Feature story

Supporting transgender people during the COVID-19 pandemic

06 April 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted people’s lives around the world, including those of many marginalized people, who suddenly face additional burdens and vulnerabilities.

Many areas in Indonesia, which as of 6 April had 2491 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 209 deaths, have put in place measures, such as physical distancing, to curb the spread of COVID-19. While effective in responding to the disease, many people have been impacted by the effects of physical distancing on the economy.

Out of 1000 people living with HIV and members of key populations surveyed by the Indonesian Positive Network, more than 50% are experiencing severe impacts on their livelihoods, including many transgender women. Sanggar Swara, a civil society organization of young transgender women in Jakarta, conducted a rapid assessment that found that more than 640 transgender people in greater Jakarta have lost their jobs, leaving them unable to support themselves. “On several occasions when the distribution of basic food staples took place, many of them could not access it as they do not have their identity cards on hand or simply due to their gender identity,” said Kanzha Vinaa, the head of Sanggar Swara.

Seeing the critical need for support, the Crisis Response Mechanism (CRM) Coalition, fronted by the civil society organizations LBH Masyarakat, Arus Pelangi, Sanggar Swara and GWL Ina, with support from UNAIDS Indonesia, decided to raise funds for the transgender community. “Since 28 March, we spread the information about the fundraising to communities and partners. Our plan was to collect the funds and distribute them to transgender women in need, with support from focal points in the areas,” said Kanzha Vinaa.

In less than a week, the CRM Coalition had collected more than IDR 67 000 000—around US$ 4100—and distributed food and hygiene packages to more than 530 transgender women in greater Jakarta. The packages cover the basic needs for one week. Ryan Kobarri, the head of Arus Pelangi, said, “Initially we only expected our close networks to respond to this call for donations. We were elated to see that the support and enthusiasm was much more than we expected. Not just from local networks, but even international networks gave their support. Someone even donated 100 kg of rice!”

Although there is uncertainty over how long the current COVID-19 situation will last, it is very likely that the need will persist in the coming weeks and months. The CRM Coalition continues to welcome donations from all around the world in order to keep the community afloat during these difficult times.

Since its establishment in 2018, the CRM Coalition has worked to coordinate and mobilize resources to respond to the persecution and discrimination faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in Indonesia, one of the most vulnerable communities in the country.

Donations to help keep this vital work going can be made by PayPal at paypal.me/kanzha or through Ryan Kobarri at ryan@aruspelangi.or.id.