• Dean Nelson

LGBTQ+ health organizations warn of COVID-19 risk to community

Updated: May 25, 2020

In a rare and unprecedented joint statement from 120 American LGBTQ health related organization raising concern of an increased risk to exposure of the COVID-19 virus to the LGBTQ community. The joint statement outlines why the LGBTQ+ community is at a higher risk than their cis-gender, heterosexual counterparts.

Increased vulnerability - 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 the LGBTQ community 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 percent 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.

LGBTQ+ Health Organizers that have signed/shared the above statement include:

National LGBT Cancer Network

GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing

LGBTQ Equality

Whitman-Walker Health


New York Transgender Advocacy Group

National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance

Advocates for Youth

Advocating Opportunity

Alder Health Services

Antioch University MFA Program

Athlete Ally

Atlanta Pride Committee


Black Lives Matter Houston

Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center

California LGBTQ Health and Human Services Network

Callen-Lorde Community Health Center


Center on Halsted

CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers

Compass LGBTQ Community Center

Corktown Health Center

Counter Narrative Project

CreakyJoints & Global Healthy Living Foundation


Darker Sister Center

Deaf Queer Resource Center

Desert AIDS Project

Desi Queer Diaspora