Sexual and Gender Orientation Data is Needed to Measure COVID-19 Impact on LGBTQ Communities

States need to implement a uniform system of collecting sexual orientation and gender identity demographic data to better understand the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on LGBTQ communities, according to a new Rutgers School of Public Health Center for Health, Identity, Behavior and Prevention Studies (CHIBPS) paper.

The commentary, published in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, was part of a special issue on COVID-19 and public health that examines the short and long-term impact of the pandemic on LGBTQ communities.

Since the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, researchers have begun to delineate the myriad economic, racial, and geographic health disparities associated with the overall risk for contracting COVID-19. The pandemic has also affected LGBTQ individuals and communities, who are more likely to struggle financially, have complex health needs, and face physical violence.

The true impact of the pandemic on LGBTQ people and populations is unknown due to the lack of sexual orientation and gender identity demographic data.

“In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are currently forced to make educated assumptions on how the virus will disproportionately impact LGBTQ communities because the necessary data on sexual orientation or gender identity are not regularly being collected on COVID testing forms,” said Kristen Krause, deputy director of CHIBPS and the commentary’s author.

Without critical demographic data, scientists, researchers, and public officials lack information that can help protect and serve the most vulnerable populations and communities.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 30.2% of LGBTQ Americans losing their jobs and 17.9% reporting reduced wages. In addition, in 2018, 17% of LGBTQ adults did not have any kind of health insurance coverage compared with 12% of the general population. This disparity is even greater among LGBTQ adults of color and transgender adults, with 23% and 22%, respectively, reporting lack of health care coverage. LGBTQ people are also at a higher risk for different chronic illnesses including various respiratory conditions, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, all of which are risk factors for COVID-19. Given that 37% of LGBTQ adults smoke compared with 27% of the general population, this is particularly concerning because COVID-19 spreads primarily through the transfer of respiratory droplets from person to person and can cause significant lung damage.

While COVID-19 is presently at the forefront of most public health initiatives and programming, it is not the only pressing health concern, especially for LGBTQ individuals. Mental health burdens in LGBTQ persons are likely to be intensified by COVID-19 and while physical and social distancing measures are important, they can have detrimental effect on mental health and well-being in LGBTQ communities that already face structural and systemic vulnerabilities.

“It is critically important to continually raise concerns on the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 will have on LGBTQ communities who continually face systemic and structural barriers to attaining quality healthcare and services,” added Krause. “This is especially true since so many LGBTQ people work in industries that often has them on the front line and interacting with other people on a frequent basis.”

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