LGBTI people face greater stigmatisation in pandemic

March 28, 2020
A No right to religious discrimination rally, in Sydney on February 10. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

While the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting everyone, some groups are more at risk than others and face greater stigmatisation.

More than 100 national and local organisations in the United States have added their names to a March 11 open letter, aimed at media organisations and health authorities, to not allow the LGBTI community to be disproportionately impacted by stigma and prejudice during the pandemic.

“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”, the letter said.

While attitudes have changed, LGBTI people still face discrimination in employment, housing and healthcare.

During a heath crisis, these barriers can be catastrophic. Medical attention may be delayed, especially in a context of debates over who is more deserving — the result of a dire lack of resources and personnel to fight the virus.

Some LGBTI people may also be less likely than their straight counterparts to seek medical care for fear of discrimination.

The United States National LGBT Cancer Network estimates that LGBTI people are 50% more likely to smoke, including e-cigarettes, than cisgender or heterosexual people. As the coronavirus is a respiratory disease, reduced immunity to this type of illness will make recovery harder.

Rates of HIV and cancer among LGBTI people are also higher than the overall population. This means a greater number may have compromised immune systems and therefore be more vulnerable to COVID-19 infections. Additionally, some may not know they have contracted HIV, or may not be managing it.

Intolerance has been voiced by some religious figures such as Meir Mazuz, a Sephardic Haredi rabbi in Israel, who suggested COVID-19 is divine retribution for the LGBTI community’s “sinful” ways. The World Health Organization, which is leading the global fight against COVID-19, has called for an end to misinformation, warning that it fuels stigmatisation and discrimination.

Those seeking to scapegoat vulnerable communities not only fuel prejudice: their aim is to distract people from understanding that capitalism, a system based on profits before people’s needs, is the root cause of the crisis in our health systems.

Similarly, it is in capital’s interest to ensure workers are insecure, thereby allowing wages to be driven down, and for cuts to be made to our welfare system — the only safety net for most.

In a health crisis, such as we are now facing, the poor and vulnerable are left to pay the highest price.

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