This article was originally published in May 2020 during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although much has changed since then, COVID-19 continues to impact queer communities in unique and challenging ways. Here’s how companies can help.
This time a year ago saw nearly 5 million people swarming the streets of New York City for a record-setting Pride parade and celebration. It was the first time WorldPride, which had its start in Rome in 2000, was held in a U.S. city, coinciding neatly with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. There was criticism by some corners of the community that the celebration had become too corporate, glossing over the still-pressing needs of LGBTQ+ folks, and rival activist events sprang up in response. But there was also no shortage of revelry and an overwhelming sense of community, as the event drew a crowd even larger than the 4 million attendees originally projected.
This year, Pride takes a markedly different form. Most Pride events, including the beloved parades, have been canceled. In their stead, there are plenty of virtual events put together by queer organizers that are deserving of our participation (and our money). The inability to physically gather and congregate in queer-affirming spaces is a loss that’s deeply felt, though, especially to people for whom accessing this kind of community has been critical.
And yet, with or without parades, the need for Pride is all the more pressing, as made clear by COVID.
From a lack of healthcare access to job insecurity, much of what society as a whole is experiencing as a result of the pandemic is only amplified for queer folks. Here are a handful of the ways COVID has hit the LGBTQ+ community harder.
This may be especially true for older LGBTQ+ folks, an already vulnerable population to begin with. Research has shown that, even prior to the pandemic, older queer people were more likely to be socially isolated. This is due to a number of factors, explained Sean Cahil, PhD., Director of Health Policy Research at The Fenway Institute. For starters, according to Cahill, older LGBTQ+ folks are statistically less likely to have partners, children and grandchildren compared to their heterosexual peers — meaning, they may not have access to the same built-in caregivers that are supplied by hetero-centric biological family structures. Additionally, many queer folks within this generation are among those who saw losses to their social networks and communities during the HIV epidemic of the 80s and 90s, further narrowing the support systems they’ll have access to if they do fall ill.
Forced isolation can also carry some serious consequences for mental health, regardless of one’s age. But LGBTQ+ youth may be particularly vulnerable to the negative mental health impacts associated with COVID, according to the Trevor Project. They report that, even prior to the pandemic, queer young people were at a higher risk for depression, anxiety, substance use and suicidality. And these risks are only amplified among transgender or non-binary youth. When you factor in for not only isolation but also the increased anxieties over finances, health and housing (spoken to more below) that some queer people are facing, that’s a heavy toll on anyone’s mental health.
Quarantining in spaces that are non-affirming of one’s identity — or even overtly hostile and abusive toward it — is another impact of COVID that queer youth are facing. According to the Trevor Project, research suggests that only one-third of LGBTQ+ youth experience parental acceptance — and that among the one-third who’ve experienced overt parental rejection, that group is six times likelier to report depression and eight times likelier to report a suicide attempt. As some young people are forced to move away from their families of choice and into old, toxic situations, the risks posed to their mental health and sense of safety increase dramatically. Additionally, queer people as a whole are also likelier to experience domestic abuse, according to the LGBT Foundation — something that’s been on the rise since COVID began.
Many queer people already struggled to access culturally competent and identity-affirming healthcare well before the pandemic.
“LGBT people are not at greater risk of getting the coronavirus, but we may find it more difficult to access the tests,” Cahill told Outsports. “As a population, we are less likely to be connected to regular health care and routine and preventative health care. That is especially true for lesbian and bisexual women and transgender people.”
Unfortunately, queer people’s fears that their available healthcare will be LGBTQ+ phobic continue to be well founded. Case in point? The fact the COVID field hospital operating in New York’s Central Park, which was dismantled earlier this month, was run by a religious organization that required its staff to a sign a pledge against same-sex marriage.
Meanwhile, there’s evidence that COVID actually necessitates a much greater access to healthcare for queer people specifically. Speaking to them., Dr. Peter Meacher, chief medical officer at New York’s Callen-Lorde health center, explained that some older LGBTQ+ people have immune systems that are scarred from living with HIV before antiretrovirals became widely available. LGBTQ+ people in general are also more likely to smoke than the general population, including a statistically significant number of HIV positive patients, and smoking is known to greatly increase one’s risk of contracting COVID. Additionally, as them. reported, 40% of those hospitalized with COVID had cardiovascular disease or cerebrovascular disease, something that people with HIV are 1.5 to two times more likely to develop. And although not all HIV positive patients are queer, gay and bisexual men do account for the largest percentage of new infections, at about 70 percent.
