Dignity Amidst COVID-19: Trans Youth Leading the Response - Vincy's Story
The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented humanitarian crisis that is claiming lives, destroying livelihoods and disrupting economies across the world. With the support of UNAIDS, the Asia Pacific Transgender Network (APTN) and Youth LEAD have worked together to increase the visibility and voices of trans and gender diverse youth leaders throughout Asia and the Pacific.
Activism and creating safe spaces for trans and gender diverse people of colour based in Hong Kong
I am Vincy, and I was born and raised in Hong Kong. I am a non-binary trans singer-songwriter artist and a passionate defender of human rights. In 2018, I started The Gamut Project, which aims at connecting other non-binary people in Hong Kong. I also currently work for a local non-government organisation (NGO) that provides fellowships for people from marginalised communities, focusing on different social issues such as gender-based violence, people living with disabilities and racial inequalities.
My identity and experiences motivated me to become a trans youth leader, after studying abroad, I realised that the conversations and ideas in Hong Kong on trans communities, gender and sexuality in the country were still very rigid. I decided to create a space to get to know other narratives of non-binary people in Hong Kong and to create a space where we can share our experiences, our issues, and the challenges that exist for non-binary people. As a result, The Gamut Project was born. The initiative started as a collective of trans and gender diverse people of colour based in Hong Kong, coming together to build a sustainable community to support and care for each other. In the beginning, we used to meet in my living room, where we enjoyed art jams, discussions, listened to music and created a safe space for interaction and creativity. However, the project had taken some time to fully develop because of the lack of previous discourses and mechanisms to address non-binary people in Hong Kong. We have faced some challenges to find a committed and sustainable community in the city. Nevertheless, we are enjoying the process and resilient community that we have built, and feel confident knowing that we are a step closer to our goal.
As a young activist, I have noticed, and in some instances faced difficulties with finding participative and innovative ways to advocate for the rights of trans people. Mainly because of the lack of financial resources, a lot of advocates haven't been able to implement their projects fully. Because of our professional obligations and responsibilities, we ended up not having the necessary financial resources and time to organise activities or projects. Commitment has been one of the main challenges, because of the political instability and the ongoing protests that have started in Hong Kong almost a year ago, many initiatives related to social justice and human rights are affected. This has directly affected people’s participation and commitment to diverse social causes. Some of them feel scared or are lacking the mental energy to put themselves at risk.
Young transgender activists leading the response to COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Hong Kong in the last week of January 2020. Since then, the government has implemented restrictions such as limiting gatherings to a maximum of two people and restricting people from outside dining until 6 p.m. Also, like most Asian countries, wearing masks and using antibacterial hand sanitiser is a given. However, the situation in Hong Kong is challenging because we are such a densely populated city and living spaces are very compact. After the outbreak of SARS in 2002, I think the people of Hong Kong have learned to be very self-disciplined, to wear masks regularly, use antibacterial hand sanitiser, and to respect social distancing.
Despite that, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered our community and has directly impacted our work significantly. Since we are not able to have regular face-to-face meetings, I know many others who feel stressed about COVID-19 in general. Therefore, our initiative has become more of an online platform, connecting people in times of uncertainty without fear of COVID-19, and fear of government restrictions on gatherings. Our group has found a way to connect people via social media, and to allow others to provide care and support to one another.
The mental health of a lot of young trans people has been affected by the fact that they are spending more time in their homes because of COVID-19 and the protests. Most of the people I know in Hong Kong still live with their parents because they can't afford rent. This situation has triggered conflicts and a lot of emotional distress because some families won't accept the ideas or gender identity and expression of their children.
The majority of responses related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the trans community are emergency responses from local organisations. They have been providing masks and hand sanitisers, but are not focused on financial or economic support. On mental health, some NGOs are providing free counselling sessions for members of the LGBT community for a long time, not necessarily a direct response to the pandemic. The existing initiatives have been adapting to the pandemic and political situation; aiming to provide support to young trans communities. For example, through the Gamut Project, we have been able to connect people, interact with others and care for their mental health and social interactions of trans and non-binary people - despite political instability and the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, we are providing guidance and support to younger advocates that want to step up for their rights.
For all young trans leader and non-binary people, I want you to know that you are not alone; there are people like you going through very similar situations. Sometimes it may take a while, but you will always find people who will understand you and who will be able to support you. They will turn up in your lives sooner or later.
To anyone interested in the Gamut initiative, you can find out more information on our social media or by visiting our website (https://www.thegamutproject.org/about). I am also reachable via firstname.lastname@example.org. We are happy to welcome you to our community!
Written by: Gabriela Romero
Edited by: Eddy Rudram (Youth LEAD), Raine Cortes (APTN), Christopher Khor (APTN), Cole Young (APTN).