CDC: Sexual Minorities Face Greater COVID-19 Risks

Queer folks march across the Brooklyn Bridge during the Dyke March last June.
DONNA ACETO

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people are more likely than their straight peers to have an underlying health condition associated with severe COVID-19 outcomes, according to the CDC.

The CDC’s report released on February 5 reveals that sexual minorities often have a medical history of asthma, strokes, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic health conditions linked to more virus-related deaths and hospitalizations. The report — which notably did not include research on the risks facing transgender folks — also found that many US COVID-19 trackers do not collect sexual orientation, underscoring what advocates have feared: queer people face an increased risk for COVID-19, but many states are still not counting them. This is “hampering” the nation from examining COVID-19 disparities among LGBTQ patients, according to the CDC.

While the CDC did not explicitly mention that gender identity-related information is not tracked, those numbers are also lacking — and the CDC acknowledge as much in their report.

“Inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity data in COVID-19 surveillance and other data collections could improve knowledge about disparities in infections and adverse outcomes among sexual and gender minority populations, overall and by race/ethnicity,” researchers wrote.

The CDC report found that of the study’s 24,582 sexual minority respondents, 13.8 percent have been diagnosed with asthma when compared to 8.9 percent of non-LGBTQ people. Black and Hispanic queer people outpace white queer people affected by asthma, the report shows. While the CDC does not track the race and sexual orientation of COVID-19 patients, it is widely reported that people of color are facing the brunt of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.

Researchers suggest that stigma and discrimination are at the root of these disproportionate statistics.

According to the report, queer and trans patients experience greater healthcare bias, which can make it harder to come out to their providers, heighten vulnerability to illness, and make it challenging to secure quality medical care.

Last November, the CDC reported that advocacy groups told them that many COVID-19 surveillance systems were lagging in tracking sexual orientation and gender identity. State Officials cited privacy and nonresponse for not including the data.

California, Illinois, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity, but several other states, including New York, do not. The New York City Health Department told Gay City News they do not manage the data included in the Citywide Immunization Registry.

“Data reported currently only captures ‘sex’ categorized as Male, Female, and Unknown and does not capture gender identity or sexual orientation data,” Julia Morrill, a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Health, told Gay City News.

Morrill said the department does not “regulate what health care providers include in the electronic health records.”

City Council Health Chair Mark Levine told Gay City News the latest CDC report is “disturbing.” He said he is proposing legislation that will mandate the collection of sexual orientation and gender identity data.

“New York City must heed this disturbing CDC report on the disproportionately high rate of COVID-19 risk factors among LGBTQ people — including the critical recommendation that data be collected and published on LGBTQ COVID patients,” Levine said in a written statement.

Researchers compiled this report using data from more than 600,000 people recorded in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), a national survey collecting self-reported chronic health conditions and risk behaviors. The data was collected between 2017 – 2019. While BRFSS has a question about gender identity, the CDC notes that the sample of trans and non-binary adults was too small to include.

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