Georgia groups push LGBTQ visibility in coronavirus response

Six Georgia groups joined over 100 others in the U.S. calling on public health officials and the media not to leave out LGBTQ people in the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

LGBTQ people face discrimination from health care providers and have higher rates of smoking, cancer and HIV, which leaves them “particularly vulnerable” to the negative effects of the coronavirus, according to the letter. 

“Our smoking rates alone make us extremely vulnerable and our access to care barriers only make a bad situation worse,” Scout, deputy director of the National LGBT Cancer Network, said in a press release. “This letter outlines simple steps to ensure no population is further stigmatized by a virus.” 

Georgia-based groups that signed the letter included the Atlanta Pride Committee, Bi+ Georgia, Cobb County Democratic Party, Counter Narrative Project, Georgia Equality and the Young Democrats of Georgia LGBTQ Caucus. 

LGBTQ people are a “family,” according to Megan Payne, chair of the Young Democrats of Georgia LGBTQ Caucus.

“And I hope that, by signing this open letter and sharing this information, we can help protect and advocate for our family,” she said in a press release.

The groups asked that media coverage include pre-existing conditions that make people more vulnerable to the virus; health messaging include information tailored to LGBTQ people; LGBTQ people be provided with resources to find welcoming health care providers; and that health care workers are given equal access to care regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Advice for people with HIV

 

Joel Rosenstock (photo), medical director of Absolute Care, confirmed that higher rates of smoking among LGBTQ people make them more vulnerable to coronavirus.

“Smoking puts you at a bigger risk of respiratory infections,” he told Project Q Atlanta. 

Rosenstock advised people with HIV to continue their medications in the midst of the pandemic.

“If people living with HIV are taking their meds, are undetectable, and have a good T-cell count, they aren’t that much different than the general population,” he told Project Q Atlanta. “We take care of a ton of people who are concerned about it.”

“I want to reassure them as much as possible that if they were in a good state of health with their HIV prior to COVID, they’re still in a good state of health,” he said.

Rosenstock also advised LGBTQ people to follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention to fight coronavirus.

“Stay at home, socially distance yourself from other people when you do go out, wash your hands, don’t put your hands on your face, and hunker down for the next period of time,” he said.

Several Atlanta gay bars temporarily closed, and a flood of events have been canceled as queer businesses and organizations respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

View the open letter below: 

OPEN LETTER ABOUT CORONAVIRUS AND THE LGBTQ+ COMMUNITIES 

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 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. 

Our increased vulnerability is a direct result of three factors: 

1. The LGBTQ+ population uses tobacco at rates that are 50% higher than the general population. COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that has proven particularly harmful to smokers. 

2. The LGBTQ+ population has higher rates of HIV and cancer, which means a greater number of us may have compromised immune systems, leaving us more vulnerable to COVID-19 infections. 

3. LGBTQ+ people continue to experience discrimination, unwelcoming attitudes, and lack of understanding from providers and staff in many health care settings, and as a result, many are reluctant to seek medical care except in situations that feel urgent – and perhaps not even then. 

In addition, there are more than 3 million LGBTQ+ older people living in the United States. 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 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. 

LGBTQ+ communities are very familiar with the phenomena of stigma and epidemics. We want to urge people involved with the COVID-19 response to ensure that LGBTQ+ communities are adequately served during this outbreak. Depending on your role, appropriately serving our communities could involve any of the following actions: 

● Ensuring that media coverage notes the particular vulnerabilities of any person with pre-existing respiratory illnesses, compromised immune systems or who uses tobacco products. While populations – like LGBTQ+ communities – can be at increased risk, it is important to note the overall state of health that contributes to any person’s increased vulnerability to contracting COVID-19. 

● Ensuring health messaging includes information tailored to communities at increased risk for COVID-19, including LGBTQ+ populations. An example of such tailored messaging is including imagery of LGBTQ+ persons in any graphic ads. 

● Providing LGBTQ+ individuals resources to find welcoming providers, such as the ones provided here, if they are experiencing symptoms like a cough or fever and need to seek medical attention. 

● Ensuring funding to community health centers is distributed in a fashion that accounts for the additional burden anticipated by LGBTQ-identified health centers. 

● Whenever possible ensuring health agencies partner with community-based organizations to get messaging out through channels we trust. 

● Ensuring surveillance efforts capture sexual orientation and gender identity as part of routine demographics. 

● Ensuring health workers are directed to provide equal care to all regardless of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity/presentation, ability, age, national origin, immigration status, race, or ethnicity. 

● Ensuring that all COVID-19 responses take into account exceptionally vulnerable members of the LGBTQ+ communities, including our elders, bi people, and black and brown trans and gender nonconforming/nonbinary people. 

● Since xenophobic responses are heavily impacting the Asian American communities, ensuring all communications and responses related to COVID-19 attempt to counter any such xenophobic responses, avoid racial profiling, and discourage the public from doing so as well. 

● Ensuring LGBTQ+ health leadership, along with all providers and health care centers, are provided with timely and accurate information to disseminate. 

