At least 170 national, state, and local LGBTQ and allied organizations on April 21 released a joint open letter to health care and public policy leaders calling for measures to prohibit discrimination in the treatment and prevention of the novel coronavirus.
The letter also reiterates earlier requests by LGBTQ health advocates for the collection of data on the sexual orientation and gender identity of patients testing positive and being treated for coronavirus illness along with data already being collected on race, ethnicity, age, sex, and disability.
D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Health is part of a coalition of six national and local LGBTQ organizations that initiated and coordinated the joint letter.
“Whitman-Walker and other community health centers that care for LGBTQ+ patients and others in marginalized communities have many patients who are understandably fearful of neglect or mistreatment in this pandemic,” said Laura Durso, Chief Learning Officer of the Whitman-Walker Institute.
“We are committed to protecting those who are bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s economic devastation,” Durso said in a statement accompanying the joint letter.
The April 21 letter follows an earlier joint letter issued by many of the same groups on March 11 pointing out to health care providers that LGBTQ people may be at greater risk for coronavirus than the general public due to certain risk factors, including a higher rate of tobacco use, a higher rate of HIV infection, and a greater likelihood of being subjected to discrimination by health care providers.
“There is a long history of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in the health care system,” the April 21 letter states. “Even when they do not encounter overt discrimination, too many LGBTQ+ individuals and families experience a lack of understanding, unwelcoming attitudes, and even hostility from health care providers and staff,” the letter states.
“In high-stress situations with looming threats of shortages of life-saving medical equipment, hospital beds and health care staff, the danger of implicit if not explicit bias against queer patients in especially worrisome,” the letter continues.
The letter calls on federal, state and local public health authorities, health care institutions, and government officials to take a “clear, strong, and public stand against any discrimination in this pandemic, whether based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, national origin, immigration status, religion, or disability.”
It says explicit nondiscrimination provisions covering sexual orientation, gender identity and the other categories should be included in all COVID-19 response legislation.
The letter also calls on public officials overseeing the coronavirus treatment and prevention efforts to ensure that “all COVID-19 data collection and reporting include SOGI [sexual orientation and gender identity] demographic measures.”
In addition to Whitman-Walker Health, the other five groups that coordinated the joint letter include the National LGBT Cancer Network; GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality; National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance; New York Transgender Advocacy Group; and the national LGBTQ seniors advocacy group SAGE.
Others among the 170 organizations that signed on to the letter include the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Transgender Equality, PFLAG National, the Trevor Project, the NAACP, and People for the American Way.
In its call for data collection of LGBTQ people who test positive and are being treated for COVID-19, the joint letter doesn’t provide details on how health care providers should go about collecting that data.
In a separate statement last month in response to an inquiry from the Washington Blade, the Human Rights Campaign said the disclosure of someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity in COVID-19 testing should be voluntary.
Also in response to a question from the Blade, Whitman-Walker Health elaborated on its own position related to LGBTQ data collection.
“It is important for health care providers, public health authorities and government agencies to understand that asking people to voluntarily provide their sexual orientation and gender identity is important – and that the information should be requested in a sensitive, non-stigmatizing manner that reassures the patient that the information will be kept confidential,” Whitman-Walker told the Blade in an April 22 statement.
“We encourage all medical providers and testing centers to follow best-practices for data collection from their patients,” the statement says. “Privacy protections are essential to ensuring access to healthcare services for LGBTQ people…Public health systems, and disease reporting systems in particular, should have built-in safeguards to protect privacy,” the statement continues.
“However, we feel strongly the questions should be asked and the data collected so that we can develop accurate demographic information to identify health inequities and inform the public health response for LGBTQ people as well as for LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ communities who are also marginalized based on race, citizenship, socio-economic status or location,” the Whitman-Walker statement concludes.
The full text of the joint 170-group letter and the list of signers can be accessed here.
This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National LGBT Media Association.