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How has Covid-19 impacted the LGBTQ+ community?

TW: suicide

No communities have been untouched by the negative impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic – however, the effects have been particularly alarming for the LGBTQ+ community. Those who are LGBTQ+ have a range of different issues, as a result of the inequalities they experience within society. This means that they are particularly impacted by the pandemic and the safety measures introduced as a consequence, such as social distancing and self-isolation.

The impacts of these safety measures transcend into negative mental health effects among a community that already is disproportionately more inclined to have poor mental health. In 2018, a study determined that 52% of individuals within the LBGTQ+ community had experienced depression within the previous year.

Furthermore, it elucidated that 31% of cis LGB people and 46% of trans people considered taking their own life. This average of LGBTQ+ people is disproportionately higher than that of the general population – with 1 in 20 adults thinking about taking their own lives.

The LGBT Foundation’s helpline experienced an increase of 13% of calls concerning mental health

Covid-19 has presented multiple factors which have negatively impacted the mental health of the population due to having routines disrupted, staying inside for long periods, and the inability to see the ones they love. These have had adverse effects on the mental health of most individuals, but have had extremely negative impacts on those already suffering from long term mental health conditions.

As a community already prone to having individuals who suffer from poor mental health, the LGBTQ+ community has seen the immediate effects of Covid-19 on mental health. The LGBT Foundation’s helpline experienced an increase of 13% of calls concerning mental health in the period from 16 March to 5 April 2020, in comparison to 24 February to 15 March 2020. 

Equally, a study conducted by the LGBT Foundation found that 42% of LGBTQ+ individuals desired to access support for their mental health during the pandemic. This figure increased within different LGBTQ+ subgroups – with 48% of disabled LGBTQ+ people, 57% of trans individuals, 60% of non-binary people and 66% of BAME LGBTQ+ individuals wanting to access mental health support services at that time.

Furthermore, during the pandemic, some have had the luxury to reside with their family and have this additional support. However, other individuals within the LGBTQ+ community do not have support from their biological family.

AKT and their CEO, Tim Sigsworth, advised LGBTQ+ youth to “pause” coming out during this period, as one could not “predict” how parents would respond

Unfortunately, many young LGBTQ+ people have been forced to isolate themselves from their LGBTphobic families. LGBTphobic parents and carers is an extremely pressing issue that needs to be addressed within the UK. A survey conducted by AKT in 2019 found that out of all participating parents, 11% stated that they would feel “uncomfortable” sharing their home with their child if their child was openly LGBTQ+. 

These sentiments have translated into huge problems regarding homeless young LGBTQ+ people, with 77% stating that a causal factor of them being homeless was the rejection from the familial home. These issues have been amplified during the pandemic, with many being forced back into isolation with their LGBTphobic families. 

In a BBC article, Sam – a young LGBTQ+ individual who was forced to move back into his familial home due to losing his job due to the pandemic – stated that he saw his dream job slip through his fingers overnight and as a result, he is stuck “in isolation with homophobes.”

This example is not an isolated incident, with many LGBTQ+ young people finding themselves in the same predicament as Sam. The LGBT foundation’s helpline had an increase of 70% of calls regarding transphobia, and 36% regarding homophobia during the period of 16 March to 5 April 2020 – in comparison with the rate of phone calls regarding the same issues the month before. 

AKT and their CEO, Tim Sigsworth, advised LGBTQ+ youth to “pause” coming out during this period, as one could not “predict” how parents would respond due to the unprecedented stress that the pandemic has created. Although there have been further difficulties for those within the LGBTQ+ community, including having to live or move back in with LGBTphobic familial homes, there have been and still are very few confidential spaces available for LGBTQ+ individuals to find support during the pandemic.

Additionally, according to the report published by the LGBT Foundation, some within the community – especially older individuals – were more inclined to become isolated during the pandemic. A further study analysing LGB people aged over 50 in the Greater Manchester area verified these claims, highlighting that half of the participants felt isolated. An additional 12% stated that they “had no one to turn to if they needed support.”

Several accounts of non-binary and trans individuals being denied already prescribed and scheduled hormone injections due to them being defined as “non-essential”

The pandemic has not only presented additional pressures to a community already disproportionately suffering from mental health conditions and unable to get support, but it has also had an impact on the physical health of those within the LGBTQ+ community. The LGBTQ+ community has been immensely affected by HIV. Within the UK, 96% of the individuals on the PrEP trial were men who have sexual intercourse with the same sex (MSM). 

During the pandemic, there has been a copious amount of misinformation regarding PrEP and Covid-19, with some rumours saying it prevented Covid-19. But a more negative result of the pandemic saw many taking the medication unable to receive their PrEP prescription – resulting in some individuals stopping their prescription altogether.

Equally, the ability to access sexual health services were increasingly more difficult during the pandemic – with sexual health drop-ins being unavailable as a result of Covid-19 restrictions. This negatively impacted the LGBTQ+ community, as they are a group that is overrepresented in statistics for sex workers. 

Moreover, with women who engage in sexual activity with the same sex being 21% more likely of receiving a positive diagnosis for an STI than heterosexual women – and gonorrhoea and syphilis rising among MSM, sexual health clinics and walk-ins are essential to the sexual health of the LGBTQ+ community.

There have also been many issues that arose for those in the trans and non-binary community as a result of Covid-19. The LGBT Foundation stated that they had received several accounts of non-binary and trans individuals being denied already prescribed and scheduled hormone injections due to them being defined as “non-essential”. Hormone injections are defined by the World Health Organisation guidelines as essential service.

These aforementioned factors are known to lead to an elevated risk of contracting the virus

Dr Kamilla Kamaruddin stated that numerous trans patients being denied access to their hormone injections during the pandemic risks increasing their dysphoria. Furthermore, Gender Identity Clinics temporarily paused their services, with many gender-affirming surgeries being cancelled. This is very distressing for trans individuals who already have to wait as long as two and a half years for their first appointment with a Gender Identity Clinic.

Not to mention, the risk of getting Covid-19 is higher among trans and non-binary individuals as they are more probable to be disabled or living with long term health conditions. Alongside this factor, a May 2020 study revealed how 16% of LGBTQ+ individuals were not able to gain access to healthcare regarding non-Covid related conditions. 

These statistics rise further within subgroups of the LGBTQ+ community – with 26% of disabled LGBTQ+ people, 18% of LGBTQ+ aged over 50, and 22% of BAME LGBTQ+ people being unable to gain access to healthcare concerning non-Covid issues.

The lack of action or spotlight on how Covid-19 has affected the LGBTQ+ community is particularly alarming. The community is overrepresented in figures concerning low income, unemployment, sex work, mental and physical health issues, housing issues, stigma and discrimination. All of these aforementioned factors are known to lead to an elevated risk of contracting the virus – demonstrating how LGBTQ+ discrimination can lead to disadvantages in life for those affected. 

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