As LGBTQ+ community and health leadership, the undersigned organizations offer to stand shoulder to shoulder with the mainstream health leadership to make sure we learn from history and do not allow any population to be disproportionately impacted or further stigmatized by a virus.  

Initial signers: 

National LGBT Cancer Network 
GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality 
Whitman-Walker Health 
SAGE 
New York Transgender Advocacy Group 
National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance 

Additional Signers:  

Advocates for Youth 
Advocating Opportunity 
Alder Health Services 
Antioch University MFA Program 
Athlete Ally 
Atlanta Pride Committee 
Bi+ Georgia 
BiNet USA 
Bisexual Organizing Project-BOP 
Black Lives Matter Houston 
Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center 
California LGBTQ Health and Human Services Network 
Callen-Lorde Community Health Center 
Capital Pride Alliance 
CARES 
Center on Halsted 
CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers 
Cobb County Democratic Party 
Compass LGBTQ Community Center 
Corktown Health Center 
Counter Narrative Project 
CreakyJoints & Global Healthy Living Foundation 
CrescentCare 
Darker Sister Center 
Deaf Queer Resource Center 
Desert AIDS Project 
Desi Queer Diaspora 
Disciples LGBTQ+ Alliance - AllianceQ 
Equality Arizona 
Equality California 
Equality Federation 
Equality North Carolina 
Equitas Health 
Erie Gay News 
Evaluation, Data Integration, and Technical Assistance (EDIT) Program, ISGMH, Northwestern University 
Family Equality 
Fenway Health 
Freedom Oklahoma 
Garden State Equality 
Gay City: Seattle's LGBTQ Center 
Gender Equality New York, Inc. (GENY) 
Gender Justice League (Washington State) 
Georgia Equality 
GLAAD 
GLBT Alliance of Santa Cruz 
Greater Erie Alliance for Equality 
Greater Palm Springs Pride 
Harvey Milk Foundation 
Hetrick-Martin Institute 
HIV AIDS Alliance of Michigan 
HIV Medicine Association 
Horizons Foundation 
Howard Brown Health 
Human Rights Campaign 
Independence Business Alliance 
Indiana Youth Group 
Infectious Diseases Society of North America 
Inside Out Youth Services 
InterPride 
Iris House Inc 
Keystone Business Alliance 
Lambda Legal 
Lansing Area AIDS Network (LAAN) 
Lansing Association for Human Rights 
Legacy Community Health 
Lesbian,Bisexual, Gay, and Transgender PA Caucus, Inc. 
LGBT Center of Central PA 
LGBT Center of Greater Reading 
LGBT Center of Raleigh 
LGBT Elder Initiative 
LGBTQ Center OC 
Mass Equality 
Matthew Shepard Foundation 
Mazzoni Center 
Milwaukee LGBT Community Center 
Minority Veterans of America 
Mossier Social Action and Innovation Center 
National Center for Lesbian Rights 
National Center for Transgender Equality 
National Coalition for LGBT Health 
National Equality Action Team 
National LGBTQ Task Force 
Newburgh LGBTQ+ Center 
No Justice No Pride 
Oakland LGBTQ Community Ctr. 
Oasis Legal Services 
Oklahomans for Equality 
One Colorado 
Openhouse 
Our Family Coalition 
Out Alliance 
Out And Equal 
Out Boulder County 
OutCenter of Southwest Michigan 
OutFront Kalamazoo 
OutFront Minnesota 
OutRight International 
Pennsylvania Youth Congress 
Persad Center, Inc. 
PFLAG National 
PFund Foundation 
Pizza Klatch 
Positive Women's Network 
Pride Center of the Capital Region 
Pride Center of Vermont 
Pride Community Center, Inc 
Princess Janae Place Inc 
Rainbow Community Center of Contra Costa County 
Rhode Island Public Health Institute 
Rockland County Pride Center 
San Diego Pride 
San Francisco AIDS Foundation 
SAVE - Safeguarding American Values for Everyone 
SERO Project 
SF LGBT Community Center 
Sisters PGH 
St. James Infirmary 
Still Bisexual 
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center 
The LGBT Health Resource Center of Chase Brexton Health Care 
The LGBTQ Center Long Beach 
The LOFT LGBT Community Services Center 
The Montrose Center 
The Social Impact Center 
The Source LGBT+ Center 
The Trevor Project 
Thomas Judd Care Center 
Trans Lifeline 
Transgender Education Network of Texas 
Transgender Law Center 
Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund 
Triangle Community Center 
Trillium Health 
TriVersity Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity 
Tucson Interfaith HIV AIDS Network Inc aka 
TIHAN 
Twin Cities Pride 
U.S. People Living with HIV Caucus 
UNIFIED-HIV Health and Beyond 
Washington County Gay Straight Alliance, Inc. 
Wellness AIDS Services 
William Way LGBT Community Center 
Young Democrats of Georgia LGBTQ (Stonewall) Caucus

Photo courtesy Absolute Care