Open letter about coronavirus and the LGBTQ communities

Wed. March 11, 2020 4:35 PM

photo credit // vasilev
Over 100 national and local organizations have signed on to an open letter to health and media outlining how coronavirus (COVID-19) may pose an increased risk to the LGBTQ population and laying out specific steps to minimize any disparity.

"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. Our smoking rates alone make us extremely vulnerable and our access to care barriers only make a bad situation worse." notes Dr. Scout, the Deputy Director for the National LGBT Cancer Network, "This letter outlines simple steps to ensure no population is further stigmatized by a virus."

"As an organization dedicated to the health and well-being of LGBTQ communities, we urge LGBTQ individuals to practice measures recommended by public health experts, such as frequent handwashing, to prevent the spread of this virus," said GLMA President Scott Nass, MD, MPA. "At the same time, like our colleagues who joined the open letter, we call on public health officials to ensure the LGBTQ community is considered and included in the public health response to COVID-19 based on potential risk factors that exist in our community."

The letter was initiated by a coalition of six organizations: the National LGBT Cancer Network; GLMA Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality; Whitman-Walker Health; SAGE; New York Transgender Advocacy Group; and National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance. The full text and additional organizational response resources can be found online here: CANCER-NETWORK.ORG/CORONAVIRUS-2019-LGBTQ-INFO and is included below.

Contact us at 212-675-2633 Visit us at  WWW.CANCER-NETWORK.ORG Follow us at twitter: @cancerLGBT

Open letter about Coronavirus and the LGBTQ+ communities

As the spread of the novel coronavirus a.k.a. COVID-19 increases, many LGBTQ+ people are understandably concerned about how this virus may affect us and our communities. The undersigned want to remind all parties handling COVID-19 surveillance, response, treatment, and media coverage that LGBTQ communities are among those who are particularly vulnerable to the negative health effects of this virus.

Our increased vulnerability is a direct result of three factors:

The LGBTQ 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 LGBTQ 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.

LGBTQ people continue to experience discrimination, unwelcoming attitudes, and lack of understanding from providers and staff in many health care settings, and as a result, many are reluctant to seek medical care except in situations that feel urgent — and perhaps not even then.

In addition, there are more than 3 million LGBTQ older people living in the United States. LGBTQ elders 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 the LGBTQ communities as well .

LGBTQ communities are very familiar with the phenomena of stigma and epidemics. We want to urge people involved with the COVID-19 response to ensure that LGBTQ communities are adequately served during this outbreak. Depending on your role, appropriately serving our communities could involve any of the following actions:

- Ensuring that media coverage notes the particular vulnerabilities of any person with pre-existing respiratory illnesses, compromised immune systems or who uses tobacco products. While populations — like LGBTQ communities — can be at increased risk, it is important to note the overall state of health that contributes to any person's increased vulnerability to contracting COVID-19.

- Ensuring health messaging includes information tailored to communities at increased risk for COVID-19, including LGBTQ populations. An example of such tailored messaging is including imagery of LGBTQ persons in any graphic ads.

- Providing LGBTQ individuals resources to find welcoming providers, such as the ones provided here, if they are experiencing symptoms like a cough or fever and need to seek medical attention.

- Ensuring funding to community health centers is distributed in a fashion that accounts for the additional burden anticipated by LGBTQ-identified health centers.

- Whenever possible ensuring health agencies partner with community-based organizations to get messaging out through channels we trust.

- Ensuring surveillance efforts capture sexual orientation and gender identity as part of routine demographics.

- Ensuring health workers are directed to provide equal care to all regardless of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity/presentation, ability, age, national origin, immigration status, race, or ethnicity.

- Ensuring that all COVID-19 responses take into account exceptionally vulnerable members of the LGBTQ communities, including our elders, bi people, and black and brown trans and gender nonconforming/nonbinary people.

- Since xenophobic responses are heavily impacting the Asian American communities, ensuring all communications and responses related to COVID-19 attempt to counter any such xenophobic responses, avoid racial profiling, and discourage the public from doing so as well.

- Ensuring LGBTQ health leadership, along with all providers and health care centers, are provided with timely and accurate information to disseminate.

