Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced legislation last week that would require California to collect data on the health impacts of COVID-19 on the LGBTQ community, including infection, hospitalization, ICU, recovery, and mortality rates.
“We know that COVID-19 is harming the LGBTQ community, but because no data is being collected, we’re hamstrung in making the case to devote attention and resources. The history of the LGBTQ community is a history of fighting against invisibility. Without data, we quickly become an invisible community and risk being erased. California must lead and collect this critical health data,” Weiner said.
The state currently collects data on COVID-19 based on race/ethnicity, age, gender and other demographic information. SB 932 would expand the type of data to include the LGTBQ community, helping us understand the impacts of the pandemic on LGBTQ people. This would be the first legislation of its kind to compel a state government to collect this information; currently, neither the federal government nor any of the 50 states are doing so.
COVID-19 impacts everyone of all races, nationalities, ages, gender identities, and sexual orientations. But some communities and groups are more vulnerable than others, and it’s critical to understand these discrepancies and provide support accordingly. Because rates of cancer, HIV/AIDS, and respiratory issues (due to smoking) are higher in the LGBTQ community, LGBTQ people are likely experiencing greater health impacts from COVID-19. Additionally, there are higher rates of homelessness and youth homelessness in the LGBTQ community – this is an additional risk factor for COVID-19, as unhoused people are less able to socially distance. But there is currently no state or national effort to collect data on how COVID-19 is impacting the LGTBQ community.
There is also a longstanding history of government neglect for LGBTQ health, often with regards to a lack of data collection. The census – and many health forms – currently do not ask about sexual orientation and gender identity, which means that the LGTBQ community often suffers from a lack of resources and focus from public health infrastructure. This neglect is most pointedly illustrated by the federal government ignoring the HIV/AIDS crisis in the early 1980s, an epidemic of which so many members of the LGBTQ community died. President Ronald Reagan did not say the word “AIDS” until 1986, after thousands had already passed away from the disease. SB 932 will ensure that public health officials will understand the impacts of COVID-19 on the LGBTQ community, and will help LGBTQ people get the resources they need.
Due to any privacy concerns this may bring up, this data will be anonymized, and self-reporting of sexual orientation and gender identity will be optional but encouraged.
“This is not the first pandemic in which the federal government has ignored or erased the LGBTQ+ community, but we’re committed to making sure it’s the last. LGBTQ+ people are more vulnerable to COVID-19 because of disparities in health and well-being that we’ve faced for generations. But as long as public health officials and government agencies aren’t collecting data to understand the size and scope of the impact, our community is at risk of being left out of relief efforts. It’s crucial that California meet this moment and lead the way,” Equality California Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur said