Why the LGBTQ community is vulnerable to the coronavirus

Imagine the fear of being in a subset of the population that is more susceptible to the harmful effects of COVID-19 for a variety of reasons. To further complicate the matter, many members of said demographic lack sufficient emotional support and therefore have a greater threat of loneliness. 

If you thought I might be referring to those with compromised immunity or seniors that are more prone to being socially isolated, you would be wrong. While diverse and far from monolithic, the LGBTQ community is a section of the population with members more vulnerable to the damaging effects of the pandemic.

An elevated community threat

It might sound like a lose-lose situation, but it’s an all too unfortunate reality for many LGBTQ people. The community is at a greater health risk from contracting the coronavirus while also facing greater mental health and well-being challenges from the quarantine and social distancing measures. 

There are a variety of factors that make testing positive for the coronavirus a scary threat to the local LGBTQ community. Major factors include: 

  • LGBTQ people have smoking rates that are 50% higher than the overall population. This, combined with any respiratory illness, including COVID-19, could create a deadly combination.
  • The LGBTQ community has disproportionately high rates of both HIV and even cancer. These diagnoses mean a greater likelihood of having a compromised immune system. Contracting coronavirus exposes this vulnerability within the population. 
  • Health care discrimination and marginalization in America continue to persist for the LGBTQ community. For example, over a third of transgender people that saw their doctors within the past year have reported a negative experience, and 70% of LGBTQ people have reported discrimination when seeking healthcare, according to a Lambda Legal survey. These discrimination concerns create a myriad of problems, such as a greater community reluctance to seek out medical care and issues in getting proper diagnoses and treatment through the healthcare system.
  • The LGBTQ community is more likely to experience poverty than the general population. As a result, the community is at a greater likelihood of lacking adequate healthcare resources and access to care. 

Taking preventative measures seriously

As a result of these statistics, the LGBTQ community should be even more cognizant of following directives and guidance on preventing transmission, including social distancing and quarantine measures. Even if you don’t fit into a high-risk category, many fellow community members do. 

Mental health challenges

Stay-at-home orders continue to be extended and enhanced around the world. With that, increasing attention is being paid to the mental health impacts that these actions have on our emotional wellbeing. Unfortunately, the emotional (and financial) toll that the virus is causing society can be even greater for the LGBTQ community. 

The rate of depression diagnoses for LGBTQ people is nearly double the rate of depression seen among heterosexuals. They are also more than twice as likely to have other mental health conditions. 

Suicide risk is elevated as well. Another unsettling finding uncovered that 48% of all transgender adults reported considering suicide in the past year.

Social isolation and supports

Stay-at-home mandates create an unwanted byproduct of isolation, loneliness and a loss of autonomy for many Americans. However, the pandemic could raise the potential for a looming mental health crisis in the LGBT community.

On top of emotional health risk factors, LGBTQ individuals generally face lower levels of available support, making quarantine orders more of a challenge to cope with. The community members are statistically more likely to be single and not have children. Additionally, they are more susceptible to reduced family support due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTQ respondents in one survey reinforced this through lower reported satisfaction with the social and emotional support that they receive as compared to the straight population.

Two subpopulations have compounded concerns. One is LGBT elders, who are already at high risk of social isolation from a lack of informal support and now face an added burden of the virus’ health implications. Another includes racial minorities in the LGBTQ community who face further obstacles by means of added discriminatory risk and health disparities.  

Surviving confinement

The ongoing prospect of feeling trapped in your home can be daunting, especially with the increasing probability of an extended lockdown with no defined end date. It might not be easy, but there are some ways to help combat the effects of the quarantine.

  • Be as active as you can: Being sedentary can be detrimental both physically and mentally. Luckily, there are plenty of at-home workout ideas and classes that you can implement with minimal equipment. 
  • Initiate and set a routine: With most of us working from home, try to format your time as if you’re at your normal job setting. Even if you have recently found yourself unemployed, you can still set a routine that fills your day. In addition to job searching, maintain a routine of getting prepared just as if you were going into the office. Fill your time in productive ways like networking and enhancing your skills with webinars, online seminars and other research projects. Being stuck at home doesn’t mean you have to be stagnant.
  • Fight frustration and boredom: Keeping and maintaining a routine is one way to aid in combating these challenges. Also, whether taking on new projects or discovering new hobbies, getting things done can provide a sense of accomplishment and purpose. 
  • Stay in continued communication: Understanding the community’s vulnerability to isolation, maintaining regular contact with others is greatly beneficial. Even if it’s just a support group or online forum, connecting with others that are going through the same thing can enable empowerment.
  • Be informed but not swamped with news and information: Don’t get bogged down in the constant and often negative reporting of the disease and its impacts. Even worse is the flow of information out there that can be misleading or downright deceptive. It’s important to stay up-to-date, but limit your news consumption so that it doesn’t overwhelm you with anxiety or helplessness.
  • Remember the end goal: Don’t lose sight of why we are all doing this. Stay focused on how these sacrifices are ultimately for the greater good and livelihood of our society’s most vulnerable members.

Resilience to prevail

One of the historical features that LGBTQ people and Americans have demonstrated is great resilience in the face of steep odds and seemingly insurmountable challenges. Not one to step down from a struggle, the community will prevail in the face of this historic hardship. Stay focused, stick together, and remember that this too shall pass. 

Brett Shay is the CEO and founder of Chosen Family Home Care, a provider of at-home care needs for elderly and disabled community of greater Philadelphia. Chosen Family (www.chosenfamilyhomecare.com) is one of the first organizations in the nation to specialize in meeting the diverse needs of the LGBTQ community and overcoming the health disparities and challenges of LGBTQ people and allies through its unique home care model. Brett has an extensive healthcare leadership background spanning various medical specialties and also provides education and training throughout the community on LGBTQ healthcare topics. He can be reached at [email protected].

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