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Health Impacts of COVID-19 on LGBTQ Latinx Asylum Seekers

Immigration status is a source of social vulnerability and can serve as a predictor of health outcomes in the United States.

For instance, undocumented laborers may lack access to employer-provided health insurance. In addition, during COVID-19, undocumented laborers who work in construction or agricultural industries may have less of an ability to follow social distancing guidelines at work and could have an increased risk of contracting COVID-19.

During COVID-19, being an individual who is LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) also exposes that individual to health-related vulnerabilities. Compared to cisgender heterosexual individuals, LGBTQ+ populations rate their health insurance and overall health as poor. Unlike HIV/AIDs, which had a social stigma attached to its higher transmission rates amongst gay men, COVID-19 does not have an additional stigma attached to it amongst LGBTQ+ people.

Still, COVID-19 may exacerbate previously existing health inequities amongst LGBTQ+ individuals. For instance, a lack of federal unemployment protection laws across the United States may make LGBTQ+ populations more susceptible to being fired for their sexual orientation during the economic recession and unemployment crisis during COVID-19.

Lastly, given that many LGBTQ+ individuals are at a higher risk for depression and substance abuse, social distancing guidelines may make it more difficult for LGBTQ+ people to access LGBTQ+ support groups and treatment services that they need.

Intersectionality is defined by QLatinx, a queer Latinx organization based in Orlando, as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, gender, and language.” In other words, when someone is Latinx, transgender, and undocumented, the intersection of those three identities can influence their health outcomes in unique ways.

The National Institute of Health published a piece on how the COVID-19 pandemic has uniquely affected Latinx transgender migrant’s health outcomes, stating that Latinx transgender immigrants often are subjected to persecution based on their gender identity and expression in their host country of the United States through health violations in prison-like facilities that may not cater to their unique medical needs, such as hormone therapy and that may increase their risk of sexual assault by guards or other detainees.

During COVID-19, a 20-year-old Latinx transgender woman in immigration reported that guards often did not wear personal protective equipment, while another transgender woman in detention reported feeling “scared, vulnerable, and unprotected” from COVID-19. Furthermore, in many asylum cases, psychological evaluations are crucial in supporting the applicant’s credibility and providing additional health services to applicants who have survived torture. However, COVID-19 restrictions have forced clinicians to shift to virtual platforms, increasing barriers to accessing these services amongst asylum seekers, sometimes delaying their immigration and healing processes.

All in all, COVID-19 has had various health impacts on asylum seekers who are LGBT. According to the Human Rights Watch, from March 2020 until now, the U.S. authorities have used the pretext of Covid-19 to shut off land borders to asylum seekers altogether. During the pandemic, the U.S. Border Patrol has expelled over 150,000 people.

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