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COVID-19 Forum explores virus' impact on the disenfranchised
by Matt Simonette

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Chicago advocates gathered online the morning of May 8 to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable communities.

The meeting was part of a series organized by the Chicago House advocacy and was moderated by activist Kim Hunt, who is executive director of Pride Action Tank.

The pandemic, Hunt said, "is an opportunity to apply lessons learned and remember that we can do better."

Participants discussed how both community members and organizations have had to be nimble in responding to persons who have had varying degrees of need both going into, and as a result of, the pandemic.

Coronavirus "requires us all to be rapid responders, to varying degrees," said Channyn Lynne Parker, Howard Brown Health's director of strategic partnerships. She discussed her agency's early efforts to widen access to coronavirus testing all throughout the city, a daunting challenge when those tests were initially accessible mainly for the wealthy few.

LaSaia Wade, executive director of Brave Space Alliance, which primarily serves transgender Chicagoans of color, said that, to a certain extent, the pandemic offers an exacerbation of difficulties her organization's constituency face on a day-to-day basis.

Hunt described Brave Space Alliance as an organization that "fills the gaps" left open from the government's failure to respond.

"We live this life of extreme need daily," Wade added. As such, her organization tapped into "people power" to ensure transgender Black and Brown folks would be able to access food and other resources.

"We have to take care of each other, because we know that the state has never taken care of us," Wade said.

Chicago House CEO Michael Herman was asked to note any similarities between the HIV/AIDS crisis he perceived. He focused on two: The increasing application of shaming to put distance between the infected and the non-infected, and the potential for public and governmental downplaying of the health crisis' urgency since minority groups are those who are primarily impacted.

"I have a great fear that we are seeing a lot of this same type of behavior," he said.

Parker added that ageism also fed into how the pandemic played out in this country. She noted that the urgency in the coronavirus response did not see a significant uptick until it became clear that more than the elderly and the infirm were at risk for infection.

AIDS Foundation of Chicago Director of Policy Aisha Davis noted that the discussions about "opening up" the economy needed to be broadened significantly, and the implications more thoroughly considered, since many Americans driving the conversation do not so much want go back to work as have other people go back to work for them.

When these discussions take place, Davis said, "You have to have all the people in the room who have been impacted" by the pandemic. She added, "There are a lot of intersecting things that we have to consider."

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