U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee – Photo: Shawn Miller/Library of Congress, via Wikimedia.
LGBTQ advocates have penned a second open letter to health and policy leaders calling on them to ensure that LGBTQ people and other vulnerable populations are not discriminated against when it comes to prevention measures against, and treatment for those who become infected with, the COVID-19 virus.
The letter, which builds upon one previously written in March calling on health officials to take into account the disparate impact that the virus could pose to the health of LGBTQ individuals, was initiated by a coalition of six organizations: The Whitman-Walker Institute; the National LGBT Cancer Network; GLMA Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality; SAGE; New York Transgender Advocacy Group; and the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance. Already, 170 national, state, and local LGBTQ and allied organizations have added their names to the list of signatories.
In the letter, the organizations call on medical providers and health officials to adopt polices that will ensure LGBTQ people can seek treatment without fear of discrimination.
“There is a long history of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in the health care system,” the letter reads. “Even where they do not encounter overt discrimination, too many LGBTQ+ individuals and families experience a lack of understanding, unwelcoming attitudes, and even hostility from health care providers and staff. In high-stress situations with looming threats of shortages of life-saving medical equipment, hospital beds and health care staff, the danger of implicit if not explicit bias against queer patients is especially worrisome.
“In addition to the very real possibility of mistreatment, the fear of encountering discrimination or hostility discourages many LGBTQ+ people from promptly seeking medical care — which endangers them, their families and friends, and the entire community during this pandemic,” the signatories continue.
The organizations are calling on medical providers and public health authorities to collect data on the sexual orientation and gender identity of those infected with COVID-19, in addition to data on race, ethnicity, age, sex and disability, in order to see whether vulnerable communities are being disproportionately impacted health-wise by the pandemic.
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They are also asking political actors to ensure that the government provides greater relief to lower-income individuals and families, and to people who work in hospitality or other industries that are taking an economic hit amid the pandemic.
“There is an urgent and growing need for expanded income, medical benefits, housing and nutrition assistance for unemployed people and those whose wages have been suspended; job protection; inclusive paid sick leave and family leave; protections against evictions and utility cutoffs; and government-mandated safety precautions for health care workers, employees at grocery stores, delivery workers, sanitation workers, and others who are less able to protect themselves through social distancing,” the signatories note.
“We are in the middle of an unprecedented global health crisis — and we cannot afford to leave anyone behind,” U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the vice chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, said in a statement. “As our work continues to get families and communities the resources they need to survive, we must ensure that protecting LGBTQ+ communities is a core part of our country’s response to COVID-19.”
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California State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who serves as chair of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, reiterated claims made in the coalition’s March letter that LGBTQ people have increased risk factors that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19, including higher rates of HIV, cancer, smoking, and homelessness.
“We must ensure that the LGBTQ community has access to the resources it needs to face this pandemic, including quality, non-judgmental, and affordable healthcare, as well as unemployment benefits for every impacted industry, including the service and entertainment sectors,” Wiener said in a statement. “We also must collect data to understand how the LGBTQ+ community is being impacted by COVID-19.”
“Whitman-Walker and other community health centers that care for LGBTQ+ patients and others in marginalized communities have many patients who are understandably fearful of neglect or mistreatment in this pandemic,” Laura Durso, the chief learning officer of the Whitman-Walker Institute, said in a statement. “Many of our patients work in lower-paying jobs that are particularly vulnerable in this crisis. We are committed to protecting those who are bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s economic devastation.”
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