circulated, poking fun at homophobic responses from parts of the far right religious fringe to the ‘Australian apocalypse’. The ‘Australian Apocalypse’ was used by both the alternative and Queer press to loosely refer to these extremists’ framings of the intense floods Australia experienced in January 2020, after and with some overlap with a series of devastating fires and blood red skies raining ash on an animal corpse-pocked land exacerbated by Climate Change, as the punishments of an angry God. The trope held that such extremists viewed the series of disasters, alongside the dust storms affecting Australian asthmatics and crocodile sightings in suburban canals reported lower down than usual across the North of the country, as direct smiting by the angry God for Australia’s recent legalisation of same sex marriage. In part this framing was tied to and also used to make fun of the same kind of extremist fringe thinking used to justify religious discrimination in the ongoing 2020 push for the Religious Freedom Bills. This holistic unscientific world-view seeks to justify institutions ranging from healthcare to education and other industries able to directly discriminate against LGBTIQ+ (and other) Australians on cherry-picked religious bases, at the expense of notions of constitutional or innate human rights to non-discrimination on religious bases, and in denial of any responsibilities to or impacts on others or the earth itself. As Cam Smith from The Chaser noted in his seminal satirical piece ‘BREAKING: Australian government repeals gay marriage in attempt to stop natural disasters’: Asked whether it might be climate change behind a majority of the freak weather events, given scientists predicted it would cause this exact outcome over 20 years ago, Morrison said that “so called Climate Change” was just wild superstition, and he would not be making laws based around the fringe beliefs of a crazy cult. In unrelated news, the Religious Discrimination Bill is expected to be passed by the parliament early next week.
FEBRUARY: Fires & Fatherhood
k.d. lang is a Canadian dykon pop and country music vocalist of remarkable talent. She is increasingly given the honorific ‘K-Daddy Lang’ by her Queer fans; honouring her fathering of butch self-determination in the public eye against all advice and odds in the mainstream music and media industry of the 1980s during the global HIV pandemic. To fathom K-Daddy put up with in the earlier years, one need only (re-)watch her 1980s and even early 1990s interviews on Youtube. A bright-eyed and colourfully dressed young Lang talks about how she channels Elvis or Patsy Cline, eats a vegetarian diet, prefers to date women and enjoys wearing short hair and boots… themes found in fairly standard tropes for contemporary lesbians or women generally now, but often directly labelled ‘eccentric’, ‘bizarre’, ‘freaky’ or ‘hoopla’ by her interviewers (here’s looking at you, Jack Webster from BCTV Webster https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_7ExsNi9pw). Her ironic, honest but generously warm responses in the face of gender biased and sometimes directly homophobic attitudes she was so far ahead of, are both an absolute pleasure and a pain to watch. Part of the pain is given the persistent or increased grip of these attitudes in some quarters to this day. K-Daddy has long owned a special relationship with Australia. It was one of the international countries quickest to embrace her more original voice and style perhaps in part due to the strong influence of other queer icons like Molly Meldrum on both the local alternative queer and mainstream music scenes. In response to the extreme bush fire season Australia had faced which devastated both human and animal lives and homes across the country, Daddy Lang joined comedian Celeste Barber’s Fire Fight Australia concert to benefit Australian bushfire relief. Daddy Lang gave a matchless rendering of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ to a sold-out crowd at ANZ Stadium in Sydney Olympic Park alongside a range of many other performers. Her haunting performance brought the audience to a standstill and in some cases tears.
MARCH: Flu & Funding
OutRight Action International is a New York based non-government organisation focussed on rights-based pragmatic interventions for LGBTIQ+ people. As COVID-19 continued to spread around the world, Outright distinguished its own response sharply from the US Trump Administration with its early and diversified recognitions of the increased impacts of COVID-19 on diverse marginal international populations. In mid-March the organisation launched the OutRight TV video and podcast series bringing to light stories of LGBTIQ people and allies from across the globe interviewed on they issues they faced around the COVID-19 pandemic: experiences, feelings, challenges … mixed in with funny sock-puppet play, anxieties about growing police states and shutting down of LGBTIQ+ bars, and soul-sustaining gossip about favourite trending Lebanese drag queen videos moving onto Instagram and Youtube!
