COVID-19, the LGBTQ Community, and Public Policy

Photos courtresy of Dr. Wallace Swan
Photos courtresy of Dr. Wallace Swan

“It is really important to understand the disproportionate effect that COVID has had on our community,” says Dr. Wallace Swan. The community he is talking about is the LGBTQ community referenced in the title of his most recent book: COVID-19, the LGBTQIA+ Community, and Public Policy. “The LGBTQ population has unmet medical needs that are exactly the triggers that if you get COVID you get it worse in addition to disproportionately experiencing other problems that increase the impacts of COVID-19 in other ways.”

This is exactly the idea that Swan is exploring in his new book. With the help of several esteemed colleagues, Swan has edited a book exploring the multitudinous ways that COVID has impacted the LGBTQ community at large. The breadth of the work is impressive: it covers mental and physical health, work, disability, immigration, and more. Swan and the contributing writers have taken great care to craft a deeply intersectional narrative detailing the LGBTQ experience from the beginning of the pandemic to today. 

This work includes studies surrounding vaccine hesitancy, the importance of representative bureaucracies to build community trust, and how LGBTQ organizations responded to the pandemic. Authors include Rainbow Health’s Executive Director Jeremy Hansen Willis, Paula Overby, Christopher Surfus, Dallas Drake, Al C. Johnson-Manning, Adrian Shanker, and more. 

My initial impression of COVID-19, the LGBTQIA+ Community, and Public Policy was that it was a book aimed at academics, but Doctor Swan disabused me of that notion. The text is a valuable educational tool that could and should be used in classrooms, but its content is truly relevant for everyone. “I would like the general public to read it,” he said, “My hope is that the LGBTQIA+ community, in particular, will read it,” says Swan, once again underscoring the point of the book: COVID-19 has had and continues to have an outsized impact on queer communities. 

Dr. Wallace Swan

Of course, much of this impact is seen in the realm of physical health, but a large portion of the book addresses the ways in which the pandemic has impacted queer communities outside of that arena. One such example is people’s work lives. “One study we looked at examined the impact of the pandemic on 1,600 certified LGBTQIA+ business enterprises,” says Swan, “Fifty percent of them went bankrupt because of the pandemic.” 

Swan experienced this firsthand and is seeing it happen again. “I like to call myself a canary in the coal mine. I am an adjunct so any time an economic situation comes up my adjunct job disappears. It happened in 2008 and again in 2020 and in the last two weeks it has happened again.”

Still, it is the health issue that concerns Swan the most currently. “It is like lighting striking around you,” says Swan, “The risk is if you go without masks, and you do not get boosted you are at risk for long COVID. If you get it the second time you are twice as likely to die.” 

In a world that has gotten used to tuning out COVID-related warnings, there is a risk that Swan’s words will fall on deaf ears. “What I see in our community is disregard of some of the protective things people could be doing… It is important for our community to understand that we need to wear masks indoors and we need to be boosted. That is what will protect us against what is a really severe infection level. 80% of the beds in hospitals are occupied right now.”

Swan averaged this percentage in a way that almost undercuts its impact. At the time of this writing, only 3% of hospital beds are available in Minnesota metro areas. Other parts of the state have between 10 – 30% hospital bed availability. Despite the increase in resources and an ever-evolving understanding of how COVID-19 works, the reality is that people continue to get incredibly sick and die from COVID-19. Now is not the time to stop taking the pandemic seriously.

“You remember reading about the AIDS pandemic. Thirty-eight of my friends and acquaintances died from AIDS,” says Swan, “You get to COVID and nobody was counting.” This is not entirely true. A moment after saying this, Swan will remind me that COVID-19 is currently the number three leading cause of death in the United States. There are plenty of metrics tracking infection rates, deaths, and other impacts of COVID-19. 

But his point stands in two primary ways: first in that many of us are oblivious to the toll COVID has taken on our immediate communities and second in that aside from federal agencies the tracking of COVID-19 has been dismal. “We do not know how many people suffered from this state by state,” explains Swan, “We know federally but we do not currently know state-wise.”

The pandemic is not over. It continues to affect the lives and livelihoods of everyone – especially those who belong to marginalized communities. Continue to make choices that will keep you and your loved ones safe like wearing masks in enclosed spaces and getting vaccination boosters. And keep yourself as informed as you can. Making your way through a copy of COVID-19, the LGBTQIA+ Community, and Public Policy is a good place to start.

The book is available for purchase directly through the publisher’s website, which is linked below, as well as through most online booksellers.

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