Emmanuel College's LGBT+ Officer, and Labour member, Louis Dexter, writes on why we cannot forget about our marginalised communities during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Perhaps the most surreal image to ever come out of the coronavirus crisis was Madonna sitting in a bathtub of milk talking about how the pandemic was a great ‘social equaliser’. As we know, this simply isn’t the case. The UK has suffered greatly compared to the rest of Europe at the hands of an incompetent government which in the early phases of the virus tried to prioritise its economy over the health of its population. Areas such as migrant camps have faced cramped living conditions and a lack of PPE which has allowed the virus to spread in unknown numbers. And approximately 1/3 of intensive care coronavirus patients in the UK are BAME, reflecting widespread socioeconomic inequalities between different racial groups in the UK.
Another important aspect to consider, however, is how an LGBT+ icon like Madonna fails to recognise the ways in which queer communities will be disproportionately affected in a variety of ways by the coronavirus pandemic and its social, economic and medical implications.
The crisis in mental health among both LGBT+ youth and adults is also something which will be exacerbated by the stresses of a global pandemic. One review of studies into LGBT+ mental health found that queer people are 1.5 times more likely to experience anxiety and depression, and are more at risk of suicidal behaviour, with gay and bisexual men four times more likely to attempt suicide in their lifetime than the rest of the population. Conditions such as anxiety and depression will be made so much worse when such groups face isolation, leaving them separated from many of their support networks and coping mechanisms. Those who are lucky enough to have a home to stay in may be forced to live in lockdown with unsupportive families, losing a vital sense of community and freedom to express their identities in a healthy way. They may become victims of domestic violence or emotional abuse, which could have untold impacts on the mental health of LGBT+ youth.
Aside from the obvious emotional issues the queer community faces in a society which does not properly make space for us, there are many serious material, financial and medical concerns many of us face, all of which are exacerbated by the failings of the current Tory government. A first is their failure to tackle the homelessness crisis faced by the UK - LGBT+ young people comprise up to 24% of the homeless youth population, and as emergency night shelters become overwhelmed they face fears of virus outbreaks. At a time when jobs are impossible to find, homeless or impoverished LGBT+ youth will no doubt be disproportionately impacted by the economic tolls to come.
Apart from the emotional and financial concerns facing queer people at this difficult time, there are numerous concerns to be had about the medical implications of a pandemic for our community. Studies have consistently shown that LGBT+ people are more likely to have chronic health conditions, which has been linked by many to the minority stress that these groups face. Furthermore, gay and bisexual men, and in particular queer people of colour, are more likely to be infected with HIV/AIDS, with all of these issues putting many members of the LGBT+ community at a far higher medical risk if infected with COVID-19, especially when our public healthcare has been chronically underfunded for the past 10 years of Conservative rule.
The strain on the NHS might not just place more LGBT+ people at risk of dying of COVID-19, but may also mean that they face delayed access to vital treatments. With the NHS being overwhelmed by the current crisis, gender reassignment surgeries and many hormone-replacement surgeries have been stopped, which may have a dangerous impact on transgender communities at this difficult time.
All these concerns for the physical and mental safety of our community comes at a time when the government is doing so little to mitigate the concerns of the most vulnerable in society. An initial tactic of herd immunity by the cabinet suggested a willingness to allow terrifying numbers of the aged population, BAME, working class and LGBT+ people to suffer and die for the good of the national economy. And now the government continues to blunder as a result of its delayed response, failing to secure PPE for the already failing NHS.
As if it wasn’t already clear enough that the government doesn’t care about marginalised communities, you only have to look at the ‘Minister for Women and Equalities’ Liz Truss’s recent comments calling for a ‘protection of women’s only spaces’ and further limitations on treatment for transgender youth to see the thinly veiled transphobia which the party helps sustain.
So its more important now, more than ever, to keep in mind that the queer community has to share the battle with BAME and working class communities to fight against a government which sees our lives, and our wellbeing, as expendable. This is not a great social equaliser, as some might want us to think, and the battle against social injustice has to continue, with solidarity across marginalised communities.