This more socially oriented measure was coupled with the launch of the OutRight COVID-19 Global LGBTIQ Emergency Fund; a more materially oriented measure in collaboration with founding partners Calvin Klein, Inc., Microsoft Corp. and the Dunn Family Charitable Foundation. By the end of March the fund had already raised $130,000 from individuals keen to support the LGBTIQ+ community globally with emergency financial resources to LGBTIQ organizations around the world serving people impacted by COVID-19, and to document and respond to the impacts of the crisis on LGBTIQ communities. Outright’s Executive Director Jessica Stern introduced these new measures with the statement:
LGBTIQ people already experience barriers to access to health, high levels of domestic and family violence, and scapegoating for crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, LGBTIQ people are also cut off from community centers and gatherings where we can be ourselves, feel supported, and safe. Our friends and partners tell us they are also facing income loss, food scarcity, homelessness, and more.
In April social and physical distancing measures and health-based school exclusions spread more widely across a range of countries around the world; though in an ad hoc way complicating their effectiveness. These policies were an attempt to ‘slow down the curve’ of charts plotting increased COVID-19 reports by nation, relieving or attempting to prevent the inevitable over-burden on healthcare systems (and related loss of life) that the quicker spread of the virus would engender. This meant many people around the world were now staying home: with family members and sometimes with or without income depending on their context. A late April New Orleans event ‘Cyber-distancing’ showcased local drag artists online via zoom and in Chicago-based performer Mini Pearl Necklace took to Twitch with 11 performers for a show they called ‘Notta Contact Sport’.
Similarly FtM Transgender Ugandan activist Victor Mukasa released the first episode of The Victor Mukasa show on spotify, a Queer African show. The show offered a source of news, lifestyle, history, business, politics, organizing, entertainment with an African Queer core. The introductory episodes tell Mukasa’s own story including his experiences of police assaults and harassment over his work with Sexual Minorities Uganda, and subsequent work on lawsuits for example.
MAY: Fun, Face-masks, Fierceness
Across Australia (and the globe!) many LGBTIQ+ people and supported joined Queer Love In. Together from their homes, they sang, danced, laughed and even drew peacocks as they – with LGBTIQ+ pioneers, leaders, celebrities and frontline workers – reflected on how paths from the past and future for Australian LGBTIQ+ equality. Participants donated almost $10,000 to support Equality Australia’s work and LGBTIQ+ artists doing it tough through COVID-19 restrictions on their work. A recap on participants’ favourite bits can be viewed on Equality Australia’s facebook page – including contributions from IndigLez, intersex rights advocate Stephanie Lum, lawyer Anna Brown, comedian Joel Creasey, Olympian Ian Thorpe and many others. Equality Australia also launched a report (Equality Australia, 2020) and an online repository of COVID-19 related supports for LGBTIQ+ people on their webpage (https://equalityaustralia.org.au/).
The LGBTIQ+ community in Poland faced recurrent and increasing abuse under right-wing governance and social discourse perpetuated by the presiding conservative Law and Justice party (PiS), often being cast as part of a so-called ‘homosexual plague’ (Campbell, 2020). This notion was especially spurred on in the discriminatory comments made by Polish religious leaders in the Polish Catholic Church’s attempt at revival. This included for example in various public remarks by Krakow’s Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski, who had labelled Poland as embattled under a ‘rainbow plague’ of LGBTIQ+ rights campaigners/ everyday citizens he conflated also absurdly with all-powerful cruel past Polish communist leaders (Duffy, 2020). Gay-identifying men Dawid Mycek and Jakub Kwiecinski from Warsaw Poland, who had married in Portugal and seen this increase of homophobia across recent years especially from the ruling party’s encouragements in 2020. They decided that they should rebel against this notion of LGBTIQ+ people as plagues or plague-spreading, and subvert the dominant leadership’s discourse on their identities. They developed a public activism and aid movement, specifically representing LGBTIQ+ people as helping cure a real ‘plague’: COVID 19. The two husbands filmed themselves as they gave away hundreds of free rainbow face masks they had made, to aid people in protecting themselves from the fast-spreading coronavirus on the streets of the northerly urban area Gdansk. At the time Poland had reported over 10K cases and around 500 deaths; wearing a mask was required in public places. The two men also used the opportunity to encourage a show of pride from the Poles, and raise awareness of the difficulties faced by the LGBTIQ+ community in being misrepresented as a disease in their country. The video ‘Rozdajemy tęczowe maski’ was uploaded online to Facebook and viewed millions of times, global versions of the video in different languages also went viral. The two Poles received over 80 death threats reportedly by the end of April; but continued promoting their actions regardless for the LGBTIQ+ community and for local Polish citizens’ health.
