Programs to support LGBTQ people struggle to survive in face of pandemic

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LGBTQ health and shelter services are strained to their limits.

LGBTQ health, housing, and legal services are in jeopardy as the COVID-19 crisis continues.

According to NBC News, LGBTQ health clinics in particular are struggling to keep their doors open during the pandemic, which has led to staff becoming furloughed or their hours reduced.

Many clinics are also limiting in-person appointments and offering virtual appointments when possible. The shift to virtual health care has led to falling revenue, and some clinics, such as Fenway Health in Boston, are operating at an "unsustainable deficit."

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Some of these clinics serve tens of thousands of people each year. If they don't stay open in the long term, communities would be deeply hurt by a wide deficit in affirming care.

Other LGBTQ resources are also concerned about sustaining operations. In April, 137 LGBTQ groups and allied nonprofits in California signed a letter addressed to the state's governor, Gavin Newsom, asking for financial assistance during the pandemic.

"The economic fallout from COVID-19 has upended our budgets by forcing us to cancel fundraising events and preventing us from completing reimbursement-based grant deliverables that require face-to-face interaction and outreach," wrote Rick Chavez Zbur, executive director of Equality California, a nonprofit civil rights group that advocates for LGBTQ people and defends them in the courtroom.

Zbur noted that sponsors and donors had also been affected by the pandemic and were no longer able to offer financial support. Those sponsors include the AIDS Legal Referral Panel, which helps clients living with HIV avoid unlawful evictions and protects their medical benefits, and the Sacramento LGBT Community Center, which offers legal aid, mental health support, and emergency shelter for victims of crime, among other services.

LGBTQ shelters are facing similar financial challenges during the pandemic.

Casa Ruby, an organization for LGBTQ youth in Washington, D.C., has seen a rise in the number of individuals coming to its shelter for assistance in recent months. Ruby Corado, Casa Ruby's executive director, told NBC Washington in April that, since the start of the pandemic, the number of young people she sees in a day has tripled, straining resources to their limit.

"For many clients, we are the only lifeline that they have left," she said, adding that the shelter is running out of supplies to feed and house people.

LGBTQ-focused health centers and shelters help mitigate the effects of discrimination that LGBTQ people face every day. Eight percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people and 29% of transgender people said a health care provider had refused to see them in the past year because of their actual or perceived sexuality or gender, according to a 2017 Center for American Progress survey.

The 2015 U.S. Trans Survey, released by the U.S. Center for Transgender Equality, found that 33% of respondents said they had negative experience with a health care provider in the past year because they were transgender.

Concerns about anti-LGBTQ bias also shape where LGBTQ people live, making access to discrimination-free shelters all the more important.

According to a 2016 survey by the Center for American Progress, 19% of LGBTQ people said they made decisions about where to live based on fear of discrimination. Eleven percent made the decision to move away from a rural area because of it, and 16.8% moved away from family.

According to a 2017 University of Chicago report, LGBTQ young people also had a 120% higher risk of becoming homeless than their cisgender and straight peers.

Despite the many threats the LGBTQ community is facing as a result of the pandemic, the Trump administration is still plowing ahead with a rewrite of Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which was intended to protect LGBTQ people from health care discrimination.

In 2016, the Obama administration clarified that Section 1557's ban on sex discrimination included gender identity and termination of pregnancy, among other provisions. The Trump-era rule, when finalized, would remove the Obama administration's language on gender identity, health insurance coverage protections for transgender people, and provisions stopping health insurers from varying benefits in ways discriminate against people living with HIV and LGBTQ people.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development also proposed a rule last year that would roll back Obama-era protections for transgender people accessing homeless shelters.

When finalized, operators of homeless shelters could set a policy to accommodate someone in a shelter according to their sex, which could be based on factors such as "privacy, safety, practical concerns, religious beliefs" and "the individual's sex as reflected in official government documents." LGBTQ advocacy groups are concerned that this would force some transgender people to either live in accommodations that did not recognize their gender or to live on the street.

HUD Secretary Ben Carson visited HUD's San Francisco office and told staffers in an internal meeting that he was worried that "big, hairy men" would come to women's homeless shelters, according to the Washington Post. Three people who attended the meeting said they thought his remarks were pointed at transgender women.

As of Wednesday, the rule still appeared to be under consideration.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.