By Anne Sophie Parsons
During quarantine, I have been watching the feel-good comedy Pride (2014) as a sort of makeshift security blanket now that the possibility of gathering physically in the LGBTI+ community has been put on extended leave. With a healthy amount of disarming humour, the movie portrays a group of idealistic homosexual activists in 1984’s London, who are collecting money for the miners’ strike in an exceedingly class-divided England. The cooperation between these unlikely partners, who at first glance appear mismatched, is carried forward by faith, hope, and pure, fiery souls.
An alliance is forged and cemented by one solid shake of the hand between taciturn Welsh miners and out and proud homosexual activists. The handshake expresses more than words could: I’ve got your back – you can trust me when things look worse than ever.
Supporting one another, especially in the light of belonging to vulnerable sections of society, is a socioeconomic and forward-looking effort. While the British class division of the 80s and an ‘us against them’ mentality may seem a bit too rigid viewed from a contemporary perspective, there is always the risk of falling back into well-known patterns, mirroring the same conflict. Conversely, solidarity creates a platform wherein it is possible to utilise each other’s skills, networks, and, to just as high a degree, mental resources.
And in the context of the resourceful people in the LGBTI+ community, it is a helping hand that is worth its weight in gold. This is especially true for disadvantaged LGBTI+ asylum seekers and refugees with residence permits, who have had to flee because of their sexual orientation or gender-based identity and are suffering under the isolation made necessary by the ongoing corona pandemic. For what are you to do when you must put on an act and stay in the closet because of your roommate at the asylum centre? When social gatherings and places of belonging within the LGBTI+ community are no longer available, and you cannot meet with likeminded people with the same sexuality or gender identity as yourself? When you are alone? And when the psychological baggage you have brought with you is growing with each passing day?
Due to the demands of social distancing, communities have instead moved to the internet. When you cannot gather in real life, you must stay updated on each other’s mental health via various online platforms.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the Danish-based organisation LGBT Asylum has invited their members to virtual bingo and Friday cafés as a way to combat loneliness. Smiling and lagging, light and dark faces roll up in small squares on computer screens in the homes of contacts, and in the rooms of the asylum seekers. “How are you?” is the most frequently uttered sentence in each meeting. The most important thing to know is how you are feeling, and that there is an opportunity to air your thoughts on the current, relentless crisis we find ourselves in.
The virtual meetings also provide unique experiences that need to be pointed out: Where else can you lead a conversation with a Samsung Galaxy S10 that never truly undergoes a full transformation into a human being, as well as following the creation of homemade Easter chickens with bulging eyes?
I spoke about this with Yanaba Mompremier, head of the secretariat in LGBT Asylum. During our conversation, she mentioned how the corona crisis has prompted us to think outside of the box in terms of the preservation of our communities:
“The lockdown has made it necessary to rethink how we meet. In LGBT Asylum, we have made use of digital platforms, had various themes and activities, and had a daily online diary in one of our Facebook groups. Nevertheless, it has proved challenging for most of our members to access these platforms – they have had neither the energy nor the resources to participate in this type of communication. Instead, we have developed new activities (that follow the government guidelines, of course), which have made it possible for the members of the group to meet up physically – a crucial step in the preservation of their mental health.”
This initiative has resulted in a few planned picnics in secure conditions. Small groups of up to 8 people from LGBT Asylum’s group have met outdoors in Copenhagen and Aarhus to enjoy each other’s company – naturally, while maintaining proper distance and with hands slathered in hand-sanitiser.
The usual one-on-one relations and supporting efforts have also been initiated gradually within the guidelines – assisting with education, finding living spaces, or just an honest chat. The crisis hasn’t curbed the needs, problems, and worries that LGBTI+ asylum seekers and refugees are faced with. In fact, the reverse is true – anxiety, depression, and general unhappiness have been on the rise because of the crisis.
Furthermore, these concerns are valid. For instance, it is possible to apply for permanent residency if you’ve lived in Denmark for eight years. However, there are a few additional requirements that need to be met, and they have only become more stringent in recent years. For this reason, losing your job during the corona crisis can have grave consequences.
Mads Ted Drud-Jensen, a committee member in LGBT Asylum, focuses specifically on this point:
“The corona crisis has underlined the necessity of communities just like ours in LGBT Asylum. And because the crisis may have protracted consequences, for some more than others, we must make sure to maintain and strengthen the communities. Even if it is especially challenging in the current circumstances.”
Nicholas Chisha is a member of LGBT Asylum, and, fortunately, his LGBTI+ asylum case was one of the few to enter through the judicial eye of the needle as he gained his residence permit in the past few years. He has participated actively in the group, especially during the quarantine, and when I reached out to him, he smilingly and energetically shared his lockdown experiences with me:
”It’s been 8 weeks+ since lockdown. As human beings, at our core, is the need for social human interaction, though, with LGBT Asylum, our monthly meetings have been interrupted. Thank God for the virtual café meetings and of course the times we have met online and played bingo. Yes, we have self-isolated and practised social distancing, but one thing corona hasn’t taken away is our connection as an LGBTI+ family. We have been put to the test and in solidarity, we stand.”
Support is also to be found outside the Danish borders: internationally, the Greek NGO LGBTQ+ Refugees Welcome has helped as best they could by allying with the group Emantes – International LGBTQ Solidarity to establish an online fundraiser for LGBTI+ asylum seekers through their #4isCalling campaign. In the space of two weeks, they managed to raise 2,213 EUR (or 15,755 DKK). While addressing this initiative, it is also important to keep in mind that Greece’s Moria Camp – at the time of writing, the largest European refugee camp – is populated by 18,000 people of all ages and various sexualities and gender identities. The capacity of the camp is 2,200.
In the wake of the grave government announcements on the 11th of March, when the bizarre reality of corona times first hit us, other less palpable events took place. I am tempted to say something is rotten in the state of Denmark, to quote Shakespeare’s Hamlet. While hoarding toilet paper and food supplies, our general attitude towards each other in society was put under a media microscope. Her Majesty the Queen, Margrethe II, even had to scold the Danish population like disobedient children who had to be called to attention.
Hopefully, we can aspire for the solidary nature of the LGBTI+ community to serve as a guiding star in the aftermath of the pandemic. How the time after quarantine will be defined in terms of economic and social consequences, it is hard to say at the moment. But we can always put hope in our willingness to reach out and stand together.
To quote the movie, Pride: “When you’re in a battle against an enemy so much bigger, so much stronger than you – to find out you had a friend you never knew existed, well, that’s the best feeling in the world.”
This feels particularly relevant and apt today and emphasises the importance of maintaining a united front – in the name of solidarity and community spirit.