Supporting LGBTQ+ Community Members During COVID-19
As the COVID-19 outbreak continues, communities across the globe are managing the various challenges generated by the pandemic. Some groups, such as low-income families, undocumented folks, and people who are unemployed may be facing additional stressors due to lack of resources and discrimination. Other communities that are uniquely affected by COVID-19 are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ+) youth and adults. With the physical closure of schools and some other locations, members of the LGBTQ+ community may find that they are without safe spaces and support communities.
LGBTQ+ Youth and Adults in the U.S.
In the United States, it is estimated that 3.5% of adults identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual; and 0.06% identify as transgender (or identifying as a different gender from the sex/gender that you were assigned at birth). Members of the LGBTQ+ community come from various racial and ethnic backgrounds; including 21% who identify as Latino/a/x and 12% who identify as Black or African-American.
While there has been an increase in the visibility of LGBTQ+ folks throughout the years, members of such communities still face various levels of discrimination and stigma. Stress from such discrimination contributes to an increased risk for various health conditions, including anxiety and depression. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, adults that identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer were more than two times more likely to experience an episode of major depressive disorder compared to their heterosexual peers. Additionally, a study in 2015 found that 48% of transgender adults experienced suicidal ideations in the previous year, compared to 4% of the general U.S. population. Affirming mental health treatment, case management, and other resources, can assist LGBTQ+ people in managing prejudice and other possible stressors, and therefore contribute to improving their health outcomes.
Impact of COVID-19 on the LGBTQ+ Community
While mental health experts consider that the U.S. population may overall be experiencing declining mental health outcomes due to isolation, stress, and fear caused by COVID-19, some researchers consider that the health of LGBTQ+ people may be especially affected by the pandemic.
One of the reasons is that physical closure of schools and workplaces may limit LGBTQ+ members’ access to supportive individuals. Youth that previously attended LGBTQ+ groups at school, such as Gay-Straight-Alliance or Gender-Sexuality-Alliance groups, may not have access to such meetings anymore. As such, they may not be able to connect to other LGBTQ+ peers and allies, and their feelings of isolation and loneliness may increase. Similarly, teens and adults who previously may have looked forward to coming to work to a LGBQ and/or trans supportive environment, may also lose access to this space due to telework or unemployment. This may be particularly devastating for people who are only ‘out’ in these environments.
Additionally, LGBTQ+ people may be sheltering in place with people who may be abusive or unsupportive of their gender and sexual identities. This is distinctly true for youth, who often have less control over their living environment, and who are often scared to ‘come out’ due to worries of hostility, abuse, and/or being kicked out of their homes. As such, physical distancing requirements or recommendations, while important to stop the spread of the virus, may inadvertently cause detrimental effects to the health and safety of LGBTQ+ people.
Ways to Support LGBTQ+ Community During COVID-19
One of the simplest ways that family members and friends can support LGBTQ+ folk during this time is to check-in on them and ask what support, if any, they need. This time is difficult for everyone, so reaching out and showing interest in how people are doing can go a long way for improving individuals’ mental health.
Additionally, allies can assist LGBTQ+ folks by encouraging them to reach out to other supportive connections in non-physical ways (texting, messaging through social media, video calling and regular phone calls). For LGBTQ+ folks who are experiencing loneliness or a lack of caring social contacts, providing them with information for online support groups and other resources may also be helpful (more information for online resources and hotlines is provided below). This may be especially true for youth, who may be feeling isolated due to not being able to see their friends in school, and who may not know where to turn for emotional support.
If you are concerned that any youth, LGBTQ+ or not, is being abused or neglected, you can make a confidential report at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (national hotline) or your local hotline (Los Angeles Child Abuse Hotline is 800-540-4000).
Resources to Support LGBTQ+ Community Members
Try to understand their experience and show interest by educating yourself. Here are some resources for parents, friends, and community members to better understand LGBTQ+ identities:
- Glossary of Terms by the Human Rights Campaign
- Our Children – A guide for caregivers and community members about LGBTQ+ identities, including frequently asked questions and ways to support LGBTQ+ individuals.
- Bisexual FAQ – A list of frequently asked questions to help people better understand bisexuality
- Our Trans Loved Ones – A guide for parents, caregivers, friends, and community members to learn more about people who are transgender, including frequently asked questions, ways to support transgender individuals, and statements about gender identity from various professional organizations.
Resources for LGBTQ+ Community Members
While there is no denying that there are challenges for LGBTQ+ folk at this time, there is also a wide array of support from various agencies, and from everyday people. Children’s Bureau is committed to bolstering the health and well-being of LGBTQ+ people through affirming mental health treatment, and inclusive foster care and adoption services.
Some other national and local organizations that can offer mental health resources or support for LGBTQ+ members are:
- LGBT National Help Center – Includes a hotline for LGBTQ+ people of all ages, as well as hotlines specifically addressed to LGBTQ+ youth and the elderly. Also includes chat rooms and assistance in connecting to local resources.
- The Trevor Project (866-488-7386) – Supports LGBTQ+ youth through a crisis and suicide prevention hotline, as well as online chat and text messaging services with trained counselors.
- Trans Lifeline (877-565-8860) – Crisis hotline for transgender people by transgender people (peer to peer support).
- PFLAG – Some PFLAG chapters are conducting virtual groups for LGBTQ+ youth, as well as their parents and caregivers. You can find and contact a PFLAG chapter in your area by visiting the website.
- Los Angeles LGBT Center – currently providing physical and mental health treatment for LGBTQ+ individuals via telehealth (with some in-person appointments).
We all play a role in ensuring the emotional and physical safety of those around us. Children’s Bureau offers a number of programs to help children and families thrive including prevention services, foster care & adoption, and mental health services. If you are a youth or know a youth that might benefit from affirming mental health treatment, please fill out an inquiry form on our mental health page to be connected to a Children’s Bureau Mental Health professional. With our collaborative efforts, we can increase the health and well-being of ourselves and all community members around us.
Isabel Checa, ACSW, MPH
Isabel is a Mental Health Therapist at Children’s Bureau. She has a Master’s of Social Work and Master’s of Public Health from Boston University, with a focus on clinical social work, maternal and child health, and epidemiology.