For those of us in the communities hardest hit, in the industries hardest hit, in the states hardest hit by COVID-19, relief cannot come fast enough.
I live in the Rio Grande Valley, an area in South Texas that has been hit the hardest in the country by the COVID-19 virus. In the state, there is a record of more than 100,000 new cases per day, up 55% in July alone. Now, people in our region are dealing with recovering from a tropical storm.
This pandemic caused me to lose my job. I am a queer- and trans-inclusive sex educator and have spent years addressing the erasure of trans, queer and disabled folks in discussions of healthy sexuality. My education efforts are shaped by and complemented by my experience as a queer and trans sex worker. I used to teach out of a brick and mortar adult shop, but like so many small businesses during the pandemic, the shop closed.
While small businesses have been allowed to open up again under the Phase 3 plan, I still can’t return to work because of my own health. A few months ago I contracted a virus, and while I do not know if it was COVID-19, I now have to use an inhaler for the foreseeable future. To keep myself and my community safe, I have been socially distancing myself from others.
Right now, I can only do about 40% of my job. I can’t do in-person sex work, or in-person sex education. Forty percent is not enough to make ends meet.
For my colleagues who are able to go to work, they are at risk of contracting the virus every day. Many of my coworkers are queer and trans people of color. Some have pre-existing conditions or children. Some of them are college students. Even if their paychecks average $200 a week, that $200 is the difference between making rent, paying bills, grocery shopping — or not.
In May, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act, a COVID-19 stimulus package. It is a necessary and desperately needed piece of legislation: COVID-19 cases in the United States climb every single day. Over 5 million people in the U.S. have been infected and over 160,000 have died. Latinx and Black people are three times more likely to become infected than their white neighbors, and three times more likely to die of COVID-19. Trans women and gender non-conforming communities who were already facing transphobia and transmisogyny are now facing high unemployment and delays in necessary health care.
And yet, the Senate has still not passed comprehensive COVID relief. It is apparent that those in power don’t care about me and my community. They do not care about Black people, Latinx people, queer people, trans people, small business owners, or the people who rely on them.
My community is one of the poorest in the United States. We don’t have any real mental health resources, and now we are isolated. Not being able to check in on my regulars is extremely stressful. Many of my customers have lower incomes; many use substances or self medicate for their mental illness. We have high rates of heart disease and diabetes and these factors make an already dangerous epidemic particularly lethal to folks like me, and to my community.
Queer people in the work force need relief. LGBTQ people are more likely than the general public to have lost employment due to the pandemic. We need comprehensive and affordable health care, paid sick time, paid family and medical leave, personal protective equipment for all health care providers and other essential workers, protective occupational safety and health standards for front line workers, and more. It is now up to the Senate to pass COVID relief to ensure that people like me, my colleagues, and members of my community get much needed relief.
We deserve to feel safe and secure during this pandemic. We deserve leaders who give a damn.