Despite the country-wide lockdown, the discrimination and harassment that the community faces have not changed. Equally, the confinement of lockdown has been particularly difficult for the younger LGBTQ+ community, according to a recent ‘Queerantine’ study by the University of Sussex and University College London.
The impact of lockdown
More than a quarter of respondents (26.1%) to the Queerantine survey regularly felt their difficulties were piling up so high they couldn’t be overcome. Almost half (46.8%) of respondents also felt that fairly often they were unable to control the important things in life due to lockdown.
The multitude of calls to LGBTQ+ helplines and the rise in unemployment in this community has skyrocketed, as a result, says a report by the Trevor Project.
The pandemic has had disastrous impacts on the wellbeing of the LGBTQ+ community, who already experienced both higher rates of unemployment and suicidality, particularly among those who identify as transgender and/or nonbinary. Transgender and gender diverse (TGGD) individuals found lockdown hardest, with more than eight in ten exhibiting depressive symptoms.
“The results of our study show that the pandemic may not be impacting the LGBTQ+ community evenly, with TGGD individuals having particularly high scores for stress and depressive symptoms relative to cisgender gay and lesbian individuals,” says Dr Kneale, Principal Research Fellow at the EPPI-Centre, UCL Institute of Education.
“Non-heterosexual respondents who are cisgender but do not identify as lesbian or gay also had elevated scores for stress and depressive symptoms.”
Although the mental wellbeing of the LGBTQ+ community as a whole has still felt a hard hit from the coronavirus pandemic, non-gender-conforming individuals have felt it the hardest, says Dr Becares, Senior Lecturer in Applied Social Science at the University of Sussex: “Our study found high levels of stress and depressive symptoms, particularly among younger and transgender and gender diverse respondents. These associations were partially explained by experiences of harassment which had a large, consistent and pernicious impact on mental health.”
The LGBTQ+ community has felt the pandemic in different corners, with younger members of the community reporting lower mental wellbeing, says Dr Kneale: “Similarly, the results show unambiguously that younger LGBTQ+ people in the sample had markedly higher levels of stress and depressive symptoms during the pandemic than older LGBTQ+ people. One potential reason for this is that younger LGBTQ+ people are more likely to have lived through lockdown with people who are not aware or not supportive of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The impact of the pandemic
Despite being on lockdown, members of the LGBTQ+ community are still facing discrimination in their day to day lives. One-in-six of LGBTQ+ respondents experienced discrimination in some form during the pandemic, rising to more than a quarter among those identifying as transgender and gender diverse. Discrimination and inappropriate incidents described in the survey included excessive scrutiny when out in public during the pandemic, misgendering, involuntary disclosure of LGBTQ+ identity and online abuse.
Responses to the survey indicate that instances of harassment had a clear link with poorer mental health among the study’s respondents, with those experiencing harassment based on their gender or sexuality being three times more likely to develop depressive symptoms.
Policy commitment is a need to ensure that LGBTQ+ individuals have support in applying for and accessing unemployment funds during the pandemic, which Dr Becares echoes: “Poor LGBTQ+ mental health will remain unchecked without a substantial policy commitment and funding directed to ameliorating health inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic.
“Governments and public health officials need to address the vulnerability of the LGBTQ+ community to the coronavirus pandemic, including supporting data collection efforts, increasing socioeconomic support for disadvantaged individuals, and providing support for organisations working with the community.”
Non-discrimination policies must be enacted to facilitate employment opportunities for the unemployed and youth, said the Trevor Project and Dr Kneale: “The coronavirus pandemic has exposed and magnified existent societal and health inequities that operate across multiple and intersecting systems of oppression. Given documented stark health and socioeconomic inequalities known to exist on the basis of being LGBTQ+, it sadly comes as no surprise to see from our survey results that lockdown has been particularly difficult for many within the LGBTQ+ community.”