From housing to health care, LGBTQ+ people have been hit hard by the pandemic

(Photo by Zackary Drucker|The Gender Spectrum Collection)

By Alexis Stark, Michigan Advance

Marwa ElShazly has battled the economic and personal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and says it’s taken a toll on her mental health.

“I’ve been lucky enough to be working through the entirety of the pandemic, though I had to switch jobs because of furlough and ended up losing my health care for a few months during the transition,” said ElShazly, 24, who lives in Harrison Township in Macomb County. 

The loss of her health care meant ElShazly, who’s a bisexual person of color, couldn’t afford therapy sessions. She was dealing with her dad passing away from complications due to COVID-19, while coping with the overall stress of the pandemic.   

“Marginalized communities have suffered more during the pandemic because people of color occupy the ‘essential workers’ who were put on the forefront of the pandemic efforts,” she added. “Many of these people are also working jobs that don’t offer health care and live in communities that aren’t accessible.”

ElShazly isn’t alone, as several recent studies have found the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted the financial stability of LGBTQ+ individuals across the United States.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey looked into the intersection of health care, housing and economics for LGBTQ+ Americans during the coronavirus pandemic. 

According to its findings, about 13.1% of LGBTQ+ adults lived in a household that experienced food insecurity in the past seven days, compared to 7.2% of non-LGBT adults, the category the bureau uses.

The survey also found that 19.8% of LGBT adults lived in a household with lost employment income, compared to 16.8% of non-LGBT adults.

This trend also has been seen at the state level. The 2020 Kent County Community Health Needs Assessment, found 32% of LGBTQ+ adults were more likely to experience material hardship, affording food, housing and/or medical care, compared to 24% of straight/cisgender adults. 

This assessment, conducted by the Kent County Health Department, health systems and over 50 organizations and partners based in Kent County, allowed participants to identify their sexual orientation and 11.7% of responses were from LGBTQ+ adults. 

“We are very fortunate to have data that represents the LGBTQ+ voice within Kent County,” said Grace Huizinga, a registered nurse who holds a doctorate in education and serves as president of the Grand Rapids LGBTQ Healthcare Consortium. “Both qualitative and quantitative data indicate that there is a very real problem and the entire community should be aware of how the discrepancies impact all people.”

“Unfortunately, the results also showed people of color, Black and Latino, were not as represented,” she continued. “We are continuing to work on getting more accurate data on future assessments.” 

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and PSB Insights also looked at the economic toll the pandemic is taking on the LGBTQ community in the United States.

The data analysis showed 22% of LGBTQ adults and 24% of LGBTQ adults of color are currently unemployed due to the pandemic, an increase from 15% for LGBTQ adults and 17% for LGBTQ adults of color since November 2020.

Rachel Crandall Crocker is the executive director and co-founder of Transgender Michigan, Licensed Master of Social Work and founder of the International Transgender Day of Visibility said the pandemic has been hard on transgender individuals. 

“Economic situations have always been bad for transgender people and the virus has made it even worse,” Crandell said.

Crandell said she also witnessed struggles with housing and health care access in the community as is a licensed psychotherapist specializing in transgender issues, including a significant decrease in her clients during the pandemic. 

“Housing has been harder for people during the pandemic, especially those in the LGBTQ+ community,” Crandell said. “There were people who were staying with friends and all of a sudden people couldn’t have people in their homes because of the pandemic. I have friends and clients who were thrown out of their family homes.”

The Center for American Progress (CAP) and NORC at the University of Chicago jointly conducted a nationally representative survey in June 2020, focusing on health care, housing and economic status of 1,528 LGBTQ individuals.

According to CAP, “LGBTQ individuals are more likely to live in poverty, concerns that have been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

CAP’s survey found 24% of LGBTQ people of color and 17% of white LGBTQ respondents reported some form of negative or discriminatory treatment from a doctor or health care provider in the year prior.

Among transgender people of color, 68% reported negative or discriminatory treatment from a doctor or health care provider; 27% of white transgender respondents reported the same.

ElShazly noted that the pandemic is going on amid protests against police brutality in the United States and conflicts abroad.

“In addition to the trauma and stress of the pandemic itself, there have been the Black Lives Matter protests, all of the issues in South America and the Middle East,” she said. “It’s overwhelming and makes a lot of people of color unsure of where we stand in the world.”

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: [email protected]. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.