We haven't heard a lot about how LGBTQ+ people have fared during the pandemic.
There have been few studies on our physical health, and only a few on our mental health – such as the disproportionally negative impact on our community. In one poll from early 2021, three-quarters of LGBT people (74 per cent) reported worry and stress from the pandemic negatively impacting their mental health compared to half (49 per cent) of non-LGBT people. Half of those queer people reported the lockdowns and ongoing pandemic had a "major impact" on their mental health.
With this in mind, it didn't surprise me Human Rights Watch found 92 per cent of queer Americans have received at least one vaccination shot.
The vast majority of us are keen on the vax. Why? We know it's the only way out of this pandemic, and we've already been through one devastation like this: the Aids epidemic. In March 2020, barely a month into the pandemic and weeks before New Zealand's first lockdown, I recall comparing the fear of Covid to something the queer community knew all too well.
When the queer community was provided with access to PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, for HIV (a transmission-preventing drug with the same efficacy as condoms), it was literally a life-changer. PrEP continues to save lives every day and is universally understood by our community as being the science that changed our existence. For the first time in 40 years, queer people don't have to be so afraid any more.
As I've looked through my own social media feeds this year, the people I follow – mostly queer folks – are relentless in promoting vaccine uptake. From formal links to vaccination centres to saying "cheers to Pfizer!" over brunch, every queer person I know across the globe with a large social platform is using it for the public good. Queer influencers have gone from pre-pandemic sponsored posts for vitamins and supplements to something actually helping others.
Queer people are also more supportive of what's known as "vaccine mandates", ie requirements to be vaccinated for public freedoms such as eating in a restaurant. Sixty-five per cent of us support a mandate to be vaccinated in order to enjoy social liberty safely, as opposed to only half of non-LGBTQ+ people.
In the queer community, people of colour (POCs) are the mostly likely to get a Covid-19 vaccination. Human Rights Watch found among LGBTQ+ respondents, 90 per cent of Latinx adults, 85 per cent of Black adults, 96 per cent of Asian or Pacific Island adults, and 85 per cent of Native American, Middle Eastern, and North African adults had received at least one dose. That's well above POCs in the general population. These groups are "minorities with a minority", as it were, and this evidence could help convince Māori and Pasifika to get the vaccine too. How? It's all about community.
LGBTQ+ are renowned for our sense of community. Just as Māori and Pacific people are. We have a sense of "taking care of our own," a "chosen family" in the absence of biological parents, and an underlying worry that if we don't support ourselves, nobody else will. Getting vaccinated, and promoting vaccination, speaks directly to this ethos. One's power and influence is best harnessed when used to convince someone who can identify with them. Especially to make a decision for the good of their health. We'll listen to a drag queen just like Māori listen to their kaumatua and a Pacific person might listen to their church leader.
The anti-vax movement still exists in the queer community, of course. Vaccine hesitancy has been shown among a sample of sexual and gender minority men and transgender women because of mistrust in the medical industry. Indeed, queer people have a lot of reasons not to trust medicine deemed, "for the common good", as we were once subject to chemical castration and other horrific medical interventions to change our sexualities.
Regardless, it makes me smile the vast majority of my community have put scepticism and concerns about personal side effects aside, in favour of something bigger than ourselves. And that's what the Covid-19 vaccine is. Yes, it protects you, but it's not really about you. It's about everyone else in your community. If all minorities approach the vaccine with the same philosophy as the queer community, we will ALL get out of this pandemic a lot faster.