NEWS

How the Pandemic Impacted the LGBTQ+ Community

queer couple outside wearing masks

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Key Takeaways

  • Members of the LGBTQ+ community experienced higher rates of mental health burdens associated with the pandemic. This has been most especially true for those who are especially marginalized within the community.
  • Self-care and connections to the community were important ways that queer people survived isolation, and some learned to prioritize their own needs to truly thrive during this time.
  • As the world reopens, queer people should continue to practice compassion for themselves and other marginalized people while allies take tangible steps towards systemic change to promote safer, healthier environments.

The pandemic has negatively impacted all people and has led to mental health strain for a variety of demographics, especially those who experience marginalization. The queer and LGBTQ+ community is not a monolith and its members have differing needs and experiences which has created variance in the ways individuals have endured the pandemic.

However, research shows that, as a whole, queer people report higher rates of negative mental health concerns and outcomes related to the pandemic when compared to non-queer counterparts. This emotional and mental health toll will continue to impact the most vulnerable members of queer community as the world re-opens.

Struggles at the Intersection of other Marginalized Experiences

In a recent study about the effects of Covid-19 on the LGBTQ+ community, 74% of queer respondents said that worrying and stress related to the pandemic negatively impacted their mental health. This compared to just 50% who do not identify as LGBTQ+.

Queer people were also more than twice as likely to describe that negative impact as a major concern. This difference could be due to increased intersections of marginalization as Covid-19 disproportionately populations who are marginalized and oppressed.

Dania March, MPH, LCSW, is an Oakland-based psychotherapist who explains that queer people were already marginalized before the pandemic due to society's lack of acceptance. She notes that queer people are often otherized, which can foster mental health struggles, especially for those who lack access to necessary resources and support.

Dania March, MPH, LCSW

Any time we have a system set up that elevates and gives power, recognition, and access to resources of some over others, it's going to cause problems. 

— Dania March, MPH, LCSW

Jordan Cobb, 31, is a gay, trans woman who has struggled to find consistent work since graduating from film school 8 years ago and is currently unemployed. She says that this instability coupled with a lack of support after coming out as trans two years ago caused her to feel anxious and suicidal and led to an addiction relapse. She adds, “I had some pretty bad depression before the pandemic,” noting that the pandemic didn't help her attempts to get well.

Jordan's experience is not unique. By May 2020, 18% of queer people in the UK already worried about the potential for misusing drugs and alcohol and weren't sure if they could maintain sobriety. Jordan stayed sober during lockdown by avoiding the negative coping patterns she previously relied on and instead established newer, healthier habits—including a consistent workout plan and support from a queer-competent therapist.

But this kind of self-care was difficult for many as access to quality mental health care was diminished and time spent in isolation extended, placing barriers in between queer people and their chosen families as well as limiting their ability to seek professional support.

27% of queer people in the UK said they couldn't access antidepressants or other medications which manage mental health conditions. 45% of trans people were unable to access medications and worried about the inability to access their medications (including 61% who worried about access to hormones). 27% of trans and nonbinary respondents did not have access to medical care unrelated to Covid-19, and many more had crucial medical appointments canceled or delayed.

Queer people were more likely to be unemployed or live with a household member who experienced job loss during this crisis, creating additional stressors as people struggled to pay bills, access groceries and other necessities, and worry about lingering health scares associated with the virus.

Dania notes that white, cisgender, gay men have higher earning potential than more marginalized people within the community. More marginalized queer people were more likely to be essential employees in grocery stores, food service, and other essential industries, placing them at high risk for exposure to Covid-19 in the workplace.

Queer people, who as a group experience poor immune systems due to trauma and illness, were also at increased risk for contracting the virus. This underlines that the most vulnerable people were often forced to take the biggest physical and mental health risks in the pursuit of economic stability.

Jordan says she still spends most days completely by herself and, because she doesn't drive, has even more limited access to the community. 30% of LGBTQ+ people reportedly live alone right now, and this number increases to 40% of queer people ages 50 and over. Increased loneliness can exacerbate mental health concerns as they struggle to cope while alone in isolation.

Dania says that queer people experience more isolation than other groups even without a pandemic to worry about. For those who relied on events, programming, and social time to stay well, the isolation has caused has cause mental health strains in addition to feelings of loss.

Prioritizing Ourselves and Caring for the Community

Although it is true that the community has been more negatively impacted by the pandemic than other groups and that social isolation was especially detrimental to many, some queer people experienced relief from social pressures during quarantine or enjoyed some of the changes in lifestyle associated with the pandemic.

The flexibility of telehealth increased the accessibility of necessary care for some. Although Planned Parenthood was late to include virtual appointments, Jordan says that telehealth through the organization helped her start hormones in October. She adds, “That has made me happier than I think anything ever has in my life because it also means I don’t need to lie to myself about who I really am anymore.”

She says the alone time has served some people in the community as she and others have taken time to assess and prioritize their own needs. She adds, “I think isolation has helped many to get to know themselves and become comfortable with their identity to finally come out.”

