Discrimination During the COVID-19 Outbreak 

Dear Equity members,

In this time of global crisis, we are alarmed to see discrimination on the rise.

Actors’ Equity condemns the surge in COVID-19 related hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. A family with two small children was stabbed in a Texas grocery store. A woman was attacked with acid in front of her Brooklyn home. Nearly 1500 racially motivated attacks on Asians in the US have been reported since mid-March, including refusal of service, vandalism, verbal harassment, and physical assault. Asians are being irrationally targeted during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Actors’ Equity has a long history of support for human rights. To that end, the union has signed on its support for Congressional House Resolution 908. Queens Representative Grace Meng’s bill calls on all public officials to condemn anti-Asian sentiment, racism, discrimination, and religious intolerance related to COVID-19, and calls on federal law enforcement officials to expeditiously investigate and prosecute all credible reports of hate crimes against the Asian American community. We are proud to support this action, and we stand behind any effort to mitigate and end bias-driven violations of human rights.

While the Coronavirus leaves bigotry in its wake, it also starkly reveals the insidious systemic racism Americans live with every day.

The American Public Media Research Lab reports that Blacks and African Americans represent less than 15% of the American population, yet they represent 50% of deaths from the virus. These disproportionate death rates can be largely attributed to the relegation of African Americans to frontline and service roles and anti-Black implicit bias in the medical industry which denies them access to quality healthcare.

Indigenous Americans are facing unique challenges as well. Their systemic lack of access to basic infrastructure like complete indoor plumbing makes thorough handwashing – a key component of preventing the spread of the virus – difficult to achieve reliably. This issue is exacerbated by difficulty with English proficiency and the scarcity public health information published in Indigenous languages. For an illustrative example, the Navajo Nation reports that the Navajo community has more coronavirus cases per capita than any state in the country.

The stark reality of unemployment amongst nearly our entire membership is devastating. In addition, across the country as reported by the Center for American Progress, workers of color, particularly Latinx workers, are disproportionately represented among those laid off during the coronavirus pandemic. Conversely, only 16% of Latinos can work from home, compared to 33% of white Americans. Pew Research Labs report that “49% of Hispanics say they or someone in their household has taken a pay cut or lost a job – or both – because of the COVID-19 outbreak.”

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the Red Cross has adjusted its criteria for blood and plasma donation, but it continues to discriminate against men who have sex with men, who continue to be turned away because of who they are, rather than being screened as other donors are by their exposure to risk factors.

American hospitals have adopted scarcity policies which discriminate against those with intellectual disabilities, dementia, those who need assistance with Activities of Daily Living, and those who have daily need for oxygen or dialysis. Instead of taking a “first come, first served” approach, these policies effectively exclude people with many different types of disabilities from complete coronavirus care.

Equity members and their loved ones are not immune to the pervasive inequities in America. COVID-19 shines a spotlight on these inequities and how much work remains before we achieve the equal protections that are core to American values and to the values of Actors’ Equity Association. If you experience or observe coronavirus-driven discrimination, we encourage you to stand in solidarity with the effort to create equality by making a report to Asian Americans Advancing Justice, which is tracking incidents of coronavirus-related discrimination and violence against all demographics.

During the COVID-19 crisis, almost all theatre work has stopped, but Actors’ Equity will never stop fighting for the rights and safety of all our members. If you or someone you know has experienced discrimination at an audition or at work, please call on Actors’ Equity.

In this time of crisis, Actors’ Equity will continue to fight for the safety and dignity of all its members. We stand with you all – the union – in that continued fight.

Yours in solidarity,

The Council of Actors’ Equity Association

P.S. We encourage members to go to the Coronavirus Resources page in the Member Portal where you’ll find a growing list of tools to help you navigate these unpredictable times.