[PARTICIPATE!] What are the needs of LGBTQs when earthquakes hit?

UPDATE: Marcilyn in the comments below gave me the link to LGBTQ Disaster Assistance. “Supporting the resilience of sexual minorities and gender diverse individuals and communities in disaster and emergency management”. Some of the items in the Resources section are available online!

UPDATE: Fridae article “Japanese LGBT/PLHIV orgs report in OK, but uncertainty remains” details the situation as of March 18 for LGBTQetc in the affected areas.

UPDATE: Rainbow World Fund began accepting donations for Japan. Please go to http://www.rainbowfund.org/!

UPDATE: The Japanese version of this document has received so much feedback that at the moment I cannot keep the both versions 100% in sync. But here’s the major changes I have made in response to the feedback I have gotten so far:

  • Distribution of information will be two-fold: 1st phase and 2nd phase.
  • We will contact those LGBTQs directly affected by the disaster and other LGBTQs who have experience of a similar kind, so that our final write-up will most reflect the needs of those people.
  • We will consult medical professionals before distributing the medicine-related part of this document.
  • Therefore, the deadline, originally 6PM, Tuesday, March 15, 2011, has been extended. Please keep sending us your input.
  • In the meantime, please take action by donating to existing organizations such as the one above (RWF).
  • I apologize for any anxiety that this project has caused the LGBTQ victims in the affected areas.

Dear my fellow queer-y friends and readers,

As you may have probably heard, the world’s 7th biggest earthquake (M8.8) hit Miyagi, Japan, and there have been a few more quakes in other cities in the northern regions as well (all of them above M5.0). The number of deaths and people missing has been increasing rapidly. Japan has a number of nuclear power plants and people are in great fear.

As a queer Japanese who has many friends and family in Japan, I am concerned about LGBTQs affected by the disaster and their life that follows it, just as much as I’m concerned about the immediate danger that is still taking place right now (the country is still experiencing minor quakes). To most people, the immediate devastation seems to be the biggest problem that has to be solved. But for those who are directly affected by the disaster, the next few months (and even more) will become part of their life routine and evacuation centers will be their homes for a long time.

My friends and I, equally upset and concerned about immediate physical dangers and the lives of marginalized populations for the following months, are compiling a document detailing the specific needs of LGBTQs in midst of natural disasters like this. The document will be sent to help organizations, accommodation facilities, rescue teams, and volunteers.

But we have yet to put together an exhaustive, comprehensive list of queer needs. We need your input. Some of you may be survivors of natural disasters, or friends/families of those people. We want you to share the experiences as an LGBTQ person who survived natural disasters. You may have no such experience whatsoever. But you can still imagine what it will be like if a natural disaster hits and you’ll have to live in an evacuation center for the next, say, 6 months. What concerns will you have?

We need your input! Please leave a comment below or shoot me an email at chicomasak[at]gmail.com. You can also tweet using the hashtag, #lgbtq_quake. The deadline is 6PM, Tuesday, March 15, 2011.

The final write-up will be ready by Wednesday morning and sent to help organizations, accommodation facilities, rescue teams and volunteer individuals. Anything that doesn’t go into the one-page document, will be included in a longer version that’s going to be available for viewing online. The URL will be added to the bottom of the document.

*After the document has been sent, I will write an English translation so that anyone around the world can use the resource.

Here’s the list of ideas we have received so far. The Japanese original is on the wiki system.

Please be warned that the following list may trigger emotional reactions, flashbacks, and other disturbing responses in the reader, especially for those who are LGBTQ and survivors of natural disasters. Please make sure you are comfortable with this kind of information before proceeding.


