Isolated territories in Oceania were able to close their borders at an early stage and avoid the spread of the Coronavirus, but this did not render the population immune from collateral damage caused by the pandemic. An ALFO survey collected data from 145 people with the objective to assess how the pandemic impacted on LGBTIQ individuals. This survey was accessible on the internet (15 March to 30 April 2020) and ALFO also initiated discussions with its networks and individuals. The sample group came from Oceania, francophone Africa and French overseas territories.
The survey covered a range of themes such as respondents’ health status, economic situation, perception of isolation and pandemic, solidarity, the situation before/during the pandemic, government response, personal experiences, community initiatives and expectations from ALFO. The majority of the respondents are in reasonably good health, but half of the group does not have proper health coverage. Some 66 % faced financial difficulties within two weeks of lockdown and 10 % after some seven weeks. The survey shows a large degree of solidarity in the LGBTIQ community ranging from financial and material support to maintaining regular personal contacts, providing shelter and mental support.
Almost ¾ of the respondents have difficulties in dealing with the pandemic situation. Border closure and lockdown are perceived as positive measures, but many fear that insufficient general screening and lack of immunity might raise the number of infections when borders re-open. Restrictions in movement and social contact created fear and stress about the unknown. Many respondents report a lack of transparent and timely decision-making, communication and information (in particular absence of LGBTIQ visibility in public messages), with social networks and social media getting priority over official communication channels.
Reduced financial autonomy is one of the main challenges in view of loss of income exacerbated by a cost increase for products and services (e.g. limited access to HIV medication, limited access to face masks and hand wash). Another important concern is the exponential increase in LGBTIQ-specific challenges such as harassment, domestic violence, discrimination and racism related to appearance, handicap, gender, lack of medication and postponed surgery for transgender people, etc.
The survey shed light on the precarious situation of the LGBTIQ community in Oceania, francophone Africa and French territories. The community expects from the authorities, in close cooperation with ALFO and its partners, appropriate and timely action and health protection that takes into consideration the special needs and respects the human rights of LGBTIQ individuals. Authorities need to look into the psychological impact of the pandemic and recognize the particular financial consequences faced by LGBIQ individuals especially sex workers and those working in the informal sector. ALFO and partner agencies will work with the authorities, civil society, professionals, families and the public at large to ensure that issues mentioned in the survey will receive necessary attention and promote integration of the LGBTIQ community.
ALFO is the network of LGBT+ associations of french-speaking territories in the Pacific area.
Depending on the method of calculation, between 600,000 and 800,000 French speakers (not counting tourists and expatriates) live in one of the “small territories” of the South Pacific* which represents 25% of the population in 2018 (*excluding large countries: PNG, Australia, New Zealand).
Pressures, discriminations, attacks on the person are common to all LGBT+ People from Pacific territories regardless of the linguistic context.
On the other hand, histories of their respective countries have caused organizational, political, and strategic problems which divide the visibility and the associative actions in an area where English language is predominant.
The goal of ALFO is to ensure that all expectations are fully taken into account and that representations are re-balanced in Oceanian decisions and actions by contributing to a reduction or disappearance of this institutional discrimination.
While respecting their autonomy and their inclusion in their own country expectations, the oceanian organizations of the french-speaking territories by grouping together in a network, pool their means, exchange on their practices, their needs, and especially position themselves together in the foreign bodies in sending the same message from LGBT+ melanesian and polynesian people.
A steering and animation device is set up. Online tools enable data sharing and collective arbitrations.
Finally, by being part of the financial aid schemes of the European Community, the South Pacific Community, the Pacific Islands Forum, the Ni-Vanuatu, French Polynesian, New Caledonian, and Futuna-Walisian governments, etc. ALFO will contribute:
- To develop and support joint programs for the promotion of equality and inclusion of LGBT+ Melanesian and Polynesian people with regard to the SOGIESC issues,
- Be better integrated and represented in international and continental LGBT+ human rights organizations and networks such as PSGDN, APTN, ILGA OCEANIA, ILGA WORLD, for example.
During this first organizational step, the network is led by Giigii, vice-president (Vanuatu), Laurent, founder & chair (New Caledonia, Wallis & Futuna) and Teriihauroa, vice-president (French Polynesia) with the aim of structuring the network and setting up its actions as described.