LGBTQ+ History Month 2021: Stories From the Pandemic

by Jesse St. Andre

During the first full week of LGBTQ+ History Month, we are taking a look at events that have impacted the LGBTQ+ community during the past year.

We are a year and a half into the pandemic. In the face of continually uncharted living, it’s easy to lose sight of the progress the LGBTQ+ community has made.

Here are some of those stories:

The LGBTQ+ community was hit harder by COVID-19 than people outside the community.

In February 2021, the CDC released a report stating that LGBTQ+ people were more impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic than people who are not of a sexual minority. In March 2020, HRC released a research brief that detailed the social and economic factors within the LGBTQ+ community that occur at higher rates within the community than outside of it, including smoking, asthma, income inequality and percent of the community whose jobs cannot be done remotely.

Studies show that LGBTQ+ people’s mental health was more heavily impacted by the pandemic.

In addition to being harder hit economically, around 75% of the LGBTQ+ community reported “that stress and worry from the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health,” compared to half of people who are not a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Pre-existing discriminations, prejudices, and lack of protections were the root cause of such a marked difference in the rate of negative mental health effects between the two groups.

As the pandemic continues to roll on, we are, unfortunately, seeing more stories of LGBTQ+ people being more affected by pandemic-induced events, including nearly half of LGBTQ+ renters being behind on rent as the eviction freeze came to an end.

The need for LGBTQ+-inclusive senior housing will only become more pressing as years go on.

The Stonewall Generation has reached the age where they may need to consider entering assisted living facilities or care homes. Unfortunately, most facilities are not trained in LGBTQ+ awareness. Many in our community who have entered assisted living/care homes repost the need to “go back into the closet” to receive the best care possible.

Rules for same-sex partners entering into care facilities often vary not only by location but by company as well, especially when it comes to privately-owned care companies. Sage notes that an AARP study found “many same-sex partners are denied visitation rights in hospitals and long-term care facilities.”

We must push for more equitable, humane rules for LGBTQ+ seniors who need help to be able to continue caring for themselves.

The 2020 election included an unprecedented number of LGBTQ+ people elected into offices.

Dr. Rachel Levine became the first openly trans federal official after her confirmation as assistant secretary of health at the Department of Health and Human Services. Also, Pete Buttigieg - now the secretary of transportation - became the first openly gay Cabinet member to be confirmed by the Senate.

The number of LGBTQ+ officials throughout the United States was nearly 1,000 as of July 21, 2021, including 11 members of Congress. They bring the total known LGBTQ+ members of Congress members to 26 - including 2 who were identified as part of our community after their deaths.

Never before have so many people from our community been in positions where they can enact legislative change.

“The pandemic offered a unique chance for many people to come out as queer.”

The pandemic gave most of us an unprecedented amount of time alone, and in that newfound time, many people also found the ability to connect with parts of themselves they had not previously paid attention to or hadn’t needed to acknowledge with the constant hustle and bustle of their pre-pandemic lives.

One anonymous woman phrased it as the pandemic “forced me to think about who I am when no one's watching."

Communities came together to save the last lesbian bars in America.

The pandemic forced countless businesses to shutter their doors for the last time - including nearly every remaining lesbian bar in the country.

HRC’s Queer to Stay initiative helps preserve LGBTQ+ businesses, including Herz - the last lesbian bar in Alabama. Founded towards the beginning of the pandemic, Queer to Stay aims to support, uplift and preserve businesses that serve the LGBTQ+ community, with a focus on LGBTQ+ people of color, women and the transgender community.

On June 3, 2021, The lesbian Bar Project released a 20-minute documentary about the struggles and importance of these last lesbian bars through the eyes of owners, patrons, and their communities.

LGBTQ+-inclusive passport policies were enacted.

In June 2021, the U.S. State Department announced that it allow non-binary Americans to obtain a passport that accurately reflects their gender identity and ease the process for trans and other Americans in updating gender markers, including no longer requiring anything from a physician before the marker is changed.

Pulse nightclub was made into a national memorial site.

On June 25, 2021 - five years and thirteen days after the Pulse nightclub shooting that claimed the lives of 49 people, most of them young, LGBTQ+ and Latinx - President Biden signed a law that turned Pulse nightclub into a national memorial. He noted: "A place of acceptance and joy became a place of unspeakable pain and loss. We'll never fully recover, but we'll remember."

He hopes the memorial will become a "monument to the loss that occurred" and "an absolute determination that we're going to deal with this every single solitary day, and make sure that we're not in a position to see this happen again."

LGBTQ+ characters have more roles in kids’ shows than ever before.

Shows such as Danger & Eggs, Steven Universe, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power and many other animated series made for kids are overtly placing LGBTQ+ characters as main characters rather than relegating them to background characters or coding them as LGBTQ+ without ever explicitly stating whether the characters were or not.

Which brings us to our final LGBTQ+ story that emerged during the pandemic:

A new study shows that 1 in 4 LGBTQ+ youth identify as non-binary.

The Trevor Project released a study that found as much as 26% of the LGBTQ+ youth population (ages 13-24) identifies an non-binary, while another 20% of LGBTQ+ youth are questioning if they are nonbinary or transgender.

The same study found that 33% of non-binary LGBTQ+ youth used they/them pronouns. One of the participants noted that: “It makes me extremely happy when people respect and use my correct pronouns, and I could literally happy cry.”

Compliments not associated with the gender they were assigned at birth, acceptance and affirming relationships with family, friends and teachers were all cited as “source of affirmation and happiness for non-binary youth.”

The study also revealed that having people who respect their pronouns greatly reduces the rate of suicide attempts among non-binary LGBTQ+ youth: Those who didn’t have anyone who respected their pronouns were found to be over 2.5 times more likely to attempt suicide than those whose pronouns were respected by “all or most” of the people they know.

These stories are our current events - but one day they’ll be our history. It is crucial we recognize the weight and impact of each one so that future generations understand why these stories matter.