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How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting people from LGBTQ+ communities?

Harri Weeks

LGBTQ+ people have always faced stark health inequalities, and it’s no surprise that these are being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Harri Weeks, Stakeholder Engagement Manager for The National LGB&T Partnership explains more about the impact of the virus and lockdown on both LGBTQ+ individuals and the sector that aims to support them.

  • COVID-19
  • Health inequalities

LGBTQ+ people experience inequalities in most, if not all, areas of health and social care. Unfortunately, as for other groups, a global pandemic has the potential to exacerbate these inequalities. This is because LGBTQ+ people are at greater risk from both the virus and the impact of the lockdown, and also because health sector responses often don’t specifically target the cause and impact of health inequalities.

Risks from the virus

LGBTQ+ people are more likely to be in higher risk groups both in terms of contracting COVID-19 and having worse outcomes if they do. They are more likely to be living with long term conditions, including higher rates of asthma (particularly LGB women), and are more likely to be smokers (GP Patient Survey data). Medical records and research do not routinely collect sexual orientation and trans status, and there are no reliable population-level estimates of the size of the LGB&T communities, so we will likely never know the specific impact of diagnoses or deaths on LGBTQ+ people. If you or your organisation are doing surveys to investigate the impact of COVID-19, get in touch to find out how best to record gender, sexual orientation and trans status.

Risks from lockdown

LGBTQ+ people also have specific vulnerabilities to some of the pressures of lockdown. As a group, LGBTQ+ people have higher rates of pre-existing poor mental health than the general population, and higher rates of social isolation. LGBTQ+ people, largely due to the discrimination they experience, are also more susceptible to substance mis-use & dependence, with 18% of respondents to a recent survey from the LGBT Foundation saying they’re concerned that the crisis may lead to alcohol or substance misuse or trigger a relapse. LGBTQ+ people are also at particularly high risk of being on lockdown in un-safe circumstances such as with unsupportive families or abusive partners.

‘I’m transgender but not out, my parents are transphobic, having to pretend to be someone ‘I’m not all the time is physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually exhausting’

LGBT Foundation Survey Respondent

We are also seeing an impact on LGBTQ+ people’s ability to access the health care they need. Trans people in particular have seen almost total cancellation of transition-related healthcare, with knock-on effects for both individuals’ mental health and the already many-years-long waiting lists.

“After nearly 3 years of being on the waiting list my access to transition-related healthcare has been delayed further.”

LGBT Foundation Survey Respondent

We are also hearing that individuals are not able to access PEP, or their usual sources of PrEP, the medications that, if used correctly, can prevent HIV infection.

‘I have had accidental unprotected sex and needed PEP urgently. I was unable to access it as all the local clinics are closed’

LGBT Foundation Survey Respondent

The impact on the LGBT+ sector

The cancellation of major LGBTQ+ community events such as Prides, and closure of venues where LGBTQ+ people can access community and feel comfortable, has had an impact on community wellbeing and two knock-on effects on the LGBT+ sector – increasing demand for specialist services, and reducing the income of the organisations which provide these.

‘I feel very cut off from community spaces right now, for obvious reasons! (…) I feel like there isn’t a lot of talk about the emotional impact of that’

LGBT Foundation Survey Respondent

The LGBT sector is very small, underfunded, and often reliant on community fundraising. There has already been a significant impact on the sector’s ability to provide support, at a time when demand is hugely increasing. According to Consortium, 64% of the sector have already lost income, and 20% are concerned they will have to close, with 12 organisations facing imminent closure.

The LGBT+ sector and LGBTQ+ individuals need the support of the wider voluntary sector at this time. Collaborative work at both a practice and policy-influencing level, to support LGBTQ+ individuals and organisations, is more vital than ever.

If you have any questions about the National LGB&T Partnership or about anything above please e-mail them to