The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the issue of inequality firmly into the spotlight in the UK. Marginalised groups have been disproportionately affected, with the crisis exacerbating pre-existing experiences of discrimination and inequality.
Early on in the pandemic, warnings of the likely disproportionate impact on lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT+) communities began to emerge. These were made in acknowledgement that LGBT+ people experience poorer mental health outcomes, and are disproportionately affected by service discrimination, homelessness, and societal rejection. Soon after, UK LGBT+ organisations began to report unprecedented demand for services, as well as evidence of the detrimental impact that the pandemic was having on the mental health and wellbeing of the LGBT+ people they support. Our research into the experiences of LGBT+ communities during the pandemic began with a rapid review of the existing evidence.
Despite warnings and reports from service providers, we found that evidence into LGBT+ communities’ experiences of the pandemic is limited. There are significant evidence gaps regarding the experiences of particular communities, including disabled LGBT+ people and LGBT+ people of colour. There is also a lack of statistically representative, comparative research, meaning we often cannot compare the experiences of LGBT+ and non-LGBT+ people, or the experiences of different LGBT+ groups. As such, our review identifies a clear need for further research and contributes to long-standing calls to address the UK’s deficit in LGBT+ data collection.
While the evidence base is limited, our review has found the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic to be wide-ranging; affecting the mental and physical health, safety and security of often vulnerable LGBT+ communities. Our review suggests that the mental health of younger LGBT+ people has been particularly affected, as lockdowns severed contact from safe, supportive, and identity-affirming spaces and, for some, forced them to stay in unsupportive, and at times, hostile home environments.
Our review also shows that the pandemic has been particularly damaging for trans and non-binary people, with negative impacts on mental health, increased threats to safety, and significantly limited access to health services, including gender-affirming care.
Finally, our review has highlighted the importance of specialist LGBT+ organisations. 71% of those who responded to our partners’ surveys stated that they would prefer to access support from LGBT+ specific organisations rather than mainstream services. However, we found LGBT+ services have experienced significant financial difficulties during the pandemic, threatening their long-term sustainability. Separate research from NatCen and Consortium shows how this can be addressed through meaningful action from UK funders.
To tackle the evidence gaps identified in this review, we will be conducting focus group research with those LGBT+ communities that are currently under-represented in the evidence base, and workshops with specialist LGBT+ organisations. Ultimately, this project aims to develop a national strategic framework, identifying how the sector can best be supported, and mobilised, to address the unmet needs of the UK’s LGBT+ communities during the recovery from the pandemic.
Read the full evidence review here.
The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) is conducting this research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), in partnership with Consortium, Stonewall, LGBT Foundation, and Intercom Trust. NatCen analysed 1,745 survey responses from LGBT+ people on their experiences of their pandemic, collected by the partners.
LGBT+ is used as a collective term to represent lesbian, gay, bi and trans people, as well those who identify in other ways, such as asexual, intersex, pansexual, queer and questioning. Trans is also used as an inclusive umbrella term that includes binary trans people (trans men and trans women), as well as non-binary people.