June is at the heart of the year, it seems fitting that the month is dedicated to showing love to the LGBTQ community (as it is Pride month). Pride Month in Toronto has evolved since the first “Gay Pride Week” was celebrated in July, 1972. Since then, “Gay Pride Week” has is now Pride Month, is recognized by the government and celebrated in June (in which a huge parade happens annually), sexual orientation has been recognized in the Ontario Human Rights Code (1987), homosexual marriage has been accepted (2003 - 2005) and other amazing milestones.
Pride Month this year would mark the second since the COVID-19 pandemic started (I know we have been here for too long), with cases numbers going up and the province currently in a lockdown, in-person festivities and the march does not seem likely. But besides this inconvenience the LGBTQ community faces issues that have only been intensified by the pandemic.
The LGBTQ community faces a number of health risks, per the U.S. Gay and Lesbian Medical Association , LGBTQ members have a higher risk of heart disease and obesity, both of which can make the COVID-19 more severe. There is also a higher rate of homelessness, anxiety, depression, drug use and suicide in the LGBTQ community, though data regarding the LGBTQ is particularly difficult, especially since a lot of the members are closeted.
The economic ramifications of the pandemic and lockdown to small businesses has been well-documented and has even led to protests against the government. LGBTQ business owners are no different and have borne the brunt of the pandemic as most of their small businesses are in the food sector, which rely on in-person interaction and have suffered due to closure for most of the pandemic. There are existing federal government aid programs available to help businesses owned by diverse groups but they are relatively new and not yet fully equipped to make long-term solutions.
There is also the emotional factor as certain members of the LGBTQ community (especially the youth) are forced to stay at home with family members who might not be accepting, struggle with mental health issues, or might be home alone. As mentioned earlier, mental health issues like depression and anxiety plague the LGBTQ community so facing these issues alone, with people who are not sympathetic about LGBTQ issues, or do not understand them could have adverse effects.
Even members of the LGBTQ community that have supportive family members have found the lockdown periods difficult. Alice Chen, 25, a trans-woman who currently lives in Toronto describes the pandemic period as “more limited”.
“I was going to a support group for trans persons before the pandemic started. It had meetings 4 times a month but now meetings are virtual and only once a month,” Chen said.
Chen acknowledged that while having supporting family members is good and important, meeting other members of the LGBTQ community is essential as friendships and bonds are made. These bonds are now difficult to make at the moment.
Pride Toronto has resources (help lines, therapy and mental health) in place to assist members of the LGBTQ community, per their site. Hopefully more resources like this will be provided and aid people who need them.