COVID-19 has been tough on everyone but for some minority communities, the pandemic has just exacerbated existing struggles they already faced. In May this year, UK charity Stonewall and the United Nations both reported that people from LGBTQ+ communities were at an increased risk of isolation, domestic violence, and family abuse. On top of this, accessing vital medical care like gender-affirming surgeries (already a difficult task for many) has become almost impossible, and the physical community spaces that provided a refuge for queer people have not been able to stay open.
“Mutual aid” may have become a more common part of everyday vocabulary in 2020 but, for the queer community, it’s far from a new concept. Mutual aid groups designed specifically to help the LGBTQ+ population have existed for many year, being set up around the country to provide care and support for the most vulnerable members of the community.
In light of all that’s happening with coronavirus and the impact it’s having on the queer community, I spoke to two people working within LGBTQ+ mutual aid groups to find out the best ways to support their work in the coming months. Carla Ecola, director of the Outside Project, the queer grassroots organisation behind the London LGBTIQ+ COVID19 Mutual Aid group and Shash Appan of the South Wales Trans and Nonbinary Mutual Aid group (SWTN) spoke to me about how we can help no matter who or where we are and why financial support is just the beginning.
With so many mutual aid groups springing up over the pandemic and news stories emerging about neighbours helping neighbours and strangers helping strangers, you might be wondering why there’s a need for specific LGBTQ+ groups. Asking for help can be difficult for anyone, but for a lot of queer people, the prospect is not just daunting – it’s potentially dangerous.
“I think a lot of people are concerned about hate crimes, even from neighbours that they wave to every day across the street,” Ecola tells me. They explain that LGBTQ+ people often find themselves questions like, “If they were to know about your sexuality or gender identity, would their behaviour change? Would you become a target?”
A safe space like a queer mutual aid group is vital to ensure LGBTQ+ people are comfortable accessing the support they need.
Of course, the obvious answer for how to support any mutual aid group is to make a donation. Don’t feel bad if you don’t have a lot to give; at SWTN, Appan explains, any amount is appreciated and the support it represents is invaluable. “Especially in a time where we feel so lonely and isolated, not just [because of] COVID, but the press and the media, where trans people are constantly attacked. It’s nice to know that people do genuinely care.”
With the festive season is coming up, you could ask friends or relatives to make a donation to a queer mutual aid group instead of sending you a psychical gift. On their fundraising site, SWTN shares what specific amounts can do, making it easy to ask for as a gift. A donation of £15, for example, is enough to give one of their users a session with a trans counsellor.
And while a one-off donation is great, you could also consider making a more regular contribution to mutual aid groups in need of ongoing support. Ecola explains that, while the London LGBTIQ+ COVID19 Mutual Aid group did receive support from various organisations at the beginning of the pandemic, “as time goes on, people just try to sort of get back to normal, and we’re still trying to do the same work with less.” A recurring donation for any amount can be a lifeline to queer mutual aid groups.
Retweeting a fundraiser or sharing a petition on your Instagram costs nothing, but it can make a big difference in promoting (and hopefully increasing donations to) queer mutual aid groups.
“Allies sharing our message is really important, otherwise we’re just kind of in a bubble,” Ecola says. They describe how they managed to provide emergency accommodation at the height of the pandemic primarily due to people sharing and donating to their fundraiser. “Usually securing fundings for these things takes months or years; we were able to do it within a matter of weeks because of the community support that we had. That was an incredible response.”
There’s also a chance that one of your followers or friends could be in need of the services provided by these groups – sharing the work they’re doing makes it much easier for people to access aid themselves.
One of SWTN’s most important services is making sure their users know which spaces will be safe for them to access, especially if they are trans. This includes signposting GPs that will be supportive of their gender identity and helping people find jobs in trans-friendly workspaces. And Appan says there are actually a few ways allies can help in this respect, too. Whether you’re hiring someone to start work at your company or you’re looking for a new flatmate, Appan says that making it explicitly clear that you’re trans friendly can make a world of difference.
One of the main aims for both mutual aid groups I spoke to is to help queer people avoid homelessness in the pandemic; but should this task fall to them in the first place? “I think that as much as we’re grateful for the support that we have, and we’re very much needed as a service, there needs to be a national housing plan for LGBTQ+ people,” Carla says. “We need reform in the sector so that it’s not falling on grassroots groups. [The government] need to really look at how they’ve behaved in this pandemic and how devastating the lack of response has been, especially to marginalised communities who find it very difficult to approach mainstream services in the first place.”
A practical (and free) way you can help queer mutual aid groups, no matter where you are, is to write to your MP asking what provisions they have for vulnerable populations like the LGBTQ+ community and homeless people, and asking that funding to these services be increased.
How To Help Queer Mutual Aid Groups During Coronavirus The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ Bustle.