As LGBTQ community and health leadership, the undersigned organizations offer 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.

Initial signers: 

National LGBT Cancer Network GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality

Whitman-Walker Health

Additional Signers: 

Advocates for Youth

Advocating Opportunity

Alder Health Services

Antioch University MFA Program Athlete Ally

Atlanta Pride Committee


Black Lives Matter Houston Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center California LGBTQ Health and Human Services Network

Callen-Lorde Community Health Center CARES

Center on Halsted

CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers

Compass LGBTQ Community Center Corktown Health Center

Counter Narrative Project CreakyJoints & Global Healthy Living Foundation


Darker Sister Center

Deaf Queer Resource Center


New York Transgender Advocacy Group National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance

Desert AIDS Project Desi Queer Diaspora Equality California Equality Federation Equality North Carolina Erie Gay News

Family Equality

Fenway Health


Gay City: Seattle's LGBTQ Center

Gender Equality New York, Inc. ( GENY ) Gender Justice League ( Washington State ) Georgia Equality


GLBT Alliance of Santa Cruz Greater Erie Alliance for Equality Greater Palm Springs Pride Harvey Milk Foundation Hetrick-Martin Institute

HIV AIDS Alliance of Michigan HIV Medicine Association Horizons Foundation

Howard Brown Health

Human Rights Campaign

Independence Business Alliance Indiana Youth Group

Infectious Diseases Society of America Inside Out Youth Services


Keystone Business Alliance

Lambda Legal

Lansing Area AIDS Network ( LAAN ) Lansing Association for Human Rights Legacy Community Health

LGBT Center of Greater Reading

LGBT Center of Raleigh

LGBT Elder Initiative



Matthew Shepard Foundation Milwaukee LGBT Community Center Minority Veterans of America

National Center for Lesbian Rights National Center for Transgender Equality National Coalition for LGBT Health National Equality Action Team

National LGBTQ Task Force

Newburgh LGBTQ+ Center

No Justice No Pride

Oasis Legal Services

Oklahomans for Equality

Our Family Coalition

Out Alliance

Out And Equal

Out Boulder County

OutCenter of Southwest Michigan OutFront Kalamazoo

OutRight International

Pennsylvania Youth Congress

Persad Center, Inc.

PFund Foundation

Pizza Klatch

Positive Women's Network

Pride Center of the Capital Region

Pride Center Of Vermont

Princess Janae Place Inc

Rainbow Community Center of Contra Costa County

Rockland County Pride Center

San Francisco AIDS Foundation

SAVE - Safeguarding American Values for Everyone

SERO Project

SF LGBT Community Center

SisTers PGH

St. James Infirmary

Still Bisexual

The LGBTQ Center Long Beach

The LOFT LGBT Community Services Center The Montrose Center

The Social Impact Center

The Source LGBT+ Center

The Trevor Project

Thomas Judd Care Center

Thundermist Health Center

Transgender Education Network of Texas ( TENT )

Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund

Triangle Community Center

Trillium Health

TriVersity Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity

UNIFIED-HIV Health and Beyond

U.S. People Living with HIV Caucus

Wellness AIDS Services

William Way LGBT Community Center

The National LGBT Cancer Network works to improve the lives of LGBTQ cancer survivors and those at risk by educating the LGBTQ communities about our increased cancer risks; training health care providers; and advocating for LGBTQ engagement in mainstream cancer organizations. We are home to one of eight CDC funded national tobaccoandcancerdisparitynetworks.Learnmoreatc ANCER-NETWORK.ORG .

GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality is a national organization committed to ensuring health equity for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer ( LGBTQ ) and all sexual and gender minority ( SGM ) individuals, and equality for LGBTQ/SGM health professionals in their work and learning environments. To achieve this mission, GLMA utilizes the scientific expertise of its diverse multidisciplinary membership to inform and drive advocacy, education, and research. To learn more, visit WWW.GLMA.ORG .

Contact us at 212-675-2633 Visit us at WWW.CANCER-NETWORK.ORG Follow us at twitter: @cancerLGBT

From a press release