Dania March, MPH, LCSW

Some people felt better for having less pressure to be out and about and in social context constantly. Our brains aren't really wired for such continuous activity, so to have the pressure of that relieved was helpful.

— Dania March, MPH, LCSW

Jordan has been frustrated and drained by continuous job applications and the lack of response from potential employers, but she spent more time with family, explored favorite video games, read comics, and exercised to find respite in the middle of days filled with monotony. This time has offered her space to learn how to prioritize her mental health and hobbies.

Chaya Milchtein, 26, relates to the experience of prioritizing herself during this time and used technology to spread joy to the rest of the community. She married her partner in August and live-streamed the event for thousands of strangers to attend in an attempt to uplift and affirm queer people during the pandemic. She also started cooking, building community by sharing home-cooked meals, developing a hobby she'll continue to pursue even after the world reopens.

Chaya was laid off during the pandemic—but this job loss freed her to invest in her small business, Mechanic Shop Femme, where she specializes in educating queer people and women about cars. She says she previously worried that she wouldn't be able to pursue this as a career full-time and feared there was less of a need as people stopped driving during lockdowns. But the pandemic taught her that she is capable and offered her confidence for continued success.

She feels that the lack of any other option for financial stability motivated her to find a path forward for her business, but she attributes her success to the support she received from the queer community. Jordan agrees that LGBTQ+ rallied to find creative ways to promote and support queer-owned businesses who worked to meet the needs of the community and others.

Chaya says that finding balance while working at home for the first time was a challenge at first, but she committed to establishing boundaries, building breaks into her workday, and taking off on weekends. She says she found it difficult to maintain some of her pre-pandemic relationships from a distance, which was disappointing, but she limited isolation by scheduling regular meetings with her mentor and joining TikTok to feel closer to the community at large.

She's looking forward to rebuilding friendships that withered, but she underlines that the queer community as a whole felt especially connected during times of hardship. She adds, "Throughout the pandemic, I watched the queer community rally around each other—to support folks who lost jobs like myself, to provide food for people, to provide resources and support. I never doubted queer people would come together like that."

The queer community's ability to support one another could come from the continued need to do this even before the pandemic as they collectively combatted experiences with systemic oppression.

Although queer people desire vaccinations at similar rates to non-queer people, they are much more likely to view vaccination as an important part of protecting the health of others—especially when compared to those who view vaccination as a personal choice to protect oneself. Researchers believe this could be because of the community's experience with HIV and a previous lack of access to appropriate, effective care during that epidemic.

Supporting Queer People as the World Reopens

It's important for queer people to make sure they're practicing as much self-care as they can as the world reopens, especially if they're bombarded with experiences of marginalization that felt more distant during lockdown—such as harassment in public spaces or navigating microaggressions in the workplace. Queer people should seek affirming relationships, get rest, and pursue activities that bring joy.

Finding respite and affirmation can be difficult. For some, it's even hard to find support and connections within the LGBTQ+ community, as this group has been just as influenced as society at large by problematic social norms—including racism, ableism, ageism, sexism, classism, and other harmful ideologies.

Dania explains that Pride month can offer protective factors for mental health, as increased visibility, events, and social time can be good for people who need the support and affirmation—but this time of year can also be emotionally taxing, as we are reminded of the progress our society still needs to make to ensure rights and safety for all queer people.

Additionally, anti-trans legislation which recently passed in some states demonstrates some queer people don't have the ability to pursue the same activities and communities that keep others healthy, active, and engaged.

Dania March, MPH, LCSW

Microaggressions compound the more marginalized identities one has.

— Dania March, MPH, LCSW

Jordan highlights that although people now have more language for their identities and experiences than they might have had access to in the past, leaders and allies still uphold problematic standards based in outdated thinking. She emphasizes that the world is still a dangerous place for queer people and that many are still scared to be out in the world as themselves, underlining that this is because those with power to enact systemic change haven’t truly pursued it.

Jordan adds, "Allies just need to listen! That might not sound like anything new or revolutionary, but it is true." Chaya adds, "People have to want to change. People have to listen to queer people and change their language and actions even if they don't totally understand us."

What This Means For You

The pandemic has caused significant strain on queer people's mental health, and moving forward as the world reopens, it might be difficult to inch back out into society. Practice self-compassion and search for events in the community that feel right for you, prioritizing your physical safety and mental health. Allies, challenge yourselves to become stronger advocates for queer community members, as LGBTQ+ people still seek liberation in an oppressive world.

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3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kaiser Family Foundation. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on LGBT people. Published March 11, 2021.

  2. The LGBT Foundation. Hidden figures: the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on LGBT communities in the UK. Published May 28, 2020.

  3. Banerjee D, Nair VS. The untold side of COVID-19: struggle and perspectives of the sexual minoritiesJ Psychosexual Health. 2020;2(2):113-120. doi:10.1177/2631831820939017