When a global pandemic or conflict hits, the marginalized groups are usually the most vulnerable populations. Lots of queer and transgender youth are more severely affected by the COVID-19 situation than their cisgender, straight peers. The virus itself is not homophobic, transphobic, or queer-phobic, but the discrimination in the healthcare system and the nature of being sent back to an unsupportive household might be.
I briefly mentioned in my blog post “How to Cope With Uncertainty During Quarantine” that a lot of queer and trans youth might be stuck in an environment that they don’t feel safe in. For example, someone might live in a house where their sexuality is denied or ridiculed, or they might be quarantined with family members who deadname them (use the name that a transgender person was given at birth and no longer uses upon transitioning), misgender them, and/or block their access to gender affirming clothing.
I have friends who went off to college last year and were finally able to leave their small, conservative hometown and be comfortable at a place where they were not only accepted but also embraced and celebrated. Being sent back to an environment that invalidates them not only has a negative effect on their mental health but also triggers past trauma. Lots of high school students also lose physical and emotional safe spaces like the SAGA (Sexuality and Gender Alliance) Club, community events, or even their friends’ houses, in addition to being isolated from their support system.
Social-distancing also means that queer and trans youth might lose their access to therapy, which could lead to further decline of mental health. Similarly, a lot of LGBTQ+ youth rely on non-profit healthcare services, but non-profit organizations have reduced service hours in order to protect their workers and visitors. This is another example of how the U.S. government fails to offer protections to vulnerable populations. Fortunately, a lot of therapists are doing video sections, and there are also other digital services that queer and trans kids can turn into. For example, some support groups organize their meetings on Zoom and other social media.
The Trevor Project is a hotline service that helps LGBTQ+ youth in crisis. They provide text and chat services for people who are anxious about phone calls. They also have an online forum called TrevorSpace where young people ages thirteen to twenty-four can make new friends and talk to others who are going through similar experiences. “gc2b” is a trans-owned company that sells chest binders and other pride apparel to raise funds for projects like 'Black Trans Travel Fund,' a savings that “pays for private car rides for Black trans women.” (Longo, 2020) Since quarantine started, gc2b has launched a #2bhere series to help 'quaran-teens' stay connected. They invited musicians, artists, and performers to engage in activities like poetry readings, paintings, live concerts, guided meditations, cooking classes, and Q&As relating to queer and trans experience.
The Trevor Project reports that it has received twice as many crisis calls since the COVID-19 outbreak started. The higher rate of anxiety and depression means that queer and trans youth sometimes turn to unhealthy and/or unsafe coping mechanisms such as vaping, smoking, drinking, self meditation, or even self-harm.
Being in a house with intolerant people can also trigger violence and abuse. As awful as it sounds, some parents kick their kids out in the middle of this pandemic. Forty percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ+. (Labarbera, 2020) Back when everything was “normal,” LGBTQ shelters were life-savers because queer and trans kids could experience homophobic, transphobic, or otherwise queer-phobic attacks at the shelters for the general population. If LGBTQ+ shelters were to shut down, it means that these people may have nowhere to turn.
LGBTQ+ patients are already less likely to seek medical care due to fear of discrimination. To make matters worse, the Trump administration is trying to repel healthcare from people who are perceived as transgender by allowing doctors to refuse trans patients. (Bollinger, 2020) During a time like this, politicians are choosing to take advantage of a worldwide pandemic to promote an agenda of bigotry (I will post another article in response to this in the near future).
I am transgender. I live in a household with people who misgender me, don’t see me as who I am, and ignore the changes happening in my body. But even though my family of origin is not accepting, I find a chosen family -- a group of friends and supportive adults who love me unconditionally. Personally, the physical isolation has been incredibly difficult because I cannot see my queer chosen family who provide the emotional support that I need. During the past month, I have been reaching out to friends and trusted adults as well as using online resources to manage my mental health.
If you are a queer or trans kid trapped in quarantine like me, I wish you all the best. Find the little things that keep you going. Live for the update in Animal Crossing. Live for your favorite artist’s new album. Live for the next time you go out and eat mint chip ice cream. Life is long. As a wise mentor once told me, “The present is not the future, and love in action is the best hope for any of us.”
You are so worthy. You are so resilient. You are so loved.
Kuhr, E. (April 5, 2020). “Coronavirus pandemic a perfect storm for LGBTQ homeless youth.” https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/coronavirus-pandemic-perfect-storm-lgbtq-homeless-youth-n1176206. Accessed 3 May 2020.
Eadens, S. (March 18, 2020). “LGBTQ community may be 'particularly vulnerable' to coronavirus pandemic. Here's why.” https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/03/18/lgbtq-coronavirus-community-vulnerable-covid-19-pandemic/2863813001/. Accessed 3 May 2020.
Labarbera, J. (April 24, 2020). “Commentary: LGBTQ youth lost safe spaces during the shutdown. These resources can help.” https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/opinion/story/2020-04-24/commentary-lgbtq-youth-lost-safe-spaces-during-the-shutdown-these-resources-can-help. Accessed 3 May 2020.
López, C. (Apr 28, 2020). “LGBTQ teens are cut off from support networks in quarantine, so they're building community online instead.” https://www.insider.com/lgbtq-teens-are-building-community-online-while-quarantined-2020-4. Accessed 3 May 2020.
Factora, J. (March 31, 2020). “Queer Under Coronavirus: I'm Home From College, Navigating Being Queer in a Small Town.” https://www.them.us/story/coronavirus-queer-small-town-college. Accessed 3 May 2020.
Bollinger, A. (April 24, 2020). "Trump administration moves to allow doctors to refuse trans patients as COVID rages." https://www.lgbtqnation.com/2020/04/trump-administration-moves-allow-doctors-refuse-trans-patients-covid-rages/. Accessed 12 May 2020.
Longo, J. (April, 2020). "The Black Trans Travel Fund Is Helping Vulnerable Communities Get Home Safe In The Pandemic." https://melmagazine.com/en-us/story/black-trans-travel-fund. Accessed 12 May 2020.
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