Coronavirus risks in segments of the LGBTQ community

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Coronavirus man sneezing

Over 100 organizations ask media and health officials to weigh LGBTQ risks

Over 100 national and local organizations have signed on to an open letter to health and media outlining how COVID-19 may pose an increased risk to the LGBTQ population. The letter lays out steps to minimize any disparity in LGBTQ care.

Coronavirus under a microscope“As the media and health communities are pushed into overdrive about COVID-19, we need to make sure the most vulnerable among us are not forgotten. Our smoking rates alone make us extremely vulnerable and our access to care barriers only make a bad situation worse.” notes Dr. Scout, the Deputy Director for the National LGBT Cancer Network, “This letter outlines simple steps to ensure no population is further stigmatized by a virus.”

“As an organization dedicated to the health and well-being of LGBTQ communities, we urge LGBTQ individuals to practice measures recommended by public health experts, such as frequent handwashing, to prevent the spread of this virus,” said GLMA President Scott Nass, MD, MPA. “At the same time, like our colleagues who joined the open letter, we call on public health officials to ensure the LGBTQ community is considered and included in the public health response to COVID-19 based on potential risk factors that exist in our community.”

The letter was initiated by a coalition of six organizations: the National LGBT Cancer Network; GLMA Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality; Whitman-Walker Health; SAGE; New York Transgender Advocacy Group; and National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance. The full text is below.

Open letter about coronavirus and the LGBTQ community

As the spread of the novel coronavirus a.k.a. COVID-19 increases, many LGBTQ+ people are understandably concerned about how this virus may affect us and our communities. The undersigned want to remind all parties handling COVID-19 surveillance, response, treatment, and media coverage that LGBTQ+ communities are among those who are particularly vulnerable to the negative health effects of this virus.

Our increased vulnerability is a direct result of three factors:

  1. The LGBTQ+ population uses tobacco at rates that are 50% higher than the general
    population. COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that has proven particularly harmful to smokers.
  2. The LGBTQ+ population has higher rates of HIV and cancer, which means a greater
    number of us may have compromised immune systems, leaving us more vulnerable to COVID-19 infections.
  3. LGBTQ+ people continue to experience discrimination, unwelcoming attitudes, and lack of
    understanding from providers and staff in many health care settings, and as a result, many are reluctant to seek medical care except in situations that feel urgent—and perhaps not even then.

In addition, there are more than 3 million LGBTQ+ older people living in the United States. LGBTQ+ elders are already less likely than their heterosexual and cisgender peers to reach out to health and aging providers, like senior centers, meal programs, and other programs designed to ensure their health and wellness, because they fear discrimination and harassment. The devastating impact of COVID-19 on older people—the current mortality rate is at 15% for this population—makes this a huge issue for the LGBTQ+ communities as well .

LGBTQ+ communities are very familiar with the phenomena of stigma and epidemics. We want to urge people involved with the COVID-19 response to ensure that LGBTQ+ communities are adequately served during this outbreak. Depending on your role, appropriately serving our communities could involve any of the following actions:

●  Ensuring that media coverage notes the particular vulnerabilities of any person with pre-existing respiratory illnesses, compromised immune systems or who uses tobacco products. While populations – like LGBTQ+ communities – can be at increased risk, it is important to note the overall state of health that contributes to any person’s increased vulnerability to contracting COVID-19.
●  Ensuring health messaging includes information tailored to communities at increased risk for COVID-19, including LGBTQ+ populations. An example of such tailored messaging is including imagery of LGBTQ+ persons in any graphic ads.
●  Providing LGBTQ+ individuals resources to find welcoming providers, such as the ones provided ​here​, if they are experiencing symptoms like a cough or fever and need to seek medical attention.
●  Ensuring funding to community health centers is distributed in a fashion that accounts for the additional burden anticipated by LGBTQ-identified health centers.
●  Whenever possible ensuring health agencies partner with community-based organizations to get messaging out through channels we trust.

●  Ensuring surveillance efforts capture sexual orientation and gender identity as part of routine demographics.
●  Ensuring health workers are directed to provide equal care to all regardless of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity/presentation, ability, age, national origin, immigration status, race, or ethnicity.
●  Ensuring that all COVID-19 responses take into account exceptionally vulnerable members of the LGBTQ+ communities, including our elders, bi people, and black and brown trans and gender nonconforming/nonbinary people.
●  Since xenophobic responses are heavily impacting the Asian American communities, ensuring all communications and responses related to COVID-19 attempt to counter any such xenophobic responses, avoid racial profiling, and discourage the public from doing so as well.
●  Ensuring LGBTQ+ health leadership, along with all providers and health care centers, are provided with timely and accurate information to disseminate.

As LGBTQ+ community and health leadership, the undersigned organizations offer to stand shoulder to shoulder with the mainstream health leadership to make sure we learn from history and do not allow any population to be disproportionately impacted or further stigmatized by a virus.

Initial signers:

National LGBT Cancer Network GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality
Whitman-Walker Health

Additional Signers:

Advocates for Youth, Advocating Opportunity, Alder Health Services, Antioch University MFA Program, Athlete Ally, Atlanta Pride Committee, BiNet USA, Black Lives Matter Houston, Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, California LGBTQ Health and Human Services Network, Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, CARES, Center on Halsted, CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers, Compass LGBTQ Community Center, Corktown Health Center, Counter Narrative Project, CreakyJoints & Global Healthy Living Foundation, CrescentCare, Darker Sister Center, Deaf Queer Resource Center, SAGE, New York Transgender Advocacy Group, National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, Desert AIDS Project, Desi Queer Diaspora Equality, California Equality Federation, Equality North Carolina, Erie Gay News, Family Equality, Fenway Health, GALAEI, Gay City: Seattle’s LGBTQ Center, Gender Equality New York, Inc. (GENY,) Gender Justice League (Washington State), Georgia Equality, GLAAD, GLBT Alliance of Santa Cruz, Greater Erie Alliance for Equality, Greater Palm Springs Pride, Harvey Milk Foundation, Hetrick-Martin Institute,
HIV AIDS Alliance of Michigan, HIV Medicine Association, Horizons Foundation, Howard Brown Health, Human Rights Campaign

More at: ​cancer-network.org