LGBTQ+ community faces unique COVID-19 challenges

By The Health News Team | June 1, 2020
LGBTQ+ community faces unique COVID-19 challenges

When San Diego Pride, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering pride, equality and respect for the LGBTQ+ community, announced that it was canceling its 2020 summer festivities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many in San Diego mourned the loss of one of its great annual celebrations. However, for those in the LGBTQ+ community, the cancellation only added to the growing list of challenges caused by the pandemic.

According to Dr. Andrew Brown, a board-certified family medicine doctor affiliated with Sharp Community Medical Group, while the Pride festival offers people the opportunity to feel welcomed and surrounded by a community they can relate to, as well as a safe outlet for complete self-expression, much more has been lost during the pandemic.

“With the current pandemic necessitating social isolation, it can be easy to feel that one’s social support system has been ripped right out from underneath your feet,” Dr. Brown says.

“Several members of the LGBTQ+ community rely on activities outside the home, such as social gatherings and events like Pride, to remain connected and find support, which, for many, is not something that is easily found and experienced. Even in one’s own home, self-expression can mean invalidation, harassment, discrimination, or verbal and physical abuse.”

COVID-19 challenges unique to the community

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation reports that COVID-19 could adversely affect the lives and livelihoods of the LGBTQ+ community at disproportionate rates. In addition to the social repercussions, LGBTQ+ Americans are more likely than the general population to be at greater risk of health complications, live in poverty, and lack access to adequate medical care, paid medical leave and basic necessities during the pandemic.

Some of the specific COVID-19-related challenges experienced by the community include:

  • LGBTQ+ people are likely to work in industries highly affected by the COVID-19 crisis, including restaurants and bars, health care, education and retail.

  • LGTBQ+ people are more likely to live in poverty than straight and cisgender people (people whose gender identity matches the sex that they were assigned at birth). They cannot always afford health care, which leads to avoidance of preventive and medically necessary care.

  • Discrimination in housing, employment and health care results in an increased risk for poverty, health disparities and social isolation among older LGBTQ+ people, who are more likely to live alone and less likely to have children than straight and cisgender people, putting them at greater risk of lacking care and support from family members.

  • LGBTQ+ youth are more likely than cisgender and heterosexual youth to experience homelessness or live in foster care — often due to family rejection — and may rely on food and other resources provided by public schools and child welfare agencies, now closed or more difficult to access.

  • Due to the closing of schools and colleges and stay-at-home orders, LGBTQ+ youth and young adults may be forced to spend more time in unsupportive environments where they face family rejection.

Finding support during the pandemic
In response to these disparities, San Diego Pride emphasizes that they work to connect the community not just during the Pride celebrations, but throughout the year. The organization is adapting to the new reality of social distancing, self-isolation and quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic to stay connected and provide support.

“In San Diego, we are privileged to have a Pride organization that does meaningful education, organizing, advocacy and philanthropic work all year long, not just one weekend a year,” says Fernando Z. López, executive director of San Diego Pride. “Our programs have continued on in virtual space and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.”

San Diego Pride has created a list of LGBTQ+-specific COVID-19 resources and support to offer continued connection. There are a number of online support groups and communities, including many that host virtual meetings. Local community centers, such as the San Diego LGBT Community Center, and national LGBTQ+ support organizations have toll-free phone lines for those in crisis or in need of emotional or other support.

“The entire message of San Diego Pride is that of acceptance and celebration of diversity and individuality within the LGBTQ+ community, but also within all walks of life,” Dr. Brown says. “With or without in-person events, this message of celebrating individuality and culture should be remembered and honored all year, every year — now more than ever.”

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