Skip to main content
Blog Post

COVID-19’s impact on the LGBT+ community

Health and Benefits|Inclusion and Diversity|Integrated Wellbeing
COVID 19 Coronavirus

By Tony Garavaglia and Rachael McCann | April 29, 2020

There are specific communities that are more vulnerable to COVID-19. Here’s how you can help them.

Unlock More

About our COVID-19 coverage

In our ongoing coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak, experts from across Willis Towers Watson share insight into what you need to know to manage your business and employees and reduce your risk.

COVID-19 (coronavirus) has impacted all walks of life across the globe. It does not discriminate and has and will continue to impact everyone: the affluent, middle-class, poor, white, black, Latinx, straight, gay, men, women, old, young and middle-aged alike. The daily news of confirmed cases and deaths shows us that those testing positive, having symptoms and succumbing to the virus are as diverse as our population.

As we think about inclusion and diversity, one would like to think that humans would be as inclusive as the virus itself, but that is not the case. People have taken to social media to cast blame at a wide range of targets based more on their personal biases than on science. In this environment, it’s important to note there are specific communities that are more vulnerable, including the LGBT+.

Recently an open letter, was signed by more than 100 organizations as of March 11, 2020, in support of the LGBT+ community. Some reasons why the LGBT+ community is particularly vulnerable include:

  • The LGBT+ population uses tobacco at rates that are 50% higher than the general population. COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that has proven particularly harmful to smokers.
  • The LGBT+ population has higher rates of HIV and cancer, which means a greater number of us may have compromised immune systems, leaving us more vulnerable to COVID-19 infections.
  • LGBT+ people continue to experience discrimination, unwelcoming attitudes and a lack of understanding from providers and staff in many health care settings. As a result, many are reluctant to seek medical care except in situations that feel urgent — and perhaps not even then.

The letter also notes that we have more than 3 million LGBT+ elderly living the U.S. They 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. 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 LGBT+ communities as well.

The organizations that signed the open letter offered to stand shoulder to shoulder with the mainstream health leadership to make sure we learn from history and do not allow any population to be disproportionately impacted or further stigmatized by a virus.

What this open letter does not touch upon but is also important to highlight is mental health. LGBT+ individuals are two and a half times more likely to experience depression, anxiety and substance misuse. As social distancing measures continue, LGBT+ individuals may be at greater risk of loneliness, feel greater anxiety given the pandemic and be more vulnerable to depression and substance use.

Consider these measures to address these issues and specifically address the impact of COVID-19 on your LGBT+ employees:

  1. Be aware and sensitive to the vulnerability of the LGBT+ community. And if you have employee or business resources groups in place, be creative in continuing the sense of community virtually.
  2. Continue to provide mandated and necessary testing and promote broader benefit coverage and resources that employees may value from (but could have long forgotten they had access to). Some examples include:
    • Telemedicine
    • Telebehavioral access
    • Employee assistance programs (EAPs) – highlighting the broad array of resources provided outside of EAP visits
    • Child and adult care services
    • Free apps such as Vida and Headspace for mental health, meditation and sleep
  3. When you are communicating, ensure language and images demonstrate inclusivity and a culture of belonging, dignity and respect

The COVID-19 virus does not discriminate. Let’s work together as humans to flatten the curve. And by helping one another and being inclusive by checking on, and caring for, all friends, neighbors, peers, elders and colleagues will improve everyone’s overall wellbeing.

Authors

Health & Benefits Market Leader

Senior Director, Health and Benefits

Contact Us

Related Solutions