As COVID-19 updates take over the news, it’s now common knowledge that coronavirus is more dangerous for some populations than others. Elderly people are especially at risk, along with people who have long-term health complications or weakened immune systems.
Over 100 LGBTQ+ and ally organizations have signed an open letter stating that LGBTQ+ communities are also at increased risk. Signers include the National LGBT Cancer Network, GLAAD, SAGE, Lambda Legal, and The Trevor Project, along with a slew of health organizations.
“As the spread of the novel coronavirus a.k.a. COVID-19 increases, many LGBTQ+ people are understandably concerned about how this virus may affect us and our communities,” the open letter begins. “The undersigned want to remind all parties handling COVID-19 surveillance, response, treatment, and media coverage that LGBTQ+ communities are among those who are particularly vulnerable to the negative health effects of this virus.”
Importantly, the increased risk is at a population level, not an individual one. Just being LGBTQ+ doesn’t make you more likely to contract coronavirus. But LGBTQ+ communities are vulnerable to this virus due to several factors, the open letter states.
First, LGBTQ+ people use tobacco at rates that are 50% higher than the rest of the population. Coronavirus is a respiratory illness that attacks the lungs, so it poses a special danger to smokers.
LGBTQ+ people also experience higher rates of both HIV and cancer — two conditions that can compromise the immune system and make it harder to fend off viruses like COVID-19.
Lastly, healthcare often isn’t as accessible to LGBTQ+ people, who may experience discrimination or a lack of understanding from many health care providers. When it comes to elderly LGBTQ+ folks, this problem is especially dire.
“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 letter explains. “The devastating impact of COVID-19 on older people – the current mortality rate is at 15% for this population – makes this a huge issue for the LGBTQ+ communities as well.”
If you meet any of the risk factors described above, be especially vigilant about virus prevention. If you experience symptoms and aren’t sure where to go for help, the National LGBT Cancer Network has a list of LGBTQ+-friendly providers along with other resources.