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In Sickness and Health: LGBTQ+ People Vaccinate in High Rates for the Sake of Community

On September 24, just a month and a half before the upcoming celebrations, the Athens Pride committee in Athens, Georgia, announced that it would have to cancel what would have been its first parade. At the time the street festival was also cancelled, but on October 14 it was brought back and moved to a more consolidated location.

The previous announcement, posted on Instagram, stated that the city government had already begun to cancel special event permits as a result of COVID-19’s Delta variant, and “in response to other institutions failing to protect [the] community” the committee decided to take initiative and preemptively cancel their events.

Meanwhile, the University of Georgia, another institution located in Athens, continues to pack Sanford Stadium to full capacity--92,746 people crammed together with neither a mask nor vaccination mandate in sight.

Interestingly enough, current data suggests the attendees of the Pride festival and what would have been the parade are significantly more likely to be vaccinated against COVID-19 than those attending the football games.

A study released in August by the Human Rights Campaign, in tandem with The Rockefeller Foundation, finds that 92% of LGBT adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that only about 66% of the general population has received that first dose as of October 21.

The HRC’s study alludes to factors such as the politically left-leaning nature of the LGBT community, and the community’s density in urban areas, contributing to the high vaccination rate.

However, some social factors could also feed into this nearly 30 percentage point disparity. For example, the same study finds that 59% of respondents affirmed that COVID-19 made them feel isolated.

This may be because members of the LGBTQ+ community often rely on “chosen family” as a support system instead of immediate family. Chosen families are people not related by blood to the LGBTQ+ person that they may rely on for support and companionship—they usually supplant unsupportive blood-related kin. But many LGBTQ+ people were often quarantined with their immediate families, or were limited to visiting only relatives.

Being detached from that support system left many LGBTQ+ people feeling isolated.

These chosen families can often be found in friend circles, clubs, or other organizations, which were the first to be nixed when COVID-19 first swept through the United States. These social groups and the events they coordinated had to be cancelled in favor of social distancing and physical safety—but not without costs to mental health.

But younger people like Lissa Robinson, a nonbinary first-year UGA student, have had less trouble with their connections because of their increased use of the internet and social media, though that does not alleviate the issue entirely.

“It was interesting because a lot of my chosen family was already online. So that aspect didn't change. But I feel like with the mental toll that it took on a lot of people, I lost contact with some people who, when the pandemic started, I was close with. And then I became really close to other people who I met during the pandemic online, and I lost contact with the few people in person who I was out to and close with,” Robinson said.

But for older LGBTQ+ people, there is a real struggle. Even prior to the pandemic, LGBT seniors faced high rates of isolation. A 2017 study from Movement Advancement Project shows that LGBTQ+ seniors were twice as likely to live alone as non-LGBTQ+ seniors and are faced with social isolation and vulnerability.

This may be why older LGBTQ+ adults, specifically those over 55, were above the community’s average for first doses at 94%. Being vaccinated reopens social doors closed by COVID-19 to alleviate some of that loneliness, especially as events reopen with vaccine and negative test requirements.

However, the looming threat of further isolation is not the only thing hanging over these adults. People 55 and older have lived through the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, which disproportionately impacted LGBT people with almost no help or sympathy from the government or society.

Not only are LGBT people more likely to acquire HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, but the disease further complicates the risks of catching COVID-19.

The pandemic also carries some haunting refrains from the decades-old crisis.

Government inaction, social scapegoating against minority groups, and the politicization of different facets of the diseases (such as mask-wearing and vaccinations for COVID-19 and the moral panic of the AIDS crisis) highlight both of the crises.

Oliver Snow, a prominent transgender Tiktoker with over 71,000 followers on his political account (@reverendoliversnow), expressed how the legacy of the AIDS crisis impacted him despite having been born after the height of it.

“By the time I was old enough to come out, I realized I had very few people to look up to. A whole generation had been wiped out,” Snow said in an email. “It’s frustrating to watch people deny the vaccine when the U.S. government waited so long to respond to the AIDS outbreak. Mismanaging epidemics/pandemics seems to be an American tradition at this point.”

The pandemic has rattled the LGBTQ+ community in a number of ways, from reviving past trauma to disproportionate isolation and its intersection with other struggles the community already faces. In response to these impacts, the community is acting almost in unison to fight back against COVID-19.

However, despite these strong efforts, the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups are still the ones expected to make the most sacrifices. While other institutions, organizations and groups operate haphazardly under the ongoing pandemic, LGBTQ+ people are left balancing their community's connection with its safety.


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