U.S. lawmakers push for 'invisible' LGBT+ coronavirus patients to be counted

by Oscar Lopez | @oscarlopezgib | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 5 May 2020 20:38 GMT

The American Flag flies at the U.S. Capitol Building, as Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a State of Emergency due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 18, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

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Discrimination in healthcare and higher rates of HIV make gay and trans people vulnerable to COVID-19

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By Oscar Lopez

MEXICO CITY, May 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Authorities must count how many novel coronavirus patients are LGBT+ as they face greater health risks than the population at large, a California lawmaker said on Tuesday, after introducing a bill that would make such data collection mandatory.

Figures on the number of LGBT+ people infected by the virus are not yet widely available, but rights advocates say that discrimination in the healthcare system and higher rates of HIV and cancer make gay and trans people particularly vulnerable.

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"The history of the LGBTQ community is a history of society trying to make us invisible," Scott Wiener, a San Francisco state Senator, said, adding that the bill would likely reviewed by a Senate committee in a few weeks.

"We know that LGBTQ people have heightened risk factors for severe COVID-19 disease ... but because no one is collecting data ... we have to make assumptions - but we shouldn't have to make assumptions," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Almost 1.2 million people in the United States have tested positive for COVID-19 and about 70,000 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

similar bill was introduced in the northeastern state of New Jersey on Monday by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle requiring hospitals to report data on the sexual orientation and gender identity of COVID-19 patients.

Preliminary data from U.S. states has shown that minority groups with longstanding disparities in health and access to medical care, African-Americans in particular, are dying from COVID-19 at a higher rate.

Lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans are more likely than straight people to rate their health as poor and to have more chronic health conditions, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a U.S. health policy analysis group.

"We are facing a global public health crisis, and as in all emergencies, the most marginalized are at increased risk," Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a U.S. advocacy group, said in emailed comments.

"It is important to know and understand the unique impact of the virus on the LGBTQ community so that we can prepare to weather this crisis as we have weathered crises before."

State lawmakers said that having data on LGBT+ people was the first step in tackling the potentially increased impact on the community.

"We cannot advocate for resources without fully understanding the scope of the problem," said New Jersey Assemblywoman Huttle in a statement.

The bills follow a virtual town hall last week in which state lawmakers urged U.S. officials to determine how many coronavirus patients are gay, bisexual or trans.

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(Reporting by Oscar Lopez @oscarlopezgib; editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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