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LGBTQ+ Pride in the Midst of COVID-19

A review of 2020 and what Pride is all about.

Key points

  • The pandemic hit LGBTQ+ folks hard: Depression and anxiety increased, along with the need for mental and physical health care.
  • Seventy-four percent of LGBT people felt an increased level of stress in response to the pandemic, with 56% reporting a job loss due to COVID-19.
  • The LGBTQ+ community responded to the pandemic crisis by giving each other practical aid and emotional support in many ways.
 Matt Miyamoto @hilotravels, used with permission.
Pride and social distancing.
Source: Matt Miyamoto @hilotravels, used with permission.

When COVID-19 struck, illness, death, grief, loss, unemployment, housing instability, and isolation rocked the world in what can only be described as a collective trauma. Now, as we enter Pride month with rainbow masks and a vaccine jab, let’s take a moment to review what just happened. The pandemic hit the LGBTQ+ community hard, and its subsequent impact on mental health may ripple for some time. That said, there’s a lot to be proud of, making it worthwhile to affirm both our strengths and our struggles.

Mobilization of the LGBTQ+ community

As the CDC disseminated new information about the virus, it was inspiring how quickly the LGBTQ+ community mobilized. After decades of educating people about infectious diseases like HIV/AIDs, it wasn’t hard for advocates to adjust their health and safety message.

Organizations like San Diego Pride, the Trevor Project, and Trans Lifeline were quick to list COVID-19 resources, as nonprofits and Pride organizers developed new and inventive ways to support their community. Simultaneously, mental health counselors around the world flipped their business models upside down to provide telehealth services. Sure, things got a little awkward at the start, like when the internet lagged or the audio cut out, but we worked through it, and many counselors are staying online for the foreseeable future.

Increased demand for health care

Yet as depression and anxiety increased, so too did the demand for physical and mental health care. According to a poll from the Trevor Project, a quarter of LGBTQ+ youth were unable to access mental healthcare during the pandemic. This same poll found that 41% of LGBTQ youth felt like the pandemic had impacted their ability to express their sexual or gender identity.1 A 2021 poll by KFF found that 74% of LGBT people felt an increased level of stress in response to the pandemic, with 56% reporting a job loss in their household related to COVID-19.2 Self-care became the name of the game, but right when we were just getting the hang of baking, the stores ran out of yeast. What a metaphor...

Meeting the need for LGBTQ+ support

The LGBTQ+ community has a long history of enduring crisis with little to no support. It’s a hard fact, and it’s nothing new. There’s plenty of awareness campaigns and ally trainings because they’re low cost, but LGBTQ+ housing programs, academic scholarships, and occupational leadership opportunities are rare.

For this reason, it’s important now, more than ever, for organizations to set aside rainbow marketing to actually support the community in practical ways. In the meantime, without holding our breath, it's important that we validate our own resilience, resourcefulness, and interdependence as a community.

The very moment quarantine was declared, we had vloggers advising gay and transgender teens how to survive lockdown with their homophobic and transphobic parents. We had queer people of all ages connecting through social media events. We had activists taking to the streets, as June of 2020 was rebranded Gay Wrath month in solidarity with the massive civil rights protests. We had people crowdfunding rent, and taking in homeless LGBTQ+ youth so they wouldn't get infected. And with no way to get their prescriptions filled, we had trans and nonbinary people sharing hormones by any means necessary.

These aren’t bragging points, or some form of virtue signaling looking for a pat on the back. These are the harsh realities of belonging to a marginalized group so often left to care for ourselves. In the absence of resources and adequate healthcare, it is no wonder that we look to each other for practical aid and emotional support. It is terrible how LGBTQ+ people, and in particular LGBTQ+ BIPOC, are disproportionately affected by socioeconomic crashes, social neglect, and systematic oppression—and also why Pride is so necessary.

Yes, Pride events are often joyous and celebratory occasions, but in times like this it’s important to remember Martha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and the very spirit of the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR). Their Dance-a-fairs raised money to house homeless trans and gay youth, as well as scrape together enough cash to pay off medical and legal fees. It’s important to remember the Dykes on Bikes, and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who raised donations and social awareness throughout the AIDS crisis.

And it’s important to remember that Pride doesn’t slap a happy face on despair. It doesn’t force a smile. Pride is an act of radical acceptance and fierce perseverance. It honors our grit, and our tenderness, and our fortitude, and our gentleness, and our pain, and our empowerment. People cheer, and dance, and kiss unabashedly at pride, and they also cry, and hug each other, and memorialize those beloved and absent.

So this year, as we collectively emerge, take a moment to review what just happened. Be honest about what your needs are, and what you’re ready for. Perhaps you’re feeling pent up and want to surround yourself with vibrant people again. Perhaps you need to slowly gain your stride or continue to shelter in place.

And perhaps it doesn’t matter all that much coming from some queer counselor on Psychology Today, but for what it’s worth, know that I am proud of you, whoever you are, whatever you've been through, even if you’re too fatigued to be proud of yourself.

If you were that kid shut down and stuck at home, I’m proud of you.

If you were trapped for days on unemployment websites, I’m proud of you.

If you tried to homeschool your kids without losing your mind, I’m proud of you.

If you educated people online about LGBTQ+ issues, I’m proud of you.

If you came out during this strange year, I'm proud of you.

If you reached out to your friends just to keep them alive, I’m proud of you.

If you spent a year, all alone, just trying to survive, I’m proud of you.

If you got sick and made it through, I’m proud of you.

And if you lost someone you loved and lit a candle for them, I’m proud of you.

Why? Because the best response to a collective trauma is collective healing. Because we've all been through a lot, and it's worth validating. Because Pride is all about uplifting each other, which is why you'll see allied parents giving free hugs to disowned kids, and random strangers applauding. Because Pride is all about celebrating you, and every light you shine, however singular and however bright.

References

1. Trevor Project (2020). How COVID-19 is Impacting LGBTQ Youth.

2. Dawson, L., Kirzinger, A., Kates, J. (2021) KFF: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on LGBT People.

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