This blog post - written by Sarah Anderson, Policy and Participation Officer and Ceridwen Ball, Youth Engagement Officer - draws on their work with our Youth Commissions and examines some of the ways in which LGBTQIA+ young people are being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown measures.
LGBT+ young people face multiple inequalities including social isolation, barriers to education and employment, higher rates of mental ill health and increased risk of homelessness. These are often experienced with homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. Unfortunately, we know that these issues are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown measures. In this blog, we will draw on research, our experiences as members of the LGBT+ community, and our experience as youth workers as we talk about how we think LGBT+ young people are particularly affected by COVID-19.
Life under lockdown
71% of LGBT people say that homophobia is a problem in their local area and 79% said that transphobia is a problem in their local area.
Only 52% of LGBT young people felt included in the wider community, this is even lower for young trans people, at 35%.
During the pandemic, the public are being encouraged to seek solidarity and support from our families and local communities. For LGBT+ young people, however, this is not always straightforward. Many LGBT+ people face homophobia, biphobia and/or transphobia within the communities that they live in. This can make these environments difficult or even unsafe for them, and during lockdown this is where they may be spending most of their time.
We are also aware that young LGBT+ people are more likely to be estranged from family, due to experiences of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. For many LGBT+ people, their main source of support is a network of LGBT+ peers, sometimes known as their “chosen family”. These networks often exist beyond geographically local communities, especially for those in rural areas. We are concerned that lockdown will isolate many LGBT+ young people from their support networks.
LGBT+ social spaces such as our youth groups are important to the wellbeing of LGBT+ young people who feel isolated and/or excluded. For many, these spaces are the only time they can feel safe and able to be themselves. We are particularly concerned about the impact this is having on the many trans and non-binary young people experiencing transphobia where they live. Young people have told us that they are being deadnamed, misgendered, and their identities are being invalidated by the people they live with. This is especially difficult during lockdown as they may not be able to leave this environment. For these young people, our youth groups may be the only place they can express their gender, leading to them having to hide or police significant elements of their identity.
There has been much discussion in the media about those who are experiencing domestic abuse during lockdown, however, we know that 1 in 4 LGBT people experience domestic abuse and research shows that young people and those in their first relationships are most at risk. Furthermore, 80% of trans people have experienced abusive behaviour from their partner or ex-partner. LGBT+ people can also face abuse specific to their LGBT+ identity. Our colleague recently wrote about this and some of the avenues for seeking support here.
We feel it is important that those supporting LGBT young people, including social work and corporate parents, are aware of the increased pressure on young LGBT people at this time.
Trans and non-binary healthcare
We work with lots of trans and non-binary young people, many of whom are worried about the impact of the pandemic on accessing trans healthcare. Gender Identity Clinics (GICs) in Scotland are operating on reduced capacity, all appointments are cancelled (to be rescheduled when possible), and, for trans people over 18, gender-affirming surgeries have been postponed. Before the pandemic, trans people could wait two years or more to access vital healthcare - it’s likely that these waiting times will increase. We know that trans and non-binary young people’s mental health and gender dysphoria are negatively affected by barriers to healthcare. We believe it is crucial that the Scottish Government take action to mitigate the impact COVID-19 will have on GIC waiting times, which are already unacceptably long, as well as provide robust support for young trans people in these waiting lists. It is also important that medical procedures that young trans people were waiting for will not be deprioritised after the NHS reconfigures back into ‘normal’ service delivery.
We know that a disproportionate 24% of homeless young people are LGBT+, and 69% of homeless LGBT+ young people have experienced violence, abuse, or rejection in the family home. This will only be exacerbated during lockdown. It is also a worry that this could lead to more LGBT+ people becoming homeless. Additionally, young homeless people may not have access to adequate housing, which means they may not be able to self-isolate or quarantine safely.
We have also heard from young people who have decided to stay with partners and friends during lockdown to avoid living in homophobic, biphobic and transphobic environments. However, these living situations may also be unstable, may increase the risk of homelessness and can impact access to things like healthcare and medication.
We feel it is important that homelessness services and accommodation proactively include LGBT people in their outreach and their provision. We also think that LGBT people experiencing homelessness should be able to social distance and self-isolate safely, and should be supported to access LGBT specific support.
Digital poverty is an issue that is affecting many during lockdown, impacting young people’s access to online services and social media. Access to online services is particularly important to young LGBT+ people who we know are at increased risk of isolation or experiencing homophobia, biphobia and transphobia within their living environments, and we are concerned about the impact that digital poverty may be having on these young people. Young people in insecure housing are more likely to face these barriers to accessing online services. We are aware that the Scottish Government is currently rolling out the ‘Connecting Scotland’ programme and believe it is crucial that this proactively includes LGBT people experiencing digital poverty.
Due to lockdown measures, people are more likely to come in to contact with the police. We are concerned that young LGBT+ people may be challenged by the police when leaving their homes due to unconscious bias. For example, we’ve heard LGBT+ partners have been perceived as not living in the same household, and then not believed when they explained their situation. We have also heard from young people being questioned on their reasons for being outdoors. Finally, we know that some LGBT+ people have trauma from contact with the police and may find increased police presence distressing. We think it’s important that young people aren’t deterred from taking time outside, because this is crucial for their mental and physical wellbeing.
LGBT+ young people already experience high rates of mental ill health, with 84% of LGBT young people and 96% of young trans people indicating that they experienced a mental health problem.
A large proportion of the young people we support tell us they struggle with their mental health, with many experiencing self-injury and suicidal ideation. We are concerned that the increased isolation and stress associated with COVID-19 will exacerbate this and that the suspension of some mental health services during the pandemic will leave many LGBT+ people without support. This is likely to have a sustained impact on LGBT+ young people as, when services resume, waiting lists that were already extremely long may be even longer. We are concerned about the safety and wellbeing of LGBT+ young people during this time and call on the Scottish Government to take action to ensure LGBT+ inclusive support, including emergency mental health support, is available to young people in Scotland.
If you’re a young LGBT+ person, or supporting one...
We encourage LGBT+ young people in Scotland to reach out to LGBT Youth Scotland. Our youth groups are still running online and open to new members and our LiveChat service runs Monday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Get more details here.
There’s also more information about trans healthcare during the pandemic and some resources to help address these obstacles here. For more information on how GIC services are running and support available, click here.
akt supports LGBTQIA+ young people who are living in a hostile or abusive environment and those who are experiencing homelessness.
For other LGBT+ friendly sources of support and entertainment, check out this list of resources that Ceridwen has assembled.