COVID-19 & the impact on the LGBTQ+ community

Thought Leadership
This Saturday, June 27th, marks the inaugural Global Pride event, which will see Pride organisations from across the world come together to host a live-streamed event, ensuring that LGBTQ+ people still have a Pride celebration, despite the impact of COVID-19.

As part of our Pride series, our Head of R&I Paul Greenwood looks back at how the LGBTQ+ community, in particular, has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the behaviours which we’ve seen develop to deal with the changes.

As lockdown restrictions begin to ease, and people can once again meet face-to-face, it feels like a lifetime ago since people were restricted to one hour of exercise a day and essential shopping (and, in the case of some markets, even tougher limitations).

But while lockdown has been tough on all of us, for the LGBTQ+ community – for whom June is normally a time of global celebration and reflection – the impact of COVID-19 has been felt particularly hard.  

Initial concerns around susceptibility of vulnerable communities
This is not the first time that the LGBTQ+ community has battled a deadly virus in recent history, as some were quick to point out when lockdowns were imposed in the western hemisphere.

There were initial concerns that the virus might have a significant impact on people living with HIV and, while there is no proven direct link, concerns persist about the impact on the wider community. 

For example, shortly after Transgender Day of Visibility on 13 March, advice went out to the transgender community on how to practice safer chest binding and how to recognise binding-related breathing difficulty vs difficulties caused by COVID-19. It’s not something most of us have to think about, but it could have a massive impact on how many people live their lives.

Home life strife and chosen families
It wasn’t simply physical health risks the LGBTQ+ community faced during lockdown. Some struggled in lockdown because of strained family relationships and spending more at home or having to go back home, cut off from their chosen families – a group of close friends, who provide the love and support network of a family (a crucial difference between the LGBTQ+ community and their straight counterparts). 

As a result, social media became a lifeline for a lot of LGBTQ+ people in lockdown, especially for young people as a way to keep in close contact with their chosen families.

DIY support networks 
As issues were raised, the community came up with solutions to help vulnerable people. Local mutual aid groups have formed such as the London LGBTIQ+ COVID-19 Mutual Aid group and in Manchester a 24-hour virtual LGBT community centre was set up so someone was always on hand to have a chat. While the LGBT Foundation launched a befriending service called Rainbow Brew Buddies

There was also conversation about the whether gay and bisexual men who have recovered from coronavirus would be allowed to donate plasma to a new trial hoping to treat those suffering with the virus. In the US and UK, health systems confirmed this wouldn’t be the case, despite gay and bixesual men being allowed to donate blood in the UK (provided they have been celibate for three months). It’s a subtle form of discrimination that persists.

A convergence of movements and Martha P. Johnson’s legacy
As life in lockdown became the new norm for many, the community looked towards other events as a distraction. June and Pride month was the focus for many. Conversations focused on how to celebrate virtually and mark the occasion with some form of restrictions (you can find out more about Pride 2020 here). 

With the death of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter protests gained momentum and LGBTQ+ communities around the world were quick to remember who cast the first brick during the 1969 Stonewall riots – Marsha P. Johnson, a Black Trans activist

With more people having difficult conversations around identity, the community reflected on how intersectional groups are often most vulnerable and in need of support. On 15th June, Dominique Fells and Riah Milton, two Black transgender women, were killed in separate attacks in a 24 hour period. Their deaths sparked a wave of protest backed on social media the message that All Black Lives Matter

This show of solidarity comes as Trans people, and Black Trans men and women in particular, have been faced with a stark reminder this past few weeks at just how fragile our rights can be. In the US, the Trump administration has reversed health protections for transgender people, while in the UK the Tory goverment has announced plans to scrap reforms to the Gender Recognition Act, despite overwhelming public support.

To many outside of the LGBTQ+ and ally communities, Pride is a parade. But what many within those communities understand is that Pride is – and has always been – a protest.