How Are LGBTQ+ Canadians Coping With the COVID-19 Pandemic?

COVID-19 is hitting LGBTQ+ Canadians where it already hurt.

Posted Sep 30, 2020

This post was co-authored with Bre O'Handley & Kavya Chandra. 

To say the COVID-19 pandemic is a life-changing event feels like an understatement. The pandemic has been dominating our lives since the early months of 2020. As the death toll continues to climb, so do rates of unemployment, homelessness, and feelings of isolation. 

While for many these difficulties may be new experiences, some represent challenges that certain populations were already facing prior to the pandemic. Members of the LGBTQ+ community are one such population and thus recent research funded by the Nova Scotia COVID-19 Health Research Coalition has sought to better understand how LGBTQ+ individuals have been coping with the pandemic.

 KLB Research, used with permission.
Research funded by the Nova Scotia COVID-19 Health Research Coalition has explored the unique experiences of LGBTQ+ Canadians.
Source: KLB Research, used with permission.

A coalition of researchers from Acadia, St. Francis Xavier, Trent, and the University of Ottawa recently released a report outlining how Canadian LGBTQ+ individuals have been coping with the pandemic. The data came from a larger study exploring interpersonal coping strategies within the context of the pandemic, in which 2,266 Canadians reported on their experiences every day for a period of 2-4 weeks between the months of April and June 2020.

In the study, Canadians were asked about their income and employment status, COVID-19 specific experiences (i.e., COVID-19 symptoms, engagement in WHO recommendations), medical and mental health help-seeking behaviours, and feelings of social support.  LGBTQ+ Canadians answered additional questions about experiences during the pandemic that were specific to being LGBTQ+, such as identity outness and access to gender-affirming resources.

Unique LGBTQ+ Experiences

LGBTQ+ participants described experiences of moving home to live with unaccepting family members and how this limited the extent to which they could be open about their identity. Some LGBTQ+ participants explained that they were now more concerned about their job security in relation to their sexual or gender identity and felt that having unaccepting employers or colleagues would put them at risk of being the first to be let go. Finally, when asked about other consequences of the pandemic, LGBTQ+ participants described losing access to the LGBTQ+ community and resources, which further compounded their feelings of social isolation.

Trans and Non-Binary Experiences

KLB Research, used with permission.
Trans and non-binary Canadians reported reduced access to gender-affirming treatment and support during the pandemic.
Source: KLB Research, used with permission.

The pandemic disrupted access to gender-affirming resources and treatments, such as hormone replacement therapy and gender-affirming surgeries for many of the trans and non-binary participants within the study, something that may put their mental well-being at greater risk according to a recently published article in Archives of Sexual Behavior. Trans and non-binary participants also spoke about how COVID-19 has limited their ability to engage in gender-affirming behaviours, such as binding or padding, with almost a quarter of trans and non-binary participants in the study experiencing an increase in feelings of gender dysphoria during the pandemic.

How Is the LGBTQ+ Community Coping?

Compared to non-LGBTQ+ Canadians, LGBTQ+ participants reported more anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress-related symptoms throughout the pandemic and were more likely to report lower levels of income stability going into the pandemic.

Many of the LGBTQ+ participants also reported greater concern about the pandemic and increased feelings of vulnerability. LGBTQ+ participants reported having less social support during the pandemic and lower feelings of closeness to their families compared to non-LGBTQ+ Canadians. Although many Canadians have experienced social isolation and the loneliness of not seeing their friends, LGBTQ+ individuals have been hit particularly hard by these experiences as often friends can serve as their only source of genuine support and acceptance. 

With respect to following the World Health Organization’s guidelines concerning social distancing, frequent hand washing, and staying home as much as possible, LGBTQ+ Canadians were more likely to report that following these guidelines was not feasible for them. Although LGBTQ+ Canadians reported taking the pandemic very seriously and experiencing high levels of concern about the severity of the situation, many found themselves in forms of employment that made following the guidelines difficult or impossible (e.g., high contact service industries, essential workers). 

KLB Research, used with permission.
LGBTQ+ Canadians reported being less able to engage in protective behaviours during the pandemic.
Source: KLB Research, used with permission.

Looking Ahead

Moving forward, public policy and public health officials must consider how best to support the LGBTQ+ community as we enter the second wave of the pandemic and face the potential of further lockdowns and increased social distancing regulations. The findings, which echo findings from two national EGALE Canada surveys, indicate that LGBTQ+ Canadians entered the pandemic in a more vulnerable state due to reduced income stability, reduced health status, and lower levels of social support. This initial vulnerability, coupled with the specific consequences of the pandemic tending to double down on the very issues that LGBTQ+ Canadians were already struggling with has resulted in a disproportionate impact of the pandemic on LGBTQ+ Canadians.

Although the research identifies several areas in which LGBTQ+ individuals could benefit from additional support, it is important to remember the resiliency that already exists within the LGBTQ+ community. This is not the first global pandemic that the LGBTQ+ community has faced. Indeed, experiences and lessons learned from the HIV/AIDS epidemic have provided the LGBTQ+ community with the skills necessary to advocate for and support each other during times of crisis.

Unfortunately, the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic with its necessary social distancing has made coming together as a community more challenging. Luckily, the LGBTQ+ community was already very well established in online environments prior to the pandemic, and this has provided unique opportunities to create new forms of social connection.

Indeed, although many participants in the study noted that the pandemic was creating a sense of disconnection from the LGBTQ+ community, others noted that this feeling was being abated by the growth in online activities being offered by the LGBTQ+ community. For example, the popular Queer Women’s travel company, Olivia, has been offering a series called “Olivia at Home” in order to provide entertainment and support to its global community throughout the pandemic and other grassroots efforts have organized online drag shows and even drive-in drag shows.

References

O'Handley, B., Blair, K.L., Courtice, E., Hoskin, R.A., Holmberg, D. & Bell. K. (2020). COVID-19 Pandemic: LGBTQ+ Experiences. KLB Research Reports. 

van der Miesen, A. I., Raaijmakers, D., & van de Grift, T. C. (2020). “You Have to Wait a Little Longer”: Transgender (Mental) Health at Risk as a Consequence of Deferring Gender-Affirming Treatments During COVID-19Archives of Sexual Behavior, 1.