Sabaah was established in 2006 by a small group of LGBT+ activists with ethnic minority backgrounds. The purpose of the association was a need for safer spaces where ethnic minority LGBT+ people could share experiences and meet in discrete settings. And that is still our main purpose although we have extended our activities to include counselling, group sessions, life-skills courses etc. A large number of our members come from homes and families where there is a widespread use of negative social control and risk of honour-related conflicts which is why we still maintain great focus on creating safer spaces. We use our platform to empower within Sabaah and enlighten outside Sabaah. Within our association we help, support and encourage each other, and outside our association, we work towards change of attitudes among the Danish majority and official stakeholders.
In what ways have young LGBTQI people in your community been affected by the COVID-19 emergency and the lockdowns?
Loneliness and negative thoughts about oneself are generally prevalent among our members. Many of them do not live free and open LGBT+ lives even though we live in one of the countries with best prerequisites for decent LGBT+ living conditions. During the lockdown, the loneliness has naturally increased for all of us, but for those of our members that come from environments with negative social control, it has been a true setback for all prior feelings of confidence and hope for the future. Furthermore, as we have seen reported in international media, ethnic minorities have been overrepresented in the COVID-19 statistics, which has sparked an even greater fear of not only infection, but also isolation. On top of the COVID-19 we have all witnessed a global anti-racist movement that we also are a part of. Despite the pandemic and the fear that derives from it, we marched the streets of Copenhagen, because you can’t vaccinate against racism, as we, hopefully soon, will be able to vaccinate against COVID-19. But it was also controversial – although not illegal – for us to gather up with 15.000 protesters because many members of our community, and the society in general, were worried about spreading or contracting the corona virus. Therefore, some of us marched for those who couldn’t, precisely as we did during Copenhagen Pride last year.
Are there specific ways in which you have supported the community that you would like to highlight and/or share with other organisations?
We decided to move our weekly networking activities online, but learned quickly that it was impossible for many of our members to participate in these virtual communities. Our members simply don’t have the privacy in their own homes to engage in these online activities, especially if they live with parents and siblings who are unaware of our members LGBT+ status. Therefore, we increased our counselling activities to include two weekly sessions where we had our lines open for the community. It is important to know the needs of your community in order to offer the right support and there is no one-fits-all solution that can be replicated in all countries.
What can governments, (national and international) authorities and institutions do more to support the communities you serve throughout this crisis?
There has been some national research about the experiences of – among other minorities – LGBT+ persons, ethnic minorities and disabled persons during the lockdown (an English resume is available on the webpage of the Danish Institute for Human Rights). All official stakeholders should take notice of these findings because they show that all of the above minority groups experience increased discrimination and/or lack of appropriate measures to safeguard and protect them from corona-related consequences. Bear in mind, that this discrimination comes on top of the personal fear, isolation and decreased freedom during the lockdown. That is not how a society should treat and care for its vulnerable citizens.
There are reasons to believe that the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to be a part of our lives for 1-3 years. In what way do you think that prolonged lockdowns and/or other preventive measures will impact your work and LGBTQI+ youth in your country?
Everything we do, we do for our community’s ability to live more freely, more confident, more optimistic about their future. Further lockdown and other preventive measures pose a fear of setback on personal and societal level. But if these preventive measures become a permanent “new normal” we will adapt as the rest of the world will adapt, and take it from there. We already have hygienic precautions that are probably here to stay. Those old enough to recall 9/11 will also remember that the regulations about travel, identification and other precautions were difficult to get used to, but are now so normalized that we rarely think about them as “extra” precautions any longer. The same will probably happen with these virus preventive measures.