Health and Healthcare Systems

During the coronavirus pandemic, we must fight for LGBTQ rights more than ever

The global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic will not be effective or complete if we forget our most vulnerable communities. Image: Photo by Jiroe on Unsplash

Corinna Lathan
Founder and Chief Executive Officer, AnthroTronix (ATinc)
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After years of struggling to find her voice, my transgender daughter was finally hitting her stride. Spring lacrosse and field hockey seasons were about to start; she was accepted into her first choice for high school; and she didn’t hate going to school – much. Then the coronavirus struck and we all went on lockdown. My daughter only has her sibling, parents, and the dog for company. So today, on Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV), an annual international celebration of trans people, a day when my daughter should have felt more seen, she is instead feeling socially isolated—and invisible.

We know she’s one of the lucky ones. We love and support her and she knows that we have her back. But 73% of the estimated 1.3 million trans youth in the US are not in “very supportive” households—so LGBTQ teenagers, college students, and young adults who are forced to return to or stay at home could be returning to unwelcoming environments. For them, this is a perilous time.

This Transgender Day of Visibility, I’m thinking of them—and of all the transgender individuals who need us more right now, not less.

With the entire world crippled by the coronavirus, our focus right now is on resolving the pandemic. But our recovery will not be effective or complete if we forget our most vulnerable communities. As research from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) makes clear, the coronavirus crisis will disproportionately affect LGBTQ persons in many ways. They are more likely to have a pre-existing medical condition, which means they are more likely to get sick and take a longer time to recover. They are more likely to work in the service industry—for instance, in restaurants and retail—which means they are more likely to become unemployed during the crisis.

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The list goes on. In an effort to help the public understand why LGTBQ individuals may be at increased risks—both physical and social—during the outbreak, more than 100 LGBTQ organizations recently issued a letter outlining some of the issues:

  • LGBTQ Americans are more likely than the general population to live in poverty and lack access to adequate medical care, paid medical leave, and basic necessities and so may not be able to engage in preventative measures as they look for resources to support their families.
  • LGBTQ people continue to experience discrimination from providers and staff in many health care settings so they may be reluctant to seek treatment.
  • The LGBTQ population has higher rates of HIV and cancer, which means a greater number may have compromised immune systems.
  • LGBTQ people use tobacco at rates that are 50% higher than the general population and COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that has proven particularly harmful to smokers.

The good news is that this crisis comes at a time when the transgender community has seen increasing support for basic human-rights measures and I’ve seen that progress firsthand. I’ve been going to the World Economic Forum’s meeting in Davos on and off since 2005 as a Technology Pioneer and Young Global Leader. I’ve chaired the Global Future Council on AI and Robotics and I’m a long-standing member of the Council on Emerging Technologies writing articles for our yearly “Top Ten” with Scientific American. In 2018, I attended the GLAAD luncheon in Davos on global LGBTQ inclusion and was inspired to write about my experience as a parent of a transgender child.

Over the past two years, I’ve been encouraged by the increase in trans visibility at Davos. This year, Jin Xing, a transgender TV host from China was one of this year's Crystal Award Winners. Meanwhile, a discussion on being out in the workplace was moderated by Geena Rocero, a transgender model who came out six years ago on Transgender Day of Visibility in a powerful TED talk. Davos also drew attention to the Partnership for Global LGBTI Equality, and companies such as Microsoft, Deutsche Bank, Salesforce, and Mastercard have already joined.

This increase in awareness and inclusion has given me a sense of optimism for the workforce of the future. Even in the midst of the COVID crisis, businesses in the US have been stepping up this year to oppose the largest number of anti-LGBTQ bills ever to be introduced in state legislatures. The majority of these bills have focused on discriminating against transgender youth. Most egregiously, some of the bills would prevent my child from receiving gender-affirming medical care, which is recommended by the American Medical Association and has been shown to reduce risk of suicide in trans youth. I’m heartened that companies such as Amazon, Chobani, Apple, Verizon, Marriott, and many more have joined with HRC to sign a letter condemning all anti-LGBTQ state-based legislations, particularly those against transgender youth.

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Businesses need to keep that momentum up—especially during and after this crisis. As individuals, we can all do our part to be visible allies during and after this time too.

Just two months ago (which for most us will feel like a lifetime ago), Yo-Yo Ma, world-renowned cellist, gave an unforgettable performance in Davos at a dinner hosted by the Ariadne Getty Foundation to, in his words, “heal the trauma of LGBTQ youth.” There is more healing than ever to do now, of course. Yo-Yo Ma himself is doing it through his music, calling on others to create and share art through social media at #SongsOfComfort.

At our family’s house, we’re doing our own celebrations during this time of isolation: I’m learning the ukulele, my husband the harmonica, and our teenagers are singing. All allies of LGBTQ rights can play a part in helping young people who feel isolated during this crisis simply by raising our voices and showcasing our support through song, videos, or just sharing an affirming social media post. Online communities like TrevorSpace.org, an international community for LGBTQ young people, can also be a source of support. There are many options for those willing to make a difference.

On this Transgender Day of Visibility, we not only need to see trans people, we need to rally behind them—this year more than ever.

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