LGBTQ+ community at higher risk for COVID-19 complications

Jun 11, 2020
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The coronavirus crisis is revealing inequities in public health that arise out of social factors. Raising awareness among LGBTQ+ individuals about COVID-19 is one of 85 research projects selected for funding by the University of California to lessen the pandemic's impact.

"LGBTQ+ individuals are at increased risk for severe illness from a COVID-19 infection,” said Katherine Soule, UC Cooperative Extension youth, families and communities advisor, who is leading the project. “We are partnering with LGBTQ+ serving organizations, health care providers, government agencies and decisionmakers to develop an educational campaign. Our goal is to increase the quality of healthcare services for LGBTQ+ individuals.” 

The team is working with community partners across the state to deliver the information through social media, online training and other means of information sharing.

One reason that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people are vulnerable to more COVID-19 complications is that they are likely to postpone medical care due to fears of stigmatization. Also, LGBTQ+ individuals report poor quality healthcare and abuse in healthcare facilities, which may deter them from seeing a doctor. In addition, LGBTQ+ individuals are also hesitant to reveal or discuss their gender identity and/or sexual orientation, which can lead to inadequate treatment, care and access to essential services.

At the same time, LGBTQ+ individuals are at higher risk of having underlying chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, cancer or HIV. LGBTQ+ people over age 65 are also more likely to suffer from poverty, physical conditions and mental health conditions that put them at higher risk during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Consequentially, healthcare professionals and medical providers need to be prepared to effectively communicate with, engage with and treat LGBTQ+ individuals during this crisis,” Soule said.

Working with LGBTQ+ organizations and health care institutions, Soule and two student interns are leading an effort to develop a campaign to increase awareness among LGBTQ+ individuals of their heightened risk during the COVID-19 crisis. For healthcare providers, they are raising awareness of LGBTQ+ terminology and issues to improve their competency in treating LGBTQ+ patients.

Although statistics on the death toll and infection rates are tracked for race and ethnicity, they are not tracked for LGBTQ+. “The systemic decision to not track sexual orientation and gender identity is one of the reasons why this high-risk population is both more vulnerable and mostly invisible,” Soule said.

“Increasing awareness of these issues by healthcare providers, medical professionals, and community service organizations is vital during the COVID-19 crisis to support positive health outcomes of LGBTQ+ individuals," she said.

Her two student interns are 4-H Youth Development Program alumni: Danielle Pacheco, a Smittcamp honors student at California State University, Fresno, and Trent Baldwin, a Monterey County native majoring in community extension education at The Ohio State University.

“I am pursuing a career in medicine and feel strongly about addressing the needs that marginalized communities face in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis,” Pacheco said. “I am also passionate about LGBTQ+ issues as I am a member of that community. This project is a great way to support the community I love as well as being able to work on something I am passionate about.”

Baldwin said, “Through my time in the 4-H program, I developed a passion for LGBTQ+ youth development and extension work. I worked for a time with Ohio 4-H on their LGBTQ+ Youth Dialogue event. I'm excited to be involved and to get extension work experience in this topic!” 

Related stories:

UC awards $2 million in critical research seed funding for COVID-19 high-risk populations

Newly funded COVID-19 research aims to protect the most vulnerable

By Pamela Kan-Rice
Author - Assistant Director, News and Information Outreach