Nonwhite LGBTQs twice as likely to test Covid-positive than straight whites: study

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people of color are significantly more likely to experience the adverse health and economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic than white non-LGBTQ people, according to a new study.

The study from the Williams Institute, a think tank at the UCLA School of Law, is based on a national survey of more than 12,000 U.S. adults, conducted between August and December. According to researchers, the impact of the pandemic cannot be understood without considering the intersection of race with sexual orientation and gender identity.

“People in America are experiencing the pandemic differently,” Brad Sears, interim executive director of the Williams Institute and an author of the report, told NBC News. “In many of the results, you can see a combined impact of sexual orientation and race and ethnicity.”

The disproportionate effects, the study notes, can be found “across a number of indicators.”

“LGBT people of color are more likely to have tested positive for COVID-19, to personally know someone who died of COVID-19, and to have experienced several types of economic instability as a result of the pandemic,” the study states. “They are also more likely to follow public health measures, such as getting tested for COVID-19, social distancing, and wearing masks than non-LGBT White people.”

The study comes on the heels of another from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found sexual minorities have higher rates of several underlying health conditions — such as cancer, kidney disease, heart disease, diabetes and asthma — that can increase the risk of severe illness related to Covid-19.

Previous studies from the Williams Institute have also found LGBTQ people to be at risk of serious illness resulting from Covid-19 and to face higher rates of unemployment as a result of the pandemic.

Health consequences

LGBTQ people of color were twice as likely as white respondents — regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity — to report having tested positive for Covid-19 (14.5 percent vs. just over 7 percent), according to the findings, while non-LGBTQ people of color had a positivity rate of 10.6 percent.

“Race is playing a huge role here,” Sears said, adding, “When we think about an intersectional impact, this is about as clear as we can see it in the data.”

In terms of a personal impact, researchers found that people of color — regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity — were over than 50 percent more likely than their white counterparts to personally know someone who died of Covid-19.

Economic impact

The survey’s economic findings further underscore the intersectional impact of the pandemic, with LGBTQ people of color nearly three times more likely than non-LGBTQ whites to report being recently laid off (15 percent vs. 5.4 percent). LGBTQ whites and non-LGBTQ people of color reported similar rates (10.4 percent vs. 11.5 percent).

LGBTQ people of color were also nearly twice as likely than non-LGBTQ whites to report being concerned about their ability to pay their bills (63 percent vs. 33 percent), with rates for LGBTQ whites and non-LGBTQ people of color somewhere in between (42 percent and 55 percent, respectively).

Sears speculated that several other factors in addition to race and LGBTQ status could be at play in the economic data, including age, gender and occupation.

The survey’s LGBTQ respondents were younger overall than the non-LGBTQ respondents, and he noted that “younger people were in jobs that were harder hit and have less economic stability.”

“The second thing that is important to keep in mind is that this is the first recession to hit women harder than men,” Sears said. “Women are more likely to identify as lesbian, bisexual and transgender.”

He also added that LGBTQ are overrepresented “in occupations that have been the hardest hit that include retail, food service and health care.”

Following public health guidance

LGBTQ people’s level of concern about the pandemic is higher than non-LGBTQ people, as is their propensity to follow public health guidelines, the report found.

Ninety percent of LGBTQ respondents said they were concerned about the pandemic, and 85 percent said they were worried about getting sick, compared to 82 percent and 75 percent of non-LGBTQ respondents, according to the report.

Approximately 94 percent of LGBTQ respondents said they followed public health guidelines like wearing a mask, compared to 89 percent of non-LGBTQ respondents, and 80 percent of LGBTQ respondents said they practiced social distancing, compared to 75 percent of non-LGBTQ respondents.

“You start seeing, not surprisingly, the groups most impacted are also the groups taking it most seriously and following through with precautions,” Sears said.

There was no significant difference between LGBTQ people and non-LGBTQ people in their intention to get the vaccination.

Government trust and missing data

The survey found a gap between LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ people when it comes to trust in institutions, with LGBTQ people reporting less trust in both the federal government (31 percent vs. 38 percent) and pharmaceutical companies (28 percent vs. 41 percent). They did, however, report a higher level of trust in the CDC than their non-LGBTQ counterparts (76 percent vs. 70 percent).

For Sears, deficits in public trust are one more reason why the lack of LGBTQ-specific data collection from the government is a problem.

“It is important for the federal government to add questions to the Pulse survey,” he said, referring to the government survey launched in October to understand how Americans have been affected by the pandemic.

“The government responded very quickly in creating that survey to measure the impact that Covid was having on the American population, but they did not include questions on sexual orientation or gender identity,” he said. “We have been working to find data to fill in this gap.”

Sears noted the pandemic is revealing inequalities that have already existed in society along the lines of race, gender and sexuality, and said it would be “extremely helpful” for the Biden administration’s efforts to control the pandemic to have sexual orientation and gender identity data.

“It was no surprise that his epidemic has disproportionately impacted people of color, and it was not a surprise that this pandemic has disproportionately impacted LGBT people,” he said.

He added that an effective vaccine alone will not end the health crisis: “Addressing these entrenched inequalities of race, ethnicity, sexuality and gender is the only way to get through this pandemic and to prevent the next one.”

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