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How state health leaders are reaching the LGBTQ community disproportionately impacted by COVID-19

ABC 11 Raleigh NC logo ABC 11 Raleigh NC 2/12/2021 WTVD

The LGBTQ community is hurting in so many ways in North Carolina. The pandemic has disproportionately impacted the community's mental, physical and financial health.

"We value you and you are of the human connectedness," said Dr. Betsey Tilson, North Carolina's state medical director. "All of our services are meant for all Carolinians. And we want to make sure people are getting the services they need."

Dr. Tilson urging the community to get the vaccine when it's their turn.

Assistant health secretary, Mark Benton, who is gay, echoed those same sentiments, "These are the moments we need you to step forward."

RELATED: LGBTQ people at higher risk of COVID-19, CDC study shows

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the LGBTQ community is likely to have preexisting conditions that complicate COVID-19:

  • 1.55x more likely to have asthma
  • 1.26x more likely to have cancer
  • 1.5x more likely to have COPD
  • 1.5x more likely to smoke
  • 1.5x more likely to have kidney disease

Experts say the root cause of this problem comes from discrimination, stigma, isolation and homophobia, and the community's medical distrust. All issues that Dr. Deanna Adkins, an associate professor of pediatrics at Duke Health and the director of Duke's transgender health clinic, works to combat with her patients.

"We just don't know where the disparities are going to pop up for this community," Adkins said.

Advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign estimates compared to the general population, the LGBTQ community is 20% more likely to be underemployed due to the pandemic and 30% more likely to have lost their job because of COVID-19 than the general population.

The problem is even worse for queer people of color compared to others: HRC saw a 54% increase in LGBT people of color taking a pay cut this year, and 70 percent lost their job.

"The data showing that we're impacted is only step one. Understanding why we're impacted is step two: poverty, lack of access to health care, lack of access to housing, and then creating solutions that will directly address the health disparities," said Alphonso David, president of HRC.

Here in North Carolina, Tilson says DHHS uses focus groups for marginalized people but says a deeper dive into the LGBTQ community is needed.

To reach this group Tilson says DHHS relies on their existing community partnerships.

And utilizing federally funded health centers that provide free access to health coverage.

Housing right now is the biggest challenge.

"One of the biggest things is trying to get people into safe places, especially now during the winter," said Kori Hennessey, director of education and programs with LGBT Center of Raleigh. "Housing in general is really tough. There's very particular spaces available to particular communities, but not necessarily to the LGBTQ community."

Hennessey said the LGBT Center is working hard to connect people with grants and resources for housing, but they need support from the state and data collection to better help the community.

"Just in general, without data and research, you don't really get the amount of resources that projects or populations that do have a lot of data and research get," Hennessey said.

DHHS is collecting some COVID-19 data for the LGBTQ community. Tilson said that while the public facing dashboard only breaks down gender in terms of male or female COVID-19 cases, the state's case investigation system does include transgender and gender non-conforming identities.

"Our numbers are pretty small right now so it really precludes us from doing meaningful analysis but we are collecting that," Dr. Tilson said.

For information on how to get access to LGBTQ resources call 211.

For emotional support, everyone can call the Hopeline at 1-855-587-3463.

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