COVID-19: A Black, Queer, Feminist Grounding and Call for Self and Community Care

It’s only March and this year has already proven to be one for the record books.

In only three months, we’ve found ourselves inundated with 24/7 presidential election year news coverage. We collectively grieved with the family of Kobe Bryant, his daughter and all those who passed away in the horrendous helicopter crash in January. We also all have our own personal goings-on that we’re constantly navigating: raising families, changing jobs, moving to new locations or caretaking. We all experience our own personal stressors while also processing cultural moments of unrest and trauma.

And, now, we are facing a more life-threatening, novel and anxiety-inducing worldwide health pandemic: coronavirus or COVID-19.

At times of great uncertainty like these, I remind myself that my Black, LGBTQ+ and female ancestors constantly experienced moments just like the current one that our world is in—and many survived. I lean on my personal strength as a Black bisexual female human walking around in this world.

Plus, I have access to the knowledge passed down to me from the Black foremothers who founded the reproductive justice framework and movement. I can look to the knowledge passed down to me from my queer and trans elders who came-of-age during the United States AIDs epidemic—which we are still fighting—and survived, even when too many of their families and friends did not.

All of us—wherever we are—can contract or transmit this novel virus, though it is imperative to note that social determinants of health, economic injustices, less employment opportunities and exacerbated barriers to accessing to the health industrial complex, especially culturally competent care, all together make queer and trans—particularly queer and trans people of color—susceptible to physical, financial and mental effects of pandemics like COVID-19.

Moreover, according to an open letter that over 100 LGBTQ+ organizations—including the National LGBTQ Task Force—signed on behalf of our communities, we call attention to the reality that the LGBTQ+ community is increasingly vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 due to three factors:

First, LGBTQ+ people continue to experience discrimination, unwelcoming attitudes and lack of understanding from providers and staff in many health care settings, and as a result, many are reluctant to seek medical care except in situations that feel urgent—and perhaps not even then.

The LGBTQ+ population also has higher rates of HIV and cancer, which means a greater number of us may have compromised immune systems, leaving us more vulnerable to COVID-19 infections.

And finally, the LGBTQ+ population uses tobacco at rates that are 50 percent higher than the general population. COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that has proven particularly harmful to smokers.

Furthermore, we implore the health industry to acknowledge that there are “more than 3 million LGBTQ+ older people living in the United States who are already less likely than their heterosexual and cisgender peers to reach out to health and aging providers, like senior centers, meal programs, and other programs designed to ensure their health and wellness, because they fear discrimination and harassment.”

The 1980s HIV/AIDs pandemic also reminds us that even though we are engaging in social distancing, we should not stigmatize—or worse, criminalize—those who have contracted coronavirus or those who transmit this virus.

In November 2016, hundreds participated in this silent protest to end violence against women and girls. The protest commemorated the International Day to Eliminate Violence against Women in the context of HIV. (UN Women / Flickr)

Like HIV/AIDs, COVID-19 is a disease that does not discriminate based on someone’s race, ethnicity, class, age, geographic location or any other identity marker.

Instead, this current moment further illuminates the reality that social determinants of health are real, and forced-to-be-marginalized communities are more vulnerable and susceptible to contracting viruses directly due to institutions like white supremacy, cisheteropatriarchy, classism and systems like capitalism, which work to intentionally oppress Black, brown, queer, trans, female and poor or no-income populations.

Instead of retreating to the neo-liberalistic narrative “everyone for themselves” mentality, we must remember that reproductive justice is a global and human rights-based framework that demands that we consider the global community—which we are a part of—and how our individual actions can affect the collective. 

Using reproductive justice as a guidepost, we must center our individual, collective and national response(s) from a place of global borderless community— not one of nation-states, states within the United States, or locality by locality.

Even while experiencing uncertainty, we must not cower in fear or disbelief. Instead we must rise and honor the words of Black feminist poet Lucille Clifton: “Come celebrate with me that everyday something has tried to kill me and has failed.”

Poet Lucille Clifton, author of “won’t you celebrate with me.” (Poetry Foundation)

I believe in us. I believe in you. I believe in myself. While, I don’t know how, and I don’t know when; I know—just like my ancestors knew—that we will find a way through: as long as we remember who we are and what we are capable of.

The coronavirus pandemic and the response by federal, state and local authorities is fast-moving.

During this time, Ms. is keeping a focus on aspects of the crisis—especially as it impacts women and their families—often not reported by mainstream media.

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Candace Bond-Theriault is the Senior Policy Counsel for Reproductive Rights, Health and Justice, and the Democracy Project Director at the National LGBTQ Task Force.