Impact of COVID-19 on the LGBTQ Community: Info from HRC and Equality AZ

by Ed Kimble

Federal social-distancing requirements extended to April 30th… $2 trillion stimulus package passed but individuals to wait three weeks for $1,200 checks… Tucson Mayor Regina Romero issues shelter-in place advisory until April 17th… Experts predict 200,000 Americans will die from COVID-19… Federal Reserve predicts unemployment rate will hit 32%…

These dire headlines say nothing about the impact of COVID-19 on the LGBTQ community. Late last week both the Human Rights Campaign and Equality Arizona hosted virtual town halls to look at the unique challenges this pandemic is bringing to our community and marshal resources we can turn to for help.

The LGBTQ community is at greater health and economic risk from COVID-19 than our straight and cisgender peers, according to a report issued last week by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. Five million LGBTQ people work in jobs severely impacted by COVID-19, including food services and hospitality, hospitals, education, and retail. These jobs put workers in direct contact with the public, increasing their risk of infection. They have also been the first jobs lost to the pandemic.

The economic risk for these workers is extreme since theirs tend to be low-paying service jobs, often without health insurance or sick pay. Restaurant, hospitality and retail work is deemed non-essential in local government emergency proclamations, forcing layoffs of their employees. Many of these jobs will disappear for businesses unable to resume operations after shutdowns. Education workers, including thousands of per diem substitute teachers and teacher aides, have been furloughed without pay. Economists speculate the U.S. unemployment rate could skyrocket to 32% during the pandemic.

The LGBTQ community was already economically fragile and faced health challenges before the COVID-19 virus came along. HRC Foundation estimates there are nearly 14 million LGBTQ adults in the United States, including 2.7 million LGBTQ elders. In addition, there are 2 million LGBTQ youth, and 2-3.7 million children are being raised in LGBTQ households.

Nearly one in ten LGBTQ people are unemployed. According to a 2019 Williams Institute analysis of Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) data, about one in five LGBTQ adults in the U.S. (22%) live in poverty, compared to an estimated 16% poverty rate among their straight and cisgender counterparts. “In particular, the poverty rates of transgender adults (29%) and cisgender bisexual women (29%) in the U.S. tower over those of other groups,” the report noted.

17% of LGBTQ adults do not have any kind of health insurance coverage, compared to 12% of non-LGBTQ adults. 23% of LGBTQ adults of color, 22% of transgender adults, and 32% of transgender adults of color have no form of health coverage.

Meanwhile high rates of smoking and asthma in the LGBTQ community put those individuals at higher risk of severe consequences from COVID-19 which targets the lungs. One in five LGBTQ adults over age 50 have diabetes, putting them at higher risk of COVID-19 complications. And LGBTQ persons with HIV have high rates of cardiovascular and lung disease as well as immune suppression that predispose them to more difficulty if infected with COVID-19.

HRC and Equality Arizona have both launched COVID-19 resource pages for our community. Equality Arizona’s page includes an online healthcare discrimination reporting tool in addition to links for financial aid and emergency food.