Lawmakers want to know how COVID-19 has affected LGBTQ patients

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More state lawmakers are talking about the need to collect data on LGBTQ patients during the pandemic.

New Jersey is joining a growing number of states where lawmakers are calling for the collection of data for LGBTQ COVID-19 patients. LGBTQ advocacy groups and lawmakers have argued that states can use this information to find out whether LGBTQ people are disproportionately affected by the pandemic and will be able to offer better support.

Democratic New Jersey Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle plans to introduce a bill on Monday that would require hospitals to collect information on a person's gender identity and sexual orientation if they have been treated for the coronavirus. This would include data on nonbinary people. Health department officials would then release the data on a government website.

Huttle told NJ.com, "I think it's important because during a public health crisis it's important to have the information to understand which marginalized communities are hit. [Is the LGBT community] being disproportionately impacted? We have no way of knowing."

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New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, recently signed a bill that requires hospitals to collect information on the race and ethnicity of patients.

As of April 1, the only jurisdiction that has reported currently collecting data on LGBTQ COVID-19 patients is the District of Columbia, according to the Washington Blade, which reported on how many state and local governments were collecting this information. Last month, Washington's Department of Health said the process was underway.

In California, state Sen. Scott Wiener (D) and State Assemblyman Todd Gloria (D) recently sent a letter to Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom requesting that the state collect data on the LGBTQ community during the pandemic.

Wiener said that the LGBTQ community is "incredibly vulnerable" to the health and economic impact of the pandemic.

"Many LGBTQ individuals work in sectors that are deeply impacted by COVID-19, and LGBTQ individuals are more likely to be immunocompromised due to HIV/AIDS and other health issues," Wiener said. "And LGBTQ youth are more likely to experience homelessness. We need to collect data on how COVID-19 is impacting the LGBTQ community, or we won't be able to get the support we need."

In April, Wiener introduced legislation to require San Francisco's departments and contractors that provide health care and social services to collect and analyze data on LGBTQ clients.

Dr. Sonia Angell, director of the California Department of Public Health, recently responded to the Los Angeles Blade's question about collecting this data on the state level. She said the data is not reported as regularly as data collected around race and ethnicity.

"These are things we're looking very carefully at and looking at ways of improving our system so we can get this information into the hands of people who can take action on it — ourselves and our local county authorities, as well. So, we’ll be reporting back to you for methods that we’re coming up with that," she said.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D) also introduced a bill that requires all state forms that collect demographic data to include a question to collect LGBTQ data.

"As we all know, there is a desert of good quality data out there as it relates to our communities, particularly at the state level … It's a continued pattern of erasure at all levels of government that those that are most on the margins are not only, in some cases, affected by really bad policy that impacts them," Kenyatta said at a virtual town hall last week. "But as I said to some young people yesterday, you can also be completely ignored ... We are ignored and the scope of the problem is not fully available in data we can all share."

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, was asked during the town hall whether his state would collect information on the LGBTQ community and COVID-19. He said gathering data was a "touchy situation" for people who are not comfortable telling medical professionals their sexual orientation because they don't trust they will be treated fairly by health care providers.

"While of course we could like the data, we also don't want to put people in a difficult position where they're being asked something that they're not comfortable sharing," he said.

Wiener and Kenyatta's bills would not require that people answer questions about their sexual orientation and gender. During the town hall, Wiener said in response to Polis' statement, "Other demographic questions are never mandatory ... We're collecting more data on race and gender and we see in different health conditions who is being affected and in what ways so that we can make policy choices, but we’re not doing it for LGBTQ people."

LGBTQ advocacy groups have also called for better data collection on how LGBTQ people are affected by the pandemic on both the state and federal level. On April 9, Alphonso David, the president of Human Rights Campaign, stated, "We call on every state to collect more data so that we can truly measure the impact on those most at risk and respond with prevention and treatment strategies that work. We call on Congress to take this impact into account in future stimulus packages so that we can urgently meet the needs of our communities."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.