Even before the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, LGBTQ+ people across the world faced more severe problems, compared with the general population. These existing challenges have just been escalated by the crisis, both economically and health-wise.
The coronavirus is one of the greatest health crises in recent memory. While it affects every community worldwide, LGBT people have been found to be at higher risk than non-LGBT people. This is because they are more likely to work in sectors that are highly susceptible to the virus. Generally, it is more difficult for LGBT people to get a job as many hiring managers and recruiters discriminate against them. This perhaps is one of the reasons why a good percentage of them are left with no choice than to pick up jobs in the industries with high risk to the virus. They are also less likely to have health coverage.
In addition, LGBT people have a higher prevalence of critical conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, mood and anxiety disorders (largely due to societal discrimination), and eating disorders. The community is also known for higher smoking and substance abuse rates. All these are high COVID-19 risk factors. They are not only affected physically; their mental health has also been greatly impacted.
A study conducted by researchers at Stanford Medicine showed that mental health issues have increased among LGBT people since the outbreak of the pandemic. Anxiety and depression were identified as the two leading conditions that have increased significantly among LGBT people. Many people with no history of these conditions pre-pandemic also reported experiencing it for the first time. For those who suffered them before the pandemic, “the results were more nuanced,” the study found.
For the UK LGBT community, homelessness was one of the identified risk factors at the beginning of the outbreak, as 24% of homeless people aged 16 to 24 are LGBT. This made them more likely to experience poor health and less likely to observe effective self-isolation. Their lack of a fixed address also made access to healthcare a problem. Although the government made a move to take homeless people off the street through the initiative called “rough sleepers”. But despite that, many homeless people could still be found gathering and sleeping on the street even at the peak of the pandemic. The LGBT asylum seekers and refugees also faced high risk, as they weren’t spared in the country’s hostile environment policies against undocumented immigrants.
Economically, COVID-19 has thrown the whole world into huge financial disarray, and the LGBT community isn’t spared. Generally, the global income has dropped, as many people lost their source of income, and some had a cut in work hours. While this is a general issue, the LGBT community faces a greater burden compared with the general population. This is not unconnected to the community’s age-long financial obstacles, which have now been heightened by the pandemic. Findings have shown that LGBT people are less likely to be employed, they receive less pay, and are less likely to be promoted.
Research by the Human Rights Campaign showed that LGBT people are more likely to experience a reduction in work hours, and feel that their personal finances have become worse. 30% of United States LBGT people, who responded to the survey, have experienced a cut in work hours, compared with 22% of the general population. In addition, 42% of LGBT people have had to adjust their household budgets, as opposed 30% of the general population. Also, 11% have lagged in paying their rent, compared with 8% of the general population. A higher percentage have also become unemployed since the pandemic.
According to data by Ithaca College, the most affected sectors by the pandemic make up 40% of jobs in which all LGBT people work. The industries include restaurants, retail, education, and hospitals. This explains why they are at more at risk of being laid off. The pandemic has also increased poverty prevalence in the community, as more than 1 in 5 LGBT adult in the US experiences poverty, compared with about 16% of the general population.
Victimization is another challenge the community is facing. In Europe, for instance, some political and religious leaders have embarked on a hostile campaign against LGBT people, blaming the COVID-19 outbreak on them. This has further steered up hate against the community. Some LGBT people who face rejection from their families may also experience difficulties in observing shelter in place as they may be forced to be with the same families who they don’t get along with. This could further expose them to mental health issues and domestic violence.
It’s no doubt that the health and economic effects of the pandemic are more telling on the LGBT community and other vulnerable people across the world. The crisis has further reverberated the call for inclusive policies that will eliminate discrimination against the community and bridge the disproportionate income gap with the general population. Health-wise, more attention should be given to LGBT patients, especially on mood and anxiety disorders.
Olusegun Akinfenwa is a political correspondent for ImmiNews, a UK based organization that covers political and social events from around the world.