Lockdowns and reduced access to care during the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated gender dysphoria and mental health difficulties experienced by transgender people, research suggests.
The loss of safe spaces and disruption to services affected the mental health, wellbeing and safety of LGBT+ communities in the UK, according to a report by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen).
Studies suggest that isolation and loneliness appear to be “key aspects” of LGBT+ people’s experiences of the pandemic, it said.
NatCen carried out the first large-scale review of available evidence about the experiences of LGBT+ people during the pandemic, with support from Consortium, LGBT Foundation, Intercom Trust and Stonewall.
It reviewed 50 studies and also analysed data on 1,745 people who took part in surveys by Intercom Trust, LGBT Foundation and Stonewall during April and June 2020.
Transgender participants reported that they experienced poor mental health and heightened gender dysphoria due to cancelled hospital appointments, postponed transition-related care, and reduced mental health support and face-to-face contact with LGBT+ friends.
One person said: “Being in my own head without distraction for long periods (gave) me more time to mull over my dysphoria and fears around my transition.”
They also recalled being more regularly misgendered whilst using the phone and video conferencing, and when wearing face coverings.
Transgender and younger LGBT+ people in some studies reported being more likely to self-harm and attempt or think about suicide during the pandemic.
The evidence also showed that homeworking was problematic for LGBT+ people who were not “out” to their families or colleagues, while others were forced to lock down in unsupportive, hostile home environments.
One person said: “I have had to re-closet myself, which has had a pretty big impact on my mental health.”
Others felt cut off from support networks and friends.
One respondent said: “Not being surrounded by other LGBTQ people feels isolating and at times almost invalidating of my own experiences.”
Another said: “I’m currently stuck somewhere very remote with no family, no friends, no black community and no gay community. Coming from London this feels very isolating.”
Some respondents also said they were concerned about how the rainbow flag was being repurposed to represent support for the NHS.
One person said it made them feel “erased”, while another said its widespread use was making it harder to identify true safe spaces and allies.
NatCen said there were “significant” evidence gaps concerning the experiences of black, Asian, minority ethnic and disabled LGBT+ people.
It is carrying out focus group research with under-represented groups and will publish these findings in due course.
Nathan Hudson, NatCen research director, said: “LGBT+ communities’ experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic have been wide-ranging, with negative impacts on mental health, safety and access to services.
“That there are significant evidence gaps for particular LGBT+ communities is concerning, and shows the need for further research to help ensure no group is left behind in our recovery from Covid-19.”
Paul Roberts, chief executive of Consortium, the UK’s umbrella body for LGBT+ voluntary and community organisations, said: “These findings are important as they confirm what LGBT+ organisations have been saying during the pandemic.
“Our communities have been hard hit when many inequalities already existed.
“I am pleased this research will now go further and look at what solutions we can put in place to create stronger, sustainable and resilient LGBT+ communities.”
– If you are struggling to cope, please call Samaritans free on 116 123 (UK and the Republic of Ireland) or contact other sources of support, such as those listed on the NHS help for suicidal thoughts webpage.