IDEAS for DRAFT (growing based on emails + comments I’m receiving)

  1. Please know that all these rights of LGBTQ individuals and families (and many others, in fact!) should be respected no matter what. However, this document is meant to call attention to how our rights easily go overlooked in times of disasters. This means…:
    • Don’t forget about LGBTQ rights after evacuation gets lifted and you go back home because for some LGBTQs, ‘back to normal’ isn’t safe enough since their ‘normal’ has never been as safe as what it is for many others.
  2. Provide clothes, cosmetics, razors, etc. regardless of what gender you might assume we have.
    • For sanitary napkins, tampons, etc., please organize it so that we won’t be seen as we collect the provided items
  3. We need a space to hide our belongings that are conventionally gender-specific.
    • Our parents, relatives, and friends may come to pick us up. But some of us queers have not come out to all of them. We need our clothes, cosmetics, and other gender-related items to be tucked away and hidden.
  4. Psychiatrists, counsellors, etc. should understand how hormones affect trans people.
    • We may experience great mental pains and physical inconveniences due to lack of hormones. And having someone who understands is of great importance.
  5. Look for notes in pockets, wallets, etc. for notes BEFORE reporting on us in the media.
    • Some of us carry around notes such as “I don’t identify as the gender on my ID. Please don’t mention my gender on TV or radio,” in fear of unwanted disclosure of our gender history. Please look for notes and, if you find one, respect their decision.
  6. Privacy in bathrooms, shower rooms, and near/within sleeping areas.
    • Gender-neutral bathrooms with the doors and walls completely enclosing the space.
    • Security buzzers in every cubicle.
    • Evacuation centers will be the victims’ homes. And everyone should feel comfortable using bathrooms in their homes.
    • With a lack of privacy in bathrooms, women and LGBTQs may find it preferable to go in to the dark by themselves, which increases the risk of being attacked (physically and sexually).
  7. Don’t assume that everyone is either female or male.
    • There’s no guarantee of safety in separating women from men. For example, physical and mental abuse by female volunteers against evacuated women is not uncommon.
    • Sexual, physical, and mental abuse do exist no matter what gender or LGBT status a group shares. By assuming that separating women from men actually ensures safety, you will overlook many kinds of violence and dangers that are hurting the people you’re trying to help. Separation can be effective to some extent, but please keep your eyes on the people and listen to their requests for special treatment. Please also do have some professional counseling service at each evacuation center.
    • However, do not assume that LGBTQs are the dangerous predators. LGBTQs are more likely to become victims than perpetrators because there is hatred toward them.
  8. Protect us from sexual harassment and sexual violence.
    • Women, LGBTQs, and disabled individuals are often tagets of sexual and physical violence.
    • This includes outing.
      • Evacuation centers are not the ideal place in terms of protecting privacy. LGBTQs experience great anxiety and fear that others might find out that they’re LGBTQs. In dealing with the victims of the disaster, their fear and psychological stress, please keep in mind that they may be LGBTQ. LGBTQs are generally more likely to experience mental health issues.
    • Any anti-crime, security-related items should be provided regardless of gender.
    • Medical professionals should not inquire unnecessary private information about the injured. The stress of the evacuated is massive and the fear can make the injured vulnerable to intimidation and at the same time unnecessarily willing to disclose any information in order to survive the situation. Don’t use the situation to violate privacy. This includes the HIV status.
    • Protect privacy at medical, counseling, consultation, and other support services.
    • Counseling services should have a sign or flyer posted at evacuation centers that say “talk to us about abuse and violence based on gender, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation.”
    • In order for those with gender identity disorder or HIV/AIDS, please use a sheet of paper with names of different branches of medicine, at which they can point their finger. This reduces stress and anxiety, as well as help those who do not know the names of medications they usually take.
  9. Don’t prioritize non-LGBTQs, or don’t even let LGBTQs worry that you might do so.
    • Just as much we need to be equally taken care of, we need to feel that we are taken care of equally
  10. Respect our partnerships, same-sex or opposite-sex.
    • Same-sex households and unmarried households are also families. We care about our families just as much as heterosexual married families do.
    • We need to phone our partners, we need to stay together with our partners, and we need to be respected as partners.
    • In times of disaster, one sometimes needs their partner’s emotional support especially when there are still people missing. To reject their request to take their partner to the police, fire department, hospital, military base, etc. is to deprive them of necessary emotional support.
