The COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately affecting the lives of people who are socially and politically marginalized. The struggles faced by LGBTQ communities, including high rates of homelessness, significant health disparities, high rates of poverty, and increased likelihood of violent victimization compared with heterosexual and cisgender peers, are amplified by current socioeconomic strains.
For Black LGBTQ people, these vulnerabilities are compounded by the violence of anti-Black racism and white supremacy, urging specific attention to the effects of structural racism in housing policy during a public health crisis like COVID-19.
On June 12, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) proposed a new rule that would overturn 2016 transgender nondiscrimination protections and allow single-sex homeless shelters to discriminate against transgender people by making placement and accommodation decisions based on a person’s assigned sex at birth rather than their gender identity.
This is particularly concerning for the safety and well-being of young transgender women of color, who are especially vulnerable to severe marginalization, hostility, and violence in shelters not designed for the LGBTQ community.
Black people make up a disproportionate share, 40 percent, of the homeless population despite representing only 13 percent of the general US population, and new data shows that the pandemic is widening housing disparities by race and income. During the COVID-19 pandemic, people experiencing homelessness face increased exposure to the coronavirus, and national data show severe racial disparities in COVID-19 mortality rates necessitating a focus on housing justice.
The Black LGBTQ community is especially vulnerable to housing and economic instability
LGBTQ housing issues can start early in life, and facing them at pivotal moments in education and employment trajectories can impede future economic well-being, mental and physical health, and stability.
Because of familial and social rejection based on gender identity and sexual orientation, LGBTQ young adults are at more than double the risk of homelessness compared to non-LGBTQ peers. An estimated 30 percent of youth in foster care and 40 percent of youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ. Black LGBTQ youth are significantly overrepresented among this group.
According to the 2015 US Transgender Survey (PDF), Black transgender people face the most severe economic and housing effects among LGBTQ communities:
- 20 percent were unemployed, twice the rate among Black people in the general US population (10 percent) and four times the rate of the general US population (5 percent)
- 38 percent were experiencing poverty, more than three times the rate of the general US population (12 percent)
- 42 percent had experienced homelessness in their lives, compared with 30 percent in the overall sample
- 22 percent had experienced homelessness in the past year specifically because they are transgender
- 40 percent experienced some form of housing discrimination or instability, including eviction or being denied a home or apartment because they are transgender
Addressing structural risk factors, such as chronic homelessness and housing insecurity, is key to creating safe communities where Black LGBTQ people can thrive. Antitransgender violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color (PDF) and is fueled by antitransgender stigma, including lack of family acceptance and hostile political climates; denial of opportunity, including exclusion from health care and structural inequities in policing; and increased risk factors, including poverty and homelessness.
So far in 2020, at least 12 transgender or gender nonconforming people have been killed, and the recent killings of Black transgender women, including Nina Pop, Riah Milton, and Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, and the police killing of a Black transgender man named Tony McDade, amplify the need for policy change and action to protect Black transgender lives.
Following leaders in the Black Lives Matter movement, discussions of housing and homelessness during the COVID-19 crisis present opportunities to center the vulnerabilities faced by Black LGBTQ—especially transgender—people. Although LGBTQ people face a range of intersecting socioeconomic struggles during the COVID-19 crisis—and many will experience direct health effects from the coronavirus itself—the immediate impact of housing instability demands specific attention.
The pandemic exacerbates inequities in housing stability, homelessness rates, and shelter access
The pandemic has had a marked impact on LGBTQ people’s economic well-being: 38 percent of LGBTQ people of color have had work hours reduced, compared with 29 percent of white LGBTQ people and 24 percent of the general population.
Black and Latinx people are twice as likely as white people to be renters and pay a higher share of their income on rent in most major metropolitan areas. Fourteen percent of LGBTQ people of color have asked to delay rent payments, compared with 8 percent of white LGBTQ people and 7 percent of the general population, suggesting Black and Latinx LGBTQ people will be most affected when federal eviction protection ends on July 24.
For LGBTQ people facing housing insecurity, shelters are a key support. As the pandemic began, LGBTQ shelters across the country reported significant increases in intake. Washington, DC’s Casa Ruby reports that intake tripled during the first month of the pandemic.
As shelters adjust their practices to facilitate social distancing and comply with guidelines, many have had to significantly reduce capacity. Many residents worry LGBTQ shelters won’t have enough available beds, forcing people to live in a “traditional” and possibly queerphobic or transphobic shelter environment or be unsheltered, increasing their risk of COVID-19 exposure.
As systems and institutions struggle to meet increasing demand and confront structural inequities, community organizations like Gays and Lesbians Living in a Transgender Society (GLITS), Princess Janae Place, the Homeless Black Trans Women Fund, the Black Trans Advocacy Coalition, and SisTers PGH are stepping in to connect Black transgender people with safe housing and shelter.
Policies and strategies to address material vulnerabilities faced by the Black LGBTQ community during the pandemic
- HUD could fully reinstate the Equal Access Rule to protect transgender and gender nonconforming people from being discriminated against by shelters.
- Lawmakers could include LGBTQ nondiscrimination language in all COVID-19 response legislation (PDF) to protect queer people against discrimination in residential treatment facilities, long-term care facilities, halfway houses, homeless shelters, and foster care.
- COVID-19 data collection efforts conducted by local, state, and federal agencies could include voluntary questions on sexual orientation and gender identity to ensure COVID-19’s impact on the LGBTQ community is recorded.
- Organizations serving LGBTQ populations need flexible funding that is responsive to individual organizations’ current needs and capacity. Increased demand on LGBTQ centers and shelters is a major challenge for organizations facing reduced capacity because of social distancing. A portion of funding from the CARES Act, including the $4 billion allocated for Emergency Solutions Grants, could be intentionally directed towards LGBTQ organizations that serve people experiencing homelessness. Other government channels and private donors could provide more financial support to LGBTQ-serving organizations and community centers.
- Community members and LGBTQ organizations are organizing mutual aid funds, which many consider critical right now for both LGBTQ people who do not have access to federal relief funds and those for whom this aid is insufficient. These mutual aid funds often target hyper-local needs, and funds across the nation (such as those in this resource compiled by Annika Hansteen-Izora and this index by Autostraddle) are looking for substantive financial support.
These recommendations target the general LGBTQ population, holding promise to benefit the Black LGBTQ community and other queer communities of color. But we also need COVID-19 policies and interventions with explicit racial justice frames on key issues such as eviction to adequately address Black LGBTQ people’s needs. The intersecting crises of the COVID-19 pandemic, LGBTQ housing insecurity, and anti-Black racism present an opportunity to critically consider how American society can be rebuilt to advance equity, redress harm, and combat white supremacist structures and institutions.