Jun 26, 2021 - Health

LGBTQ seniors on the isolation of living through a pandemic

Photos of two women displayed side-by-side

Lujira Cooper, left, and Randi Robertson. Photos: Courtesy of SAGE and Randi Robertson.

Many elder LGBTQ Americans, already disproportionately isolated before the pandemic, faced greater loneliness in quarantine as they lost access to resources and community, two older LGBTQ Americans told Axios.

Why it matters: Data is lacking on how LGBTQ Americans have been affected by the coronavirus — especially older populations, who battle a myriad of complications as a high-risk and under-resourced group.

The big picture: "There’s very little if any hard data" on how LGBTQ Americans were affected by the pandemic, Aaron Tax, director of advocacy for SAGE, said. "What we can do is piece together the data we do have ... it paints a challenging picture for LGBTQ older people."

  • He said SAGE has been playing phone and email tag with Biden administration officials over their calls for the American Jobs Plan to include $450 million to improve elder care.
  • $50 million from that proposal would go to SAGE and the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging.

Randi Robertson, 58, a pilot instructor on the Florida space coast, retired from the Air Force at the end of 2010 and lives with her spouse and two kids. As a trans woman, she said she felt extraordinarily privileged during the pandemic compared to other transgender people.

  • "The number of people that I know who've taken their own lives ... you become very aware of those kinds of indicators when people are struggling," she said. "I don't count, cause that's a depressing thing to do. No one's a number. Everyone's significant."
  • Robertson saw a "serious uptick" last year in social media posts from trans people around her age who shared stories of poor mental health, depression, anxiety, feelings of separation.
  • For some, the LGBTQ centers and programs that closed down as infections surged "may have well been their only real contacts with live human beings," she said.

Lujira Cooper, 73, writes fiction and lives alone in Manhattan. She worked at the 34th Street YMCA during the Stonewall riots, a historical moment that she said didn't really affect her life.

  • "I don't think I would have been out there, but I can appreciate those who were, because somebody's got to go stand out on the line under the possibility of being killed," she told Axios.
  • "I’ve had more trouble being a Black outspoken woman than being a lesbian."

Cooper said she was fortunate to get food delivered three times a week when the pandemic hit, although she eventually stopped deliveries to cook for herself again. Having a social worker and nurse practitioner in her building helped too.

  • "The thing about the quarantine, there's an extreme sense of isolation … there have been periods of times when I felt very lonely," she said. "I do understand that feeling of not being able to hug people, talk to people."
  • Cooper, who leads a writing group with Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders (SAGE), said she and other members missed Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas dinner, and the annual gala last year — on top of church outings and other community meals.
  • "These are the ways you can get together with people and talk … those are the kinds of things I miss," she said. Cooper added that she doesn't yet know if she'll go back to the dinners or hold writing groups in-person.

Robertson and Cooper both said that LGBTQ Americans can already be isolated as they can face estrangement from family and friends. They both agreed the pandemic made it worse.

  • "There are people who live in parts of this country ... where the isolation can be profound," Robertson said. "Just as a trans person, let alone given all of the other factors that are in play in the past 18 months."
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