LGBTQ people have been here before — the early days of a pandemic. The first cases. Then more and more. Who will get it? What will the first signs be? Would we be next?
Now as then, fear took hold and not a little panic ensued as we watched people we loved sicken and die in a pattern that often seemed cruelly arbitrary.
There are already those looking for a scapegoat for this new virus, COVID19. An Orthodox rabbi claimed coronavirus was God’s punishment for gays. Rabbi Meir Mazuz is the former spiritual leader of Israel’s Yachad party. “When someone goes against nature, the one who created nature takes revenge on him,” he said.
Mazuz’s words were condemned by the Anti-Defamation League.
An evangelical pastor, Steven Andrew of the USA Christian Church, issued a press release stating “homosexuals” were to blame for coronavirus. “God’s love shows it is urgent to repent, because the Bible teaches homosexuals lose their souls and God destroys LGBT societies,” Andrew said. “Obeying God protects the USA from diseases, such as the coronavirus…Our safety is at stake,” he asserted.
Yet the coronavirus was being spread at the anti-science, anti-LGBTQ CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference). Republican members of Congress, as well as President Trump’s former and newly appointed Chiefs of Staff, are all self-quarantining. The President and Vice President were both exposed, but have not self-quarantined nor been tested.
If we were like them, we would claim God had a plan.
But we aren’t. We know that viruses know no ideology; no community knows better than ours what happens when people ignore science for bigotry. We also know what our role is as a community in this current COVID19 pandemic: Protect the vulnerable.
Pennsylvania has one of the largest communities of older LGBTQ in the country. Philadelphia also has a large population who are HIV+. And there are also many LGBTQ people who are living in deep poverty, with no fixed address, surfing from sofa to floor to shelter, sometimes participating in survival sex work and living in addiction, because they have been rejected by their families and society.
These members of our community are at the highest risk and need our help and protection.
The LGBTQ community survived the HIV/AIDS pandemic of the ’80s and ’90s. We had many casualties. We have a quilt — the NAMES Project — that has covered the entire Washington mall in front of the Capitol when it has been displayed, to memorialize how many dead. But more of us survived. And so it will be with this new COVID19 virus. Our community must care for itself — make sure our sick and elderly are safe, reach out to the most vulnerable, fight scapegoating.
The coming weeks and months will be fraught, but we know what to do: Take care of each other until it’s over.