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Uncovering the Truth: Our COVID Stories

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The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed longstanding inequities that have systematically challenged the physical, social, economic, and emotional health of racial and ethnic minorities and other equity-seeking groups that are bearing a disproportionate burden of COVID-19.

Join OPSEU/SEFPO’s Equity Committees and Caucuses as they launch ‘Uncovering the Truth: Our COVID Stories’ – a series of stories/statements discussing the impact of COVID-19 on the health and wellbeing of various equity-seeking groups, and displaying how immediate action is critical to reduce growing COVID-19 inequalities among the people known to be at a disproportionate risk.

The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on LGBTQ

The COVID-19 pandemic has left a negative legacy for the TLGBTIAPQQ2S – Trans, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Intersex, Asexual, Pansexual, Queer, Questioning, 2-Spirited — community that could take years for some people to fully recover from. The effects of social isolation and the increase of mental health concerns will cast a shadow over the TLGBTIAPQQ2S community long after the COVID-19 crisis is over.

Social isolation and loneliness have played a huge role on individuals within our communities. It takes a toll on physical and mental health. For people who are transitioning or coming out, there are massive implications around being trapped within an unsupportive family unit. Parents and partners may be hostile or even violent. Some people must choose between remaining in the closet and looking for other living arrangements that are often difficult to find.

The community has found it challenging to connect to their chosen family during the lockdown, including friends, lovers, ex-lovers and other people who provide emotional support in the face of abuse, homophobia and discrimination. The rising cost of homes in Ontario leaves some people trapped in abusive relationships. Where is one to go if their partner is physically or emotionally abusive during the pandemic?  Many are more likely to work in lower paying industries (i.e. retail and other service) and/or do not have the liberty of working from home.

LGBT workers in healthcare and food services are more susceptible to infection and job insecurity. Many have lost their jobs, experienced poverty, and lack paid leave. Some have had their wages reduced, been forced to work precariously, and use employment insurance. These outcomes have increased anxiety and depression in a community that is already unfairly targeted by the COVID-19 virus, which is particularly dangerous for those with comorbidities, like HIV and cancer, which are prevalent in the TLGBTIAPQQ2S community.

Furthermore, the general reluctance among the community to access healthcare for fear of discrimination has been heightened during the pandemic. This includes lack of respectful, identity trans-affirming medical care such as respecting names or pronouns, partner visitation, and alternative relationship models. Covid-19 has exposed a need for more culturally competent providers regarding sexual orientation and gender diversity.

For transgender people relying on various public resources, like name change applications and medical interventions, the government/medical backlog makes it harder for many to move on with their new identity, causing emotional strain and stress. Transgender people already must wait one year on testosterone or estrogen and then need to book their appointments another year after. Due to COVID, they are now going to be waiting on average another year to two years, if not longer.

Studies have also shown that vulnerable intersecting communities, in particular black trans women, are at higher risk of COVID.  They are more susceptible to higher rates of job loss and experiences of discrimination.  As a result, some have to rely on sex work for income which increases their risk of contracting not only COVID, but also HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (i.e. STIs).  The restrictions of physical distancing will definitely impact their overall income and as such, may compel them to engage in riskier behaviour (i.e. using no condoms) in order to generate more income.

Mental health supports may also not be readily available especially to people living out (or even forced to return to living) in more conservative communities.  The inability to access professional support, such as face-to-face, has proven to be quite challenging especially for those with long-term mental health issues.  The pandemic has also left a huge impact on TLGBTIAPQQ2S individuals as many seek guidance and support through channels like support groups, outreach programs, counselling services and community events that were put on hold. Thankfully, activist organizations have been able to provide financial assistance, generate health awareness and create online support groups through social media and helpline numbers.

Pride events are held in communities, both urban and rural, to celebrate the advancement of TLGBTIAPQQ2S rights and to focus on the continuing battles to maintain these hard-fought rights. For many, these festivals are the source of safety, comradery and belonging, and their cancellation has caused many people to feel further isolated from their peers.

A virtual Pride doesn’t create the same experience as meeting face-to-face, feeling the love and support, hugs and pats on the back that might be missing from your biological family, however, it does provide a chance for people to reconnect to their community, which is especially important during these difficult and unprecedented times.

Unfortunately, further lockdowns are looming globally, and anxieties are intensifying. With many uncertainties in the air, one thing is for sure: the ripples created by the pandemic will be felt by the TLGBTIAPQQ2S community long into the future.

Now more than ever, it’s time to keep connected to other members of our community. Suicide and homelessness are on the rise. Call a friend and reach out to people who you know may be alone or experiencing difficulties. Reach out to your loved ones. Check in on friends.