On the eve of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOBIT) on 17 May 2020, a group of United Nations and international human rights experts made a fierce statement calling on countries and stakeholders to urgently account for the impact of COVID-19 on LGBTIIQ+ people (OHCHR, 2020). Especially when designing, implementing and evaluating the measures to combat the pandemic. The statement acknowledged the increased poverty and homelessness experienced by the group, and how the pandemic created a context conducive to increased persecution including some nations:
– enacting measures which intentionally target LGBT persons under the guise of public health,
– proposing legislation to deny transgender and gender diverse persons of their legal recognition;
– reporting increased hate speech explicitly or implicitly inciting violence against LGBT persons as on the rise;
-displaying discourse by prominent political or religious leaders blaming the pandemic on the existence of LGBT persons in the community;
-using increased surveillance and other digital technologies enacted to track COVID-19 carriers for infringing privacy and exacerbating stigma.
JUNE: Feats Fuel Fervency
In June the Trump administration was rolling back protections for trans and gender diverse folks, with the Department of Health enabling a crisis of discrimination against trans folks seeking healthcare. However in a landmark decision mid-June, the Supreme Court voted 6-3 that workplace discrimination based on sexuality and gender identity is a form of sex discrimination, and protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. US LGBTIQ+ advocacy group and media watchdog GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis made a statement:
Victories like this don’t happen in a vacuum. (…) This morning’s ruling by the Supreme Court to uphold employment protections for LGBTQ people gives us hope that as a country we can unite for the common good and continue the fight for LGBTQ acceptance.
OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern also welcomed the ruling:
The decision comes at a time when the Trump administration has been viciously attacking the rights of LGBTIQ people, in particular trans people. It will protect millions of Americans from discrimination in the workplace, and sends a powerful message – that political power-play can not erase basic human rights. (…) This judgment will have implications for LGBTIQ people everywhere – governments and movements are inspired by each other, and landmark judgments are quoted by courts across the world.
Immediately, LGBTIQ+ advocates in Western Australia called on Premier Mark McGowan to reassess problematic state laws, and Tasmanian advocate Rodney Croome called on Scott Morrison to abandon his Religious Discrimination Bills, in light of the US Supreme Court’s decision (Hill, 2020).
JULY: Far-reaching Federations
Kalen Allen, a celebrity personality from the Ellen Show, was one of the grand marshals for the first-ever Global Black Gay Pride, which was a virtual 12hr global experience taking place on Friday, July 10th, 2020. This inaugural event was not be the usual pride celebration but described as ‘a riot’! As a movement, organisers Global Black Gay Men Connect (GBGMC, founded in 2018, an activist-led nonprofit organization registered in New York) stated that they ‘believe that our core issues are at a make-or-break moment, and together we need solutions bold enough to meet the greatest challenges of our lifetime, and big enough to bring world leaders and all of us to get it done’. As a collective, GBGMC fosters an activist-led movement with the goal of building local power to intervene in discrimination and violence inflicted on Black Gay communities and men wherever they live. Organisers state that they strive to facilitate intentional involvement by engaging Black gay men across the world and developing their capacity to rapidly intervene on human rights issues surrounding mental and physical health, police brutality, immigration, and general well-being.
AUGUST: Forbidding Faith-based ‘Fixing’
In May a United Nations report was prepared on the disastrous impacts of faith-based conversion therapies used to change LGBTIQA+ people to fit heteronormative cisgender binary sex ideals; with information on the health crises they comprised presented to the human rights commission in June (United Nations, 2020). Legislative studies found Brazil, Ecuador, Malta, and Taiwan banned conversion therapy nationally; whilst Canada, Spain and the US had some localised restrictions and began debating them further (Bishop, 2019; UN, 2020). This move was reflected in a variety of bans in bills or inquiries around bills emerging at the state level in Australia with aid from a variety of academic, community and legal queer representatives towards the end of 2020:
- Queensland’s parliament outlawed conversionpractices by health service providers and set aside funding to identify supports for survivors using the Health Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 (QLD Government, 2020) in August.
- The Australian Capital Territory’s parliament outlawed paid or unpaid formal and informal conversion practices for both children and adults, focusing on the intent of the ‘practitioner’ and including unprecedented affirmation of the psychological equality of LGBTQA+ individuals in the Sexuality and Gender Identity Conversion Practices Bill 2020 (ACT Minister for Social Inclusion and Equality & ACT Minister for Justice Consumer Affairs and Road Safety, 2020) end of August.
- Victoria’s Premier made a commitment to outlaw conversion practices (Carey, 2019), investigating across the end of the year.
