In a matter of several weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a drastic impact on the way we interact with each other. With fear and unanswered questions, the world has been forced to take a deep look into the way our political and healthcare systems work.
Throughout history, the LGBTQ+ community has always been disproportionately affected during changes in public policies, structures, and in times of crisis because of our specific needs; the COVID-19 pandemic is proving to be no different.
As a community, LGBTQ+ people are at higher risk of acquiring COVID-19 and the potential to have more severe symptoms as the illness progresses.
Research shows that LGBTQ+ individuals use tobacco at rates that are 50% higher than the general population. COVID-19 is a respiratory infection that has proven to be particularly harmful to those who smoke.
Higher rates of HIV and oral cancer among LGBTQ+ people mean that a greater number of us are immunocompromised, leaving us more vulnerable to the virus.
Additionally, it is well known that LGBTQ+ people experience healthcare disparities. In terms of the coronavirus, these health disparities impact us in two ways. Firstly, existing health disparities mean more of us live in a state of compromised health and more likely to be in a situation where we could more easily acquire the virus. Secondly, a lack of access to care means that LGBTQ+ people could struggle with finding access to a medical institution that could provide them with a COVID-19 and/or treatment.
Also to consider is our aging population. There are over 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. Research shows that people infected with COVID-19 over 60 are five times more likely to die compared to younger adults.
As more and more social-distancing guidelines and mandates are put into place each day, more of our community faces a lack of income and unemployment. Whether it’s bar owners, restaurant workers, or drag performers, a large proportion of our community has been out of work with an unclear future as to when things will return to “normal”. This can be scary for many individuals who rely on regular paychecks to pay for food and rent, adding to already staggering statistics on homelessness and poverty within our community. A recent study states that LGBTQ+ young adults had a 120 percent higher risk of reporting homelessness compared to youth who identified as heterosexual and cisgender. The consequences of homelessness for the LGBTQ+ community are severe and last a lifetime. Homelessness is harmful to mental and physical health, and lead to an increased risk for sexual abuse, chemical and alcohol dependency, stigma, and discrimination
Life after the pandemic
COVID-19 does not discriminate; It’s somewhat humbling knowing that the entire world is vulnerable and struggling during this pandemic. While many people will come out of this situation being more compassionate towards others, we are already seeing discriminative attacks on our community as several religious leaders in the United States and Israel have begun to blame homosexuality for this pandemic. Across the world, in Uganda, 20 members of the local LGBT community have been detained after police raided their shelter. Officials accused them of not following social-distancing mandates however it appears that they were arrested because of their homosexuality.
It is unsure what the future holds for the continuation of this pandemic, but LGBTQ+ people need to be aware of the risks we face and ensure that we are following precautions as mandated by health officials.
As dentists, we are ethically obligated to provide non-discriminatory access to care. As medical professionals, we can serve as allies and make a difference in ensuring this population receives access to care when needed.
Dr. Alex Barrera is a New Dentist Now guest blogger and practices general dentistry at Avenue 360 Health & Wellness in Houston, Texas. He graduated in 2017 from the University of Texas School of Dentistry at Houston and is a member of various organizations including the American Dental Association, Hispanic Dental Association, Greater Houston Dental Association, and the Houston Equality Dental Network. He currently serves as the chair of the New Dentist Committee for the Hispanic Dental Association and is in the current class of the ADA’s Institute for Diversity in Leadership. Dr. Barrera is a participant in the National Health Service Corps and alumni of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship Program. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, cooking and staying active with CrossFit and Yoga.