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Supporting LGBTQ2+ Workers And The COVID-19 Pandemic

Pride at Work Canada shares a few key recommendations of the broadly diverse needs of queer and trans peple continuing to work through the current health crisis….

By Colin Druhan

On Wednesday, April 8, 2020 Pride at Work Canada convened nine professionals from across Canada for a live online discussion on the specific impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on LGBTQ2+ workers. We’ve developed some recommendations based on this virtual roundtable and ongoing conversations with employers that are part of Pride at Work Canada’s network of National and Regional Partners. By no means exhaustive, these recommendations reflect a mere sliver of the broadly diverse needs of queer and trans peple continuing to work through the current health crisis in Canada.

Understand the intersections present in our communities and treat people as individuals
None of us has a singular identity. Queer and trans people come from every racial and cultural background, are of all ages, are all genders, live with various disabilities and practice a myriad of religions. In short: our communities are not monolithic. Though some challenges are shared, what impacts some community members does not impact all. Just as employers must take an individual lens to every request for accommodation and every complaint about harassment outside of a pandemic, LGBTQ2+ workers should be seen as individuals during this crisis. There is no “one size fits all” approach.

Be there for those on the front lines
According to a March 30 survey by the Conference Board of Canada, 86% of responding employers have some employees who need to attend work in person through the current crisis. In the same survey it was found that 87% of those employers are not providing pay premiums to non-unionized workers still going in every day and most are not helping their employees get to and from work, despite transportation opportunities being more limited and less safe than usual. While these statistics point to the need to better support all front line employees, a recent survey by Egale found that half of LGBTQ2+ households have faced lay-offs, compared to 39% of the general population, meaning in many cases queer and trans people may find themselves to suddenly be the only earner in their family. It is important for employers to consider these factors when deciding on measures to support their people.

Know the dangers of reducing barriers between work and home
For those working remotely it can be fun and exciting to see each other’s homes for the first time via videoconference. However, according to OutNow Consulting, over half of LGBTQ2+ people in Canada are not out to everyone they work with. In some cases the prospect of a coworker seeing one’s partner, children or symbols of one’s queer identity such as books or artwork can be terrifying. Similarly, some workers who are out at work or school may find themselves in isolation with their family, to whom they have not disclosed their identity. While encouraging employees to display themselves on video can be a great way to build team spirit, it should be acknowledged that some people are not in a position to do so at every meeting.

Recognize the specific mental health challenges
Because many jurisdictions have delayed or cancelled scheduled surgical procedures some workers may have to wait for gender-affirming surgeries, which can cause specific and acute emotional strain and distress. More generally, Rainbow Health Ontario and CMHA Ontario have documented that queer and trans people experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive and phobic disorders, suicidality, self-harm, and substance use. They are also at double the risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than their cis/straight peers. The emotional strains present at this time cause concern for all employees, but LGBTQ2+ people have a more difficult time accessing mental health supports that are inclusive and affirming. Providing employees with access to inclusive providers who understand these exacerbating factors is therefore more important than ever.

Stay alert and mitigate medical risks
LGBTQ2+ people are more likely to have cancer and asthma, conditions which put them at higher risk of complications should they contract COVID-19. LGBTQ2+ people also experience higher rates of HIV and AIDS. Based on how other respiratory conditions impact people with HIV/AIDS (PWAs), the CDC suggests that PWAs who have low CD4 cell counts or who are not on HIV medication may be at greater risk of getting very sick from COVID-19. Some LGBTQ2+ people who manage chronic illnesses like HIV/AIDS need to take medications at very specific times in order to effectively manage their health. Due to intense stigma around HIV/AIDS many PWAs do not disclose their HIV status to their employer or colleagues. It is therefore imperative that workers are allowed the flexibility to take breaks in order to effectively manage their health without needing to provide too much personal information. Similarly, employees who are undergoing hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may have trouble finding people to safely inject them on-schedule because of social distancing guidelines. Employers should also be prepared to help facilitate connections between workers undergoing HRT and health care providers or pharmacies that can offer such services around injection.

Pride at Work Canada is committed to encouraging connection and understanding at this difficult time. That’s why we’re opening up our member programming to everyone, free of charge, until May 31, 2020. Take a look at our events calendar to find details of our weekly online programming. Every Wednesday at 12:00pm EST you can tune in to a live webinar on topics related to LGBTQ2+ workplace inclusion. Can’t make a specific time? Simply register for the session in question ahead of time and we’ll send you a recording that you can watch at your convenience. Our online sessions are a great way of learning and connecting with other LGBTQ2+ people through Q&A and live chat functions. We may all be in isolation, but we’re all in this together.

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