We know LGBT people are disproportionately vulnerable to experiencing complications if they contract the coronavirus. We are more likely than the general population to live in poverty, meaning members of our community experience disparities in health care access and resources. We also have higher rates of some of the risk behavior that can make it more difficult to recover from the virus, including smoking and tobacco use.
And yet, there’s no publicly available data on how the coronavirus is impacting LGBT folks. This dearth of information makes it difficult for health providers to help our community, because they don’t know what we need, or where hot spots are.
On this week’s edition of “The Sports Kiki,” I speak with LGBT medical researcher Sean Cahill, PHD., who is the Director of Health Policy Research at The Fenway Institute, about how the coronavirus is disproportionally affecting marginalized communities, and the need for data on its impact on LGBT people.
“There’s no data. I’ve been asking around,” Cahill said. “Fenway Health does collect that data, and the health centers around the country collect that data, so it’s possible that sometime in the future we may be able to get some data from the health center network if their diagnosing people with Covid-19. But it’s unclear the extent to which testing is happening in the health center system. There’s still a huge problem with the lack of testing equipment. But definitely, we’re not seeing from Centers for Disease Control data on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Over the last week, we’ve learned how Black Americans are facing startling rates of coronavirus infection, propelling Congress members Elizabeth Warren and Ayanna Pressley to call on the federal government to track Covid-19 testing and outcomes in accordance to race. Currently, only some states are keeping data, and the numbers are horrifying.
There are several reasons why the coronavirus pandemic is walloping communities of color, beginning with socioeconomics. The five New York City zip codes with the highest infection rate have an average per capita income of $26,708, whereas the city’s zip codes with the lowest infection rate boast an average per capita income of $118,166. Many of those who live in impoverished communities work in essential industries and still must report to their jobs, often riding public transportation and further risking themselves to exposure. There are also 27 million Americans without health insurance, and deep medical mistrust in minority communities, due to historical monstrosities such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.
There is medical mistrust in the LGBT community too, Cahill says, creating additional barriers to care.
“We have high levels of medical mistrust in our community, certainly among black LGBT people, but also a lot of transgender people have medical mistrust, based on their experiences in the health care system,” he explained. “All of those factors could cause a disproportionate burden. Not necessarily higher rates of contracting the coronavirus, but more difficult experiences with the disease if people develop Covid-19.”
While Cahill expects some data on coronavirus and the LGBT community to eventually be reported — community health centers, which serve 28 million patients, have been reporting on sexual orientation and gender identity to the federal government since 2016 — our knowledge will be incomplete. In our general health care system, it is still optional for providers to ask patients their sexual orientation or gender identity. It is impossible to collect data if you don’t know its source.
“Unfortunately, it’s not publicly available right now. It’s not being reported,” Cahill said. “We’d like to see the CDC provide some information on how this epidemic is affecting our community in particular.”
Click here to check out this week’s edition of “The Sports Kiki Podcast”. You can also subscribe to the show on Apple’s Podcast page as well as on Google Podcasts, and wherever you’ll find Outsports podcasts.