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The LGBTQ Community in the Face of COVID-19

Community's struggles and challenges during the pandemic

By Anayeli Crisantos and Melanie Nava |  @RedLineProject | Posted: Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020

As many communities face the COVID-19 pandemic, some have been facing unique challenges, disproportionately to other communities. 

The LGBTQ community faces disproportionate experiences in the face of COVID-19. According to the Human Rights Campaign the disparity is in part due to the already existing socioeconomic and health care challenges in the community prior to the pandemic. 

 “Prior to the pandemic and even more so now, I feel like there hasn't been a huge amount of support for our community,” said Tiffany Evans, a Chicago hairstylist who identifies as LGBTQ. “There's not really much information, the support needed for those that are now unemployed and being affected by this. I think also goes hand in hand with discrimination, discrimination is still very huge. I think we have a lot to learn from this pandemic. We need to treat each other so much better, these are very trying times for everyone.”

A brief published by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation found that many LGBTQ Americans are experiencing even more strenuous situations due to disparities in a higher risk of health complications, job insecurity, increased likelihood to live in poverty, homelessness, lack of medical access, paid medical leave and basic necessities. 

A project conducted in partnership with Chicago Public Schools and the University of Illinois at Chicago, School of Public Health called LGBTQ Health in Chicago Public Schools: Working Toward Equity emphasized that LGBTQ health disparities root from structural barriers, systemic oppression, and discrimination. 

Part of the disparities the LGBTQ community faced prior to COVID-19 was lack of access to mental health resources inclusive of LGBTQ folks because of lack of insurance coverage or at a low cost and even more so now during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As a contributing factor according to the National Association on Mental Illness has been inadequate mental health care that does not count with enough providers that are conscientious of the intersectionality of LGBTQ members. 

Evans addressed the upcoming mental health impact winter, will have on the LGBTQ community and now additionally, the isolation of COVID-19 mitigation guidelines. A seasonal change, usually associated with harsh weather that contributes to less outside time.

Evans said, “Winter has such a high suicide rate and that’s also another thing we don’t talk about or what that might look like for people that are lacking that support which unfortunately is a lot of people in the LGBT community.” 

“This holiday season is going to impact so many people and not in a great way. I think it's going to be really hard,” Evans added. “Going back to therapy, this is when we need to lean on and just be able to talk about how we're feeling because that's all we have right now.”

Fall and winter is usually a time of holiday celebrations for many but LGBTQ individuals usually lack normative family structures and have chosen families, due to the rejection many face. This upcoming holiday season as Evans mentioned will be especially hard for LGBTQ individuals who could not have a support system or experience higher levels of loneliness and stress due to COVID-19 advisory guidelines. 

The physical isolation and increased anxiety caused by COVID-19 has also taken a toll on LBGTQ youth’s mental health. Prior to the pandemic, LGBTQ youth were estimated to contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth, according to the CDC

According to The Trevor Project, “Now more than ever, it is imperative that we increase LGBTQ youth access to a wide range of support and life-saving resources”. The Trevor Project’s 24/7 crisis hotline for LGBTQ youth has doubled in volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Calculating the data and having well-prepared medical providers is critical for the overall well being and health of LGBTQ communities because of the many high risk factors faced pre-COVID and during COVID-19, experts say. Some priority health care needs of the LGBTQ community are HIV testing, mental health access, proper STI testing, and accessibility to PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis).

“That's it, none of my providers have ever tested me through those methods until I specifically went online and looked for a Doctor who is LGBTQ friendly and that's a problem,” Bryan Huerta, a pre-medicine LGBTQ identifying student at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) said. “Because, one may be exposed to those infections, many live years, years, years without knowing it, simply because their primary care physician couldn't test them properly.”

While health care issues and risk factors have had an impact on the LGBTQ community, there have been struggles and challenges additionally faced by LGBTQ business owners during COVID-19. In Illinois and the City of Chicago, LGBTQ business owners have been greatly impacted by state-wide and city mitigations for the spread of coronavirus. 

According to a study by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), “LGBTQ-owned businesses account for $1.7 trillion in America's economy.”

“Limited advisory for people to be out, and that's having an impact on those LGBTQ owned businesses,” Jerome Holston, director of the LGBT Chamber of Commerce of Illinois said. “We see many restaurants that had to close during this time, including LGBT owned businesses.”

During this time, many businesses had to close due to lack of funds and inability to meet rent or mortgage payments. Although there have been grants and loans that have been created to help these businesses, some of the language in the applications is not welcoming to LGBTQ applicants.

“There were not a lot of opportunities that specifically had language to let you know for sure that LGBTQ folks could be included,” Holston said. “Many people may not have applied because they didn't want to take away,... dollars from people they knew it was designed specifically for.”

There are many resources that are especially focused in addressing and helping the disparities the LGBTQ community faces. Following are resources that sharing with fellow LGBTQ community members, organizations, leaders, and allies will make a difference for many. 

LGBTE Business Certification can be a beneficial tool for many LGBTQ business owners. 

According to Holsten, “...it's very similar to the certification for minority, women, disabled or bettering owned businesses,...business must be 51% or more LGBTQ owned, managed and operated to be able to get certified and with the certification LGBTQ element, businesses are able to stand out when trying to go after corporate and occasionally government contracts”. 

Additional resources that can benefit the LGBTQ community come from other members having the ability to connect and talk to one another and share their own experiences. During this time of disconnect, it is important to maintain a connection and unity, according to Evans. 

Evans shared her experience with the Chicago Queer Exchange Facebook page and how it creates a helpful virtual community, “It's such a useful tool for people that are looking for any type of healthcare, whether it be a new doctor, a surgeon, a dentist, a mental health therapist.”

Therapy can be a highly beneficial tool during this time of increased distancing. The lack of human contact is a difficult thing for everyone including the LGBTQ community. 

According to Evans, Howard Brown is a helpful resource for those in the LGBTQ comunity and individuals with low income or no insurance. 

“They have so many locations now throughout the city, and I think that they've been really great about providing healthcare,...mental health as well,” Evans said. “Such an extensive program, and I think that anyone that lacks the insurance or the money that's such a great place to start.”

The City of Chicago does provide some medical resources for the LGBTQ community and additionally to minority groups as well. Providing medical assistance in areas such as STI testing and providing medication needed. 

The LGBTQ community is intersectional. It’s members belong to many other communities such as LatinX, African American and other minority groups.

“Just because it's accessible here in Chicago it doesn't mean it is throughout the United States and if you look at Southern states, you see that there is a high rate of HIV infections between black and minority groups. Black and Hispanic groups,” Huerta said.

LGBTQ graphic 

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