Hoping to reach health officials dealing with COVID-19, as well as journalists covering the newly declared pandemic, over 100 organizations signed an open letter highlighting the disease's increase risk to LGBTQ people.
The letter's initial signers were the National LGBT Cancer Network, GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality, Whitman-Walker Health, SAGE, New York Transgender Advocacy Group, and the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance. Dozens more organizations around the nation have now signed on, urging that attention be paid to LGBTQ people, who they say are at higher risk of catching COVID-19 than the general population.
“As the media and health communities are pushed into overdrive about COVID-19, we need to make sure the most vulnerable among us are not forgotten. Our smoking rates alone make us extremely vulnerable and our access to care barriers only make a bad situation worse,” Dr. Scout, the deputy director for the National LGBT Cancer Network, said in a statement. “This letter outlines simple steps to ensure no population is further stigmatized by a virus.”
Risk factors cited by the letter highlight the elevated rates of smoking among LGBTQ people, something very concerning since COVID-19 is a respiratory illness. "The LGBTQ+ population uses tobacco at rates that are 50% higher than the general population," the letter states.
The highly contagious disease is also extremely dangerous to those with existing health conditions, and LGBTQ people have higher rates of both HIV and cancer; both conditions lead to compromised immune systems. The letter also highlighted how many LGBTQ people are reticent to seek medical care because of bias they've previously encountered from health providers.
The signers also pointed out the 3 million+ LGBTQ elders in the U.S., people especially vulnerable to COVID-19 and more socially isolated than other seniors.
"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," according to the signers. "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."
The organizations made several suggestions, including urging medical professionals to use inclusive language and imagery in their COVID-19 messaging. The groups also pushed for easily accessible patient information on pro-LGBTQ health providers; a list is available here.