LGBTQ+ Americans are more likely to become unemployed as a result of the pandemic than other groups, a startling new poll from the Human Rights Campaign and PSB Research found. The survey, which was based on the responses of 4,000 participants polled between April 16th and May 6th, found that 17 percent of queer people had lost their jobs because of COVID, as compared to 13 percent of the general population. Queer people of color were even harder hit — a whopping 22 percent of them reported losing work during the pandemic.
Prior to the pandemic, corners of the queer community already experienced greater economic vulnerability. One study released last year by UCLA’s Williams Institute found that nearly 30 percent of transgender people and bisexual women live in poverty (gay men and lesbians, meanwhile, have similar poverty rates to their straight counterparts). And, given today's increase in joblessness, it’s possible that many of these individuals will face additional hurdles when attempting to get rehired. A 2017 Harvard study, for instance, found that more than 1 in 5 LGBTQ+ Americans reported experiencing employment-related discrimination, as NBC News reported.
Even more than usual, it’s a perilous time to be facing housing insecurity, and we know that queer folks, and especially young queer folks, have a higher risk of homelessness. As many as 20 to 45 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ, NBC News reported. Compared to their non-LGBTQ peers, queer young adults are 2.2 times likelier to face homelessness. And when many of these individuals rely on the services of LGBTQ community centers, both for their general needs and for critical social support, the closure of so many of these centers during the pandemic has been a serious loss.
In the U.S., trans and non-binary individuals are being denied access to hormone injections during the pandemic due to these injections having been deemed “non-essential,” according to the LGBT Foundation. The World Health Organization and European Commission’s guidelines for essential services, meanwhile, does include the continuation of medications for the trans community. Additionally, as the foundation reported, many gender identity clinics have frozen their waiting lists and gender affirming surgeries have been canceled or at least postponed as a result of COVID. While many people have had surgeries postponed as a result of the pandemic, for this community in particular, it could have added impacts on mental health.
There are plenty of worthwhile organizations out there to support. For an especially timely resource, them. put together an excellent list of local and national nonprofits and crowdsourced fundraising opportunities that are making a difference for LGBTQ+ folks right now.
Does your organization currently offer paid parental leave and family-building benefits that are inclusive of all types of families? How about career services and professional development opportunities that are sensitive to the needs of — and, better yet, run by — queer folks? Resources designed to, say, aid transitioning in the workplace or understanding one’s legal rights against discrimination could be useful, as well. In fact, there are a variety of benefits — including student loan repayment and retirement benefits — that have connections to queer communities in ways you may not have expected. Even if your organization isn’t in a place financially to unfurl these programs in the very immediate future, it’s crucial not to let these items drop from the agenda entirely. Put a plan in place.
And if your organization doesn’t already have an LGBTQ+ ERG, forming one during Pride month is a great place to start — especially when it can help cut down on folks’ sense of isolation.
One way to alleviate the disproportionately severe economic impacts of COVID on queer communities? Employ more of them! If your organization isn’t currently sharing its job postings on the pages and within the online networks of diverse groups, now’s the time to change that. Even if you aren’t currently in a position to make new hires now, take this opportunity to examine how effective your recruiting efforts have been to date at getting in front of diverse and queer communities.
Pride month is more than an opportunity to party — but that doesn’t mean parties need to be ruled out entirely. As people are isolated from one another and dealing with inordinate amounts of stress, take a moment to recognize Pride within your organization by planning a virtual event that will allow for togetherness and connection. There are plenty of queer performers who, given the closure of physical venues, are in need of work. Can you host a virtual drag BINGO night? Plan a trivia night that celebrates queer icons in history? See what ideas your organization's LGBTQ+ ERG may have its up sleeves, and combine that with efforts that make an economic difference in the lives of queer people are much as your organization is able to.