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How is the pandemic affecting the LGBTQ community? U of T researchers investigate

A team of researchers from U of T are surveying about 500 members of Toronto's LGBTQ community from a diverse range of backgrounds, ages and ethnicities (photo by Drazen via Getty Images)

By most indicators, the “queer” community – including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, two-spirit – have been hit harder by the pandemic than the general population. They are more likely to be stressed about their finances, have lost their jobs and be anxious or depressed, according to a survey published earlier this year by the advocacy group Egale Canada Human Rights Trust.

The question is why. 

Jessica Fields, sociology professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough and chair of the department of health and society, and graduate student James Gibb were curious about the root causes of the inequity. So, with support from U of T’s Toronto COVID-19 Action Fund, they assembled a team of researchers to survey approximately 500 affected Torontonians from a diverse range of backgrounds, ages and ethnicities. 

Gibb says the explanation for the pandemic’s near-universal toll on the queer community isn’t yet clear, but may be related to the challenge of connecting to one’s “chosen family” during the lockdown, incuding friends, lovers, ex-lovers and other intimates who provide emotional support in the face of homophobia and discrimination.

“What we know from the literature is that isolation and loneliness have consequences for people’s physical and mental health,” he says.  

Several reports suggest that domestic abuse has risen as a result of the pandemic, and Fields and her team plan to document the underlying causes, frequency and impact. The situation is further complicated by the housing affordability crisis in Toronto − namely, if one’s stressed out partner becomes physical or emotionally abusive, where can one go?

While housing is largely seen as a political and economic issue, Fields and Gibb have assembled a team to explore its intersectionality. Nine researchers, including anthropologists, sociologists, geographers and educators, will examine how queer people’s mental and physical health have been affected. 

The team will also study strategies for resilience since there will likely be other health crises and pandemics. It is essential to understand and document how best to survive, according to Fields. 

“We are interested in understanding how our social conditions determine what is possible for us as individuals and as members of sexual and gender minorities,” Fields says. “The cultural, sociological and economic context influences what happens to the self and body. All of these forces and circumstances are entangled.”