  11. Please know that if you can’t handle something regarding LGBTQs, you have lots of options to choose. This will be a list of contact info
    • Contact us.
    • Contact human rights organizations.
    • Call hotlines.
    • Read websites.
  12. Please know that LGBTQs are not just LGBTQs.
    • What kind of care does a gay man with motor disabilities?
    • How can I understand the needs of a transgendered person who doesn’t speak the language I do?
      • Those with motor disabilities need support from other people most of the time. But please respect their dignity as a human being with their own will and desires. Listen and ask how much help they need, which body parts they don’t mind being touched on, how they want you to help them change clothes, etc.
    • Please inform people that xenophobia, which led to scapegoating of foreigners after the Kanto and Hanshin earthquakes in 1923 and 1995, does not help but creates extra obstacles for recovery.
  13. Don’t put us in the spot. We don’t represent all LGBTQs.
    • In making decisions, especially regarding issues about gender and sexuality, you may want to ask us for opinions as an LGBTQ person. But LGBTQs are just as diverse a population as non-LGBTQs.
    • When a ‘representative’ is chosen, they are typically the most advantaged among LGBTQs.
  14. Use the word, ‘significant other’ or ‘partner’, instead of boyfriend, girlfriend, wife, and husband.
    • Please do not paraphrase what we say using the heterosexist terms.
    • Please don’t refer to my same-sex partner as ‘friend’.
  15. Provide essential medications.
    • Provide them without inquiring any information other than the name of the medication they need.
      • for AIDS: protect privacy by labeling medications for AIDS in a way only medical professionals understand.
        • Help educate the people at your evacuation center on AIDS and STDs before they start fearing about possible contagion.
      • for trans people who need hormonal tablets
        • It’s good to know the names of hormones such as premarin, Ethinyl Estradiol-Norgestrel Combination, etc., but each trans person’s needs vary. Please listen to what they say. Remember that hormone users often feel anxious about taking hormones and access to hormones. If someone talks to you about hormones, please respect their privacy and discuss with them what may improve their quality of life as a trans person living in an evacuation center.
  16. Don’t take our requests as ‘selfish’.
    • The life-or-death situation is probably the most crucial. But LGBTQs spending weeks and months at evacuation centers experience tremendous psychological stress and we need support.
  17. Please know that some of you are LGBTQs.
    • In the military, police, fire departments, RedCross, NPOs, religious charity groups, affinity groups, and individual volunteers, LGBTQs walk among you.
    • They are a great asset to your rescuing activities because you have someone right beside you to turn to when you are not sure how to address concerns of LGBTQs whom you want to help.
  18. Please provide medical services regardless of gender on IDs.
    • For some of us, gender on our IDs do not represent who we are. Sometimes we don’t look like we belong to the gender on our ID. Please provide medical and other services regardless of gender on IDs.
    • According to NHK, insurance cards will not be necessary for medical treatment for the injured. One only needs to tell them their name, address, and date of birth. Therefore, we will ask them to make sure that no other information, especially pertaining to gender, sex, sexual orientation and sexual history (e.g. HIV status), unless necessary will be requested by medical professionals (and everyone else, for that matter).
  19. Please do not assume what we need just because we are/look LGBT.
    • Such assumptions may cause extra psychological stress for LGBT individuals.
    • This document has been written based on opinions of diverse LGBT and non-LGBT people. It does not always reflect what that person right in front of you needs and wants. Please listen to them, respect their dignity, and pay attention to what they say.
      • For example, avoid writing/saying “he/she”, “s/he”, and other PC euphemisms. Instead, ask what they need, what they want you to do for them, what can be done to improve their life at evacuation centers, what concerns they have about bathroom + shower situations and provided items, what medications (incl. hormones) they need, etc. Listen, and respect their decisions.
    • It is OK for you to assume a person’s gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Just remember always that that person right in front of you may not be what you think they are e.g. heterosexual, cisgender, a man, a woman etc. And listen to their voices, try to accommodate their needs (e.g. they want to be treated as a man).
  20. Create a space where we can comfortably ask for help, no matter what gender we are.
    • Trans individuals who are going through male-to-female gender transition, due to hormones such as estrogen, may not have enough physical power to work as a man e.g. carrying water tanks etc.
    • Such a space is not only LGBT-friendly, but also disability-friendly, mental health-friendly, children-friendly, and age-friendly.

We need more input! Please leave a comment below or shoot me an email at chicomasak[at]gmail.com. The deadline is 6PM, Tuesday, March 15, 2011.