The LGBTQI+ COVID-19 Experience

By Alexa Wilder, Eliana Monteforte, Director of Special Projects, Global Health Council

Left out of much of the initial research and conversations surrounding pandemic response, the LGBTQI+ community banded together to address the social, economic, and health gaps left by their governments. While these civil society-led efforts were able to address many challenges that emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic, with the lack of government support and integration into the overall pandemic response, they are not long-term sustainable solutions. 

On September 7th and September 13th, 2021, Global Health Council hosted community focus group discussions in English and Spanish respectively with over 20 LGBTQI+ individuals from around the world. These focus groups were aimed at understanding the unique impacts of COVID-19 on the LGBTQI+ population. Participants were able to share their lived experiences and stories from working in their communities in plenary discussions. During these discussions, participants talked about the people within the LGBTQI+ community that have been most left behind, obstacles to accessing COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 healthcare services, and what governments and other stakeholders can do to better support this community. 

Below are some key takeaways from the focus groups:

The Most Left Behind   

  • LGBTQI+ sex workers, especially those who are transgender, were among the most affectedby lockdown policies; 
  • Sex workers are not recognized as legitimate workers in many countries and are consequently left out of unemployment benefits and assistance; 
  • Loss of employment and limited opportunities (due to discrimination, educational attainment, etc.) pushed some transgender sex workers to accept positions in factories with hostile work environments; 
  • Gendered policies during lockdown and triage made transgender individuals even more vulnerable. 

Access to Healthcare

  • Delays in care & lack of access to care was a widespread concern, especially lack of gender affirming care (hormones etc.) which was deemed non essential during the height of the pandemic;
  • LGBTQI+ individuals from rural areas had even less access to gender affirming healthcare and often experienced more discrimination seeking any kind of health service;
  • The temporary cessation of non COVID-19 related healthcare led to an interruption of HIV prevention, testing & treatment services;

Examples:

  • Many HIV specific clinics closed, forcing people to seek care at the now COVID-19 focused hospitals or go without;
  • A reduction in STD testing has led to a false perception of a reduction in cases;
  • Some HIV-positive people had previously received antiretroviral (ARV) drugs outside of their communities due to stigma & discrimination. Lockdown policies made this nearly impossible;
  • HIV+ status was not originally considered for vaccine prioritization. 

Gender-Based Violence

  • People living in the streets, especially transgender people, were forced indoors and into unsafe situations due to lockdown policies;
  • Members of the queer commuity were scapegoated and blamed for the pandemic by secular organizations and community leaders leading to an increase in violence against LGBTQI+ community members and a stronger avoidance of health care systems.

Government, Civil Society & Community Support

  • Many key funders of LGBTQI+ organizations were backing out due to a perceived inability to continue their work due to COVID-19 restrictions;
  • In some countries, the government still does not recognize the LGBTQI+ community. As a result, this community has been left out of the governments’ policies and COVID-19 support programs;
  • Civil society came together in creative ways to address issues of access. Community members partnered with local law enforcement to permit select members to make trips to hospitals to collect patient medications during lockdowns, reducing exposure while still meeting needs.

Next Steps

Results from this workshop will be included in a GHC publication focused on inequities across marginalized populations during the COVID-19 pandemic. GHC will share messages and key takeaways from this workshop with policymakers and key stakeholders in an event in the Spring of 2022 to ensure these influencers understand how to better support LGBTQI+ individuals. Further, GHC will use takeaways from these sessions to advocate and support the LGBTQI+ community as we continue to respond to the pandemic. 

Join Us!

GHC will be continuing this series of focus groups with Black, Latino, indigenous/first national, elderly, refugees/immigrant, and Asian communities. If you or a partner organization are interested in co-hosting, speaking, and/or participating in any of these sessions, please contact Eliana Monteforte at emonteforte@globalhealth.org.

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