- South Australia’s Labor Opposition signalled it would introduce a private members bill in 2020 (Richards & Skujins, 2020); and
- The Tasmanian Law Reform Institute began conducting an inquiry into Tasmanian legislation in the area (Hill, 2019).
- Tasmania’s Law Reform Institute is inquiring into local legislation (Hill, 2019); and
- Western Australia’s Health Minister will assess the effectiveness of incoming Federal health regulation strategies towards legislation (WA Parliamentary Council, 2020).
SEPTEMBER: Feminist Family Faculty
Over 2020 and as Melbourne’s restrictions lengthened, the particular multi-generational and gender-based implications for ‘who would mind the kids’ and ‘who would school the kids’ during lock-downs were borne out in problematic ways in many households with children. Feminists were concerned about the return to the old problem of the traditional expectation of reliance on female role-related childcare in many homes; such issues were particularly exacerbated in the US which was one of the few Western democracies not providing free childcare. One study found that US mothers with young children reduced their work hours four to five times more than fathers – consequently the gender gap in work hours had grown by 20–50 per cent (Collins, Landivar, Ruppanner, & Scarborough, 2020). The UK, Australia, Sweden and many other democratic countries had some government-funded childcare supply available. LGBTIQ+ parents and guardians of children and young people have always presented a difference to heteronormative ‘Mum-as-child-minder/educator only’ demands; though it is notable that many parents in LGBTIQ+ studies are more often cisgender middleclass lesbians who may face some additional gender-based pressures around ideals for mothers and work engagement (Mann & Jones, 2019). From the child-minding roles of fafafine in Samoa to the co-parenting of two or more dads in relationships right through to gender diverse family ‘village’ communities who provide different types of role modelling and education for kids, LGBTIQ+ people were both family and educative faculty to their shared children and those of loved ones in their networks across 2020. There were also implications for those LGBTIQ+ people stuck at home with unsupportive families and housemates.
OCTOBER: Fines for Freedom to Fight
As the year closed, across contexts the freedom to protest faced significant challenges that some activists argue come from the misuse of COVID-19 restrictions to contain legitimate peaceful protests, and thus to contain dissent against government actions and inactions. There were for example police crackdowns against LGBTIQ+ pride parades in the Philippines (Thoreson, 2020), and against blank protest signs in Hong Kong (Bradsher, 2020), and against the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in the US and in nations like Sri Lanka and Australia (Kumarasinghe, 2020; Moore, 2020; Wax-Thibodeaux, Elfrink, Armus, & Peiser, 2020), to name but a few examples… leading various advocates, journalists, academics and politicians to question whether the freedom to fight various rights incursions was itself under particular threat in many locations in 2020 where a slide into authoritarianism had already taken place or was potentially in process. In Sydney during October arrests and $1,000 fines were issued by police at a Community Action for Rainbow Rights’ protest against Mark Latham’s introduction of a proposed amendment bill to parliament restricting support for LGBTIQ+ topics and people in schools (Hayman, 2020). Key speakers such as Member for Parliament Jenny Leong were ultimately unable to speak at the event, and took to social media such as Facebook and other locations to share concerns about limitations being imposed on not only the education system’s supports for the LGBTIQ+ community, but on the free non-violent and socially distant expression of dissent itself.
In sum, the internet – though doubtless a highly problematic tool for the LGBTIQ+ community – has nonetheless provided possibilities to speak out; share funding, support and connection and voice political dissent when many other avenues and physical venues became unavailable this year… whether due to pandemic restrictions, financial closures or police interventions. As 2021 beckons, the LGBTIQ+ community will continue to need to (re)consider how specialised disaster relief for members can be ensured by the community itself, as mass unemployment and more restrictive governments redirect past support elsewhere. Shared spaces – once somewhat reinforced through commercial viability or institutional offerings – may continue to be reimagined using online and networked environments overcoming the obstacles of our times. Finally a close watch should be kept on misuse of disasters themselves as means for attacking the community, and its voice.
