COVID-19 and the LGBTQ + community: tackling unique challenges

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, new challenges arise every day for people around the world. Some of these challenges particularly affect the LGBTQ + community. This unique time requires LGBTQ + specific resources and new ways to connect and cope.

Minority stress in the LGBTQ + community

Unrelated to COVID-19, this community faces minority stress based on anti-LGBTQ + stigma that is harmful to their health and well-being (see key articles here and here). Those of us who also belong to racial / ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, immigrants, and low-income people may feel compounded minority stress at the intersections of these identities. For example, a black and bisexual person may experience the stress of a minority differently than a white and gay person, even though both of these people are LGBTQ +. LGBTQ + Asian Americans may experience even greater stress among minorities, due to increased discrimination against Asian Americans as the first outbreak of COVID-19 occurred in China .

Research has shown that minority stress harms the mental and physical health of LGBTQ + people (see here and here). It contributes to a higher risk for a number of health conditions, including anxiety and depression, which can worsen due to stress from COVID-19.

New forms of stress for the LGBTQ + community during the COVID-19 pandemic

Loss of work and income. Compared to non-LGBTQ + people, LGBTQ + people are more likely to have lower incomes and to have jobs that do not allow working from home, such as retail stores and the service industry. Therefore, LGBTQ + people may be more likely to experience food or housing insecurity during this time.

School closures. School closures can be particularly difficult for the LGBTQ + community. Many LGBTQ + youth and young adults have been rejected by their families of origin. With schools closed and colleges and universities now online, LGBTQ + youth and young adults whose families do not support can now be at home with these families full-time, or must find another place to live if they do. were expelled. Some LGBTQ + youth and young adults who were “out” as LGBTQ + at school and with their peers, but not with their families, may now have to choose to hide their identity when they are at home.

Reduced access to care. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many forms of care considered non-essential were delayed, with unique effects on the LGBTQ + community. Transgender and non-binary people may have difficulty accessing gender-affirming care, as hormones and surgeries may be considered non-essential. However, research suggests that access to gender-affirming care, such as hormonal treatments and surgery, is essential to the health and well-being of transgender and non-binary people.

For LGBTQ + people who start families, access to fertility clinics is essential. However, many clinics are now delaying fertility treatments, which also delays family formation for LGBTQ + families.

Concerns about seeking care for COVID-19 symptoms. Many LGBTQ + people have had negative experiences with health care in the past, especially transgender and non-binary people who have discrimination victim linked to their gender identity or gender expression. Thus, some LGBTQ + people may need to be encouraged to seek treatment if they have symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever, cough, and fatigue.

Reduced access to legal protections. Even during this COVID-19 crisis, laws that restrict the rights of the LGBTQ + community continue to be offered. Additionally, LGBTQ + people may not be able to access existing legal protections due to COVID-19-related closures. LGBTQ + people experiencing housing insecurity may not have access to legal aid to challenge evictions because many lawyers are not currently taking on new clients. LGBTQ + families may lose access to essential legal protections related to co-parent adoption while family courts are closed. At a time when so many people have fallen ill from COVID-19, securing the legal rights of a non-gestational parent in a same-sex couple if the gestational parent becomes ill is more important than ever.

Coping with stress and loss of support

Some research shows that LGBTQ + people are more likely to use stress relief strategies that can be harmful, such as smoking or vaping and consuming other substances. It is therefore possible that LGBTQ + people will increase their consumption of unhealthy substances to cope with the stresses of daily life during a pandemic.

As freedom of movement is limited to curb the spread of COVID-19 through physical (“social”) distancing, many useful coping strategies, such as meeting friends and spending time getting together in the community, do not. are not an option. LGBTQ + people who already feel isolated due to family rejection or the stigma of being LGBTQ + may feel even more isolated with physical distancing and other restrictions on freedom of movement.

Useful resources for the LGBTQ + community

Many LGBTQ + people have developed strong online “chosen family” communities that continue to provide support and affirmation – resources you may find useful. Additionally, some organizations may be able to help you find local resources.

If you are looking for mental health support and resources:

If you are financially insecure:

If you have difficulty accessing health care or legal protections:

For more information on the coronavirus and COVID-19, see the Harvard Health Publishing Coronavirus Resource Center and podcasts.

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of the last revision or update of all articles. Nothing on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your physician or other qualified clinician.

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