An upcoming national COVID-19 survey, run by the Community Based Research Center (CBRC), will ask questions about GBQT2+ (Gay, Bisexual, Queer, Trans, 2-Spirit) men’s physical, mental, social, and sexual health. In particular, it will focus on the impact of COVID-19 and blood donation regulations in the community.
The survey will use a holistic approach, focusing on health equity, social determinants of health and a complex understanding of health and wellness. With the SexNow GBQT2+ men’s health research platform as its basis, it will examine changes during COVID and how people in the community experienced the beginning part of the pandemic.
“Challenges with anxiety or depression … suicide ideation are all factors that were already prevalent in our community before COVID started,” says Nathan Lachowsky, Principal Investigator of the SexNow survey, Research Director of CBRC, and Associate Professor in the School of Public Health & Social Policy at the University of Victoria. “Our hypothesis is that … [GBQT2+ men] will have been hit harder and differently than a lot of others.”
COVID-19 has exacerbated existing issues that disproportionately affect the GBTQ2+ community, such as financial insecurity, mental health issues, and access to sexual health services. Many counselling offices had to shut their doors to in-person clients. Similarly, sexual health clinics had to close or adapt to the pandemic. These services are important points of referral for various services, such as HIV pre-social phylaxis or PREP and gender transition-related services. When they closed, this affects access to these other services that require referral.
When these programs shut down, alternatives weren’t presented quickly, leaving members of GBQT2+ in difficult situations.
“A lot of clinics are shut down; that impacted people’s access to pre-exposure prophylaxis, potentially their ongoing meds if they’re living with HIV, but also to vaccinations against HPV and more,” says Lachowsky.
Social isolation protocols that encourage people to stay in their homes and spend more time in shared living spaces bring up specific issues around mental health for GBTQ2+ men. Challenges with transition and outness may arise within certain households, in which people are forced to share space with unsupportive roommates or family. Additionally, people in abusive relationships may face more violence as a result of closer proximity for longer periods of time.
Lachowsky notes that some of the public messaging focuses around the nuclear family. He hopes that this messaging can be adapted to be more affirming of folks in the LGBTQ+ community who may prefer different living situations or need to seek out a safer environment.
Another aspect of the COVID-19 survey focuses on the Canadian Blood Services deferral policies which prevent men who have had sex with another man in the past three months from donating blood. This policy prevents blood donation sources on the basis of gender and sexuality, rather than specific information and scientific evidence. The research team has been interviewing GBQT2+ men and blood donation recipients about these policies. Lachowsky says that “[SexNow’s] previous research exposed 80-90 per cent of gay men would donate blood if they were eligible to do so.” Blood donation is particularly relevant now, since plasma, the liquid part of blood, is being studied for use as a potential treatment for COVID.
The results of this study will not only be used by community members and non-profit organizations. To learn more about the study, find out about participation, or to view the results, follow Community Based Research Center (CBRC) on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook and visit cbrc.net.
Lachowsky hopes his research results can form the foundation for better government policies. “What is the onus of responsibility of the government to take care of all of its citizens and to do so equitably?” Lachowsky asks. Regarding the possibility of a second wave of COVID, he says that “how we will prepare for that is really based on what evidence we’re able to show to public health and to policy makers”.