ACT Minister for Social Inclusion and Equality, & ACT Minister for Justice Consumer Affairs and Road Safety. (2020). Sexuality and Gender Identity Conversion Practices Bill 2020. Canberra: Australian Capital Territory Government and ACT Parliamentary Counsel’s Office
Bradsher, K. (2020). Under the Cover of Corona Virus Hong Kong Cracks Down on Protesters. The New York Times,. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/21/world/asia/coronavirus-hong-kong-protests.html
Campbell, E. (2020). Poland’s government is leading a Catholic revival. It has minorities and liberals worried. ABC News,. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-28/poland-catholic-church-revival-lgbt-rights/12180704
Carey, A. (2019). Victoria to ban gay conversion therapy. The Age,. Retrieved from https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/victoria-to-ban-gay-conversion-therapy-20190203-p50vdn.html?link_id=4&can_id=ac2b07a77286b0fcaba82d673345c2e2&source=email-its-time-to-end-lgbtq-conversion-practices-2&email_referrer=email_891137___subject_1218954&email_subject=update-on-ending-conversion-practices
Collins, C., Landivar, L., Ruppanner, L., & Scarborough, W. (2020). COVID‐19 and the gender gap in work hours. Feminist Frontiers, Onlinefirst. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gwao.12506
Duffy, N. (2020). Archbishop claims a ‘rainbow plague’ is afflicting Poland. Pink News,. Retrieved from https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2019/08/02/archbishop-claims-rainbow-plague-afflicting-poland/
Equality Australia. (2020). LGBTIQ+ COMMUNITIES AND COVID-19: A report on the impacts of COVID-19 on Australian LGBTIQ+ communities and building a strong response. Retrieved from Melbourne:
Hayman, R. (2020). NSW Police make arrest and issue $1,000 fines at banned Sydney rally protesting anti-transgender bill. ABC News,. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-10-10/nsw-arrests-made-at-sydney-protest-anti-transgender-bill/12751208
Hill, L. A. (2019). Tasmanian Law Reform Institute to conduct inquiry into conversion practice. Out in Perth,. Retrieved from https://www.outinperth.com/tasmanian-law-reform-institute-to-conduct-inquiry-into-conversion-practice/?link_id=6&can_id=ac2b07a77286b0fcaba82d673345c2e2&source=email-its-time-to-end-lgbtq-conversion-practices-2&email_referrer=email_891137___subject_1218954&email_subject=update-on-ending-conversion-practices
Hill, L. A. (2020). US Supreme Court rules against LGBTIQ+ workplace discrimination. Out in Perth,. Retrieved from https://www.outinperth.com/us-supreme-court-rules-against-lgbtiq-workplace-discrimination/
Kumarasinghe, K. (2020). Sri Lanka Cracks Down on Black Lives Matter Solidarity Protest: A protest against police brutality in the U.S. is met with police brutality in Colombo. The Diplomat,. Retrieved from https://thediplomat.com/2020/06/sri-lanka-cracks-down-on-black-lives-matter-solidarity-protest/
Mann, T., & Jones, T. (2019). What LGBT Parents Want in Schools. In Bent Street (Vol. 3, pp. 151-162). Melbourne: Clouds of Magellan.
Moore, C. (2020). Australian Black Lives Matter protesters are set for a showdown with the police after cops call for weekend demonstration to be BANNED. Daily Mail,. Retrieved from https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8390671/Gladys-cracks-NSW-asks-Supreme-Court-BAN-protest.html
OHCHR, U. N. (2020). Statement by human rights experts on the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. Retrieved from https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25884&LangID=E
QLD Government. (2020). Health Legislation Amendment Bill 2019. Brisbane: Queensland Government and Parliamentary Counsel
Richards, S., & Skujins, A. (2020). SA move to outlaw conversion therapy. InDaily,. Retrieved from https://indaily.com.au/news/2020/07/16/sa-move-to-outlaw-conversion-therapy/?link_id=5&can_id=ac2b07a77286b0fcaba82d673345c2e2&source=email-its-time-to-end-lgbtq-conversion-practices-2&email_referrer=email_891137___subject_1218954&email_subject=update-on-ending-conversion-practices
Thoreson, R. (2020). Philippines Police Crack Down on LGBT Protest: Covid-19 Pandemic Should Not Be Used to Silence Dissent. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/06/29/philippines-police-crack-down-lgbt-protest
United Nations. (2020). Report on conversion therapy. Geneva: United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner.
WA Parliamentary Council. (2020). McGowan Government Election Commitments. Hansard, p1497c-1516a. Retrieved from https://www.parliament.wa.gov.au/Hansard/Hansard.nsf/0/0c7df2e4032e8f2548258531002809a2/$FILE/C40%20S1%2020200318%20p1497c-1516a.pdf
Wax-Thibodeaux, E., Elfrink, T., Armus, T., & Peiser, J. (2020). Protests: Barr slams Black Lives Matter, accuses the left of ‘tearing down the system’. The Washington Post,. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/08/10/protests-live-updates/