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Advocates: LGBTQs face additional complications in pandemic
by Matt Simonette
2020-04-01

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Members of the LGBT community face additional healthcare challenges as they contend with the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, according to national LGBTQ-health advocates and officials speaking in a March 25 webinar.

Those challenges are especially pronounced for transgender community members and persons with HIV, said various participants in the call, which was sponsored by the National Coalition for LGBT Health. But organizations are hastily reconfiguring their logistics for providing services so as to find and preserve what Tyler TerMeer, the CEO of Portland-based Cascade AIDS Project, called the "boundary between serving and protecting" community members when visiting a health facility can be medically dangerous.

Anthony Fortenberry, chief nursing officer at the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in New York City, said, "We're trying to maintain our support services for our most vulnerable [clients]. ... Our goal is to stay open as long as possible to keep both patients and staff safe."

He added that his facility "scaled down" patient services, by arranging telemedicine visits, for example, in order to keep going at a sustainable capacity.

Debbie Ojeda-Leitner, a policy advocate at the National Center for Transgender Equality in Washington, D.C., noted that LGBT Americans often have factors putting them more at risk for illness—higher rates of tobacco use, higher rates of HIV and cancer, as well as barriers to culturally competent care, for example—and those risk-factors are often even more pronounced among transgender persons.

Ojeda-Leitner also warned that the transgender community is especially imperiled from right-wing elements in government who will take advantage of the pandemic to slip in anti-trans legislation. Such was the case in Idaho, for example, wherein the legislature passed HB 500, a bill barring transgender women and girls from participating in student sports that are consistent with their gender identity. That bill requires medical testing in order for one to prove their gender and will soon head to the state's governor's desk.

"We're hoping that politicians will focus less on attacks against the trans community and more on the pandemic," said Ojeda-Leitner.


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