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Healing COVID scars

The immediate impact of Covid-19 and the various Australian state government lockdowns might have passed but the long-term mental health impact on the queer community is still being counted and weighed, writes Holly Hazlewood.

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Studies over the past three years have shown the Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected the LGBTQIA+ community, due to the nature of government mandated preventive measures, such as lockdowns, only exacerbating pre-existing social and financial disparities compared to the wider world. 

A report from Rainbow Health Australia, which cited several studies covering the queer community globally, reiterated a worsening of all aspects of mental health in part due to Covid-19, in part because LGBTQIA+ people are less likely to engage with existing health services due to real, or perceived, lack of sensitivity and knowledge as to the queer community’s needs. 

This in part due to the continued lack of visibility of queer people in the Australian census, despite strong recent pushes to enact change from campaigners. 

The continued lack of recognition of queer people in data collection means it is harder for those in power to know how many LGBTQIA+ people there are in Australia, much less what resources are needed, even in non-pandemic times. 

The last three years also shone a light on the previously understood tragic concept of queer people and their unaccepting families, but viewed through the specific lens of Covid lockdowns. 

The impact of this was particularly traumatic on young people or those who still lived with their biological family units, with an 2020 American study from the Journal of Adolescent Health, showing 45 percent of LGBT university-aged students had unsupportive family members while 60 per cent of the same cohort felt depressed, anxious or distressed during the early years of the pandemic. 

I returned to university to change careers as a mature age student in my 30s and half-way through that four-year degree I came out as transgender only to be then hit with the effects of the pandemic, where I lost all three of my part-time jobs which was keeping me afloat financially. 

Quickly I applied for any job seemingly ‘Covid proof’ however I was turned away from being a shelf-stacker at supermarkets and working at service stations and I was worried for my future. 

American studies showed LGBTQIA+ people were more likely to contract Covid due to working in lower paid, service industries due to socio-economic disadvantages, and while many Australians were able to access financial help during the initial stages of Covid, it did not last forever and some were unable to access it in the first place. 

However, the pillars of mental and financial support were not the only ones starting to erode under the unprecedented times of Covid-19 – social interaction and the need for community also took a massive hit. 

In a 2022 study of 3135 queer people over-18 called Pride and Pandemic  showed 48.7 percent less time with biological family, 51.5 percent less contact with chosen family and 75 percent less in-person community time with friends. 

Personally, I had not been out as a queer person long before the pandemic hit and the relative isolation I already felt, especially from my biological family, was only exacerbated when I lost a lot of contact with the few people who knew and accepted my authentic self. 

Creating new ways of connecting and little traditions to look forward to were keys for me to surviving the lockdowns in Canberra, which I admit were nowhere near as severe as in other parts of the country. 

Every time I watched RuPaul’s Drag Race or when I played online trivia via Zoom with friends, I would put on a pair of heels or boots that I’d normally wear on a night out to make it more special. 

I would often apply a full face of makeup even if I was not leaving the house, not only to have a sense of normalcy when nothing appeared certain, but also to battle the gender dysphoria I still often had early in my transition. 

Small things that helped me keep my sanity and allowed me to continue forward with my newly forged identity.  

It’s now 2023 and while it is important to remember the Covid-19 pandemic has not completely gone from our lives, the LGBTQIA+ community needs to realise that this experience has shown us again we are more resilient, compassionate and empathetic than we give ourselves credit for.  Regardless of what the future throws us, we are not going anywhere if we stick together. 

How has your life changed since the pandemic? Let us know at