Advocacy groups in Maryland and Virginia say the coronavirus can prove especially hard on vulnerable LGBTQ people, and they have adjusted their services to better serve them during the pandemic.
“LGBTQ people continue to experience discrimination, unwelcoming attitudes, and lack of understanding from providers and staff in many health care settings,” said Equality Virginia Executive Director Vee Lamneck in a statement. “And as a result, many are reluctant to seek medical care except in situations that feel urgent, and perhaps not even then.”
A joint open letter released March 11 by more than 100 LGBTQ-related organizations also addressed the medical, social and societal factors placing the community at greater risk during the crisis.
Geographic proximity is another factor to consider in the region.
D.C. is surrounded by neighboring Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, which have the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Maryland with 127 and 76 cases respectively. Maryland’s four reported deaths occurred in Montgomery, Prince George’s and Baltimore Counties.
Despite the crisis, Heart to Hand, a grassroots nonprofit organization serving both Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, continues to provide LGBTQ-supportive services on a limited basis.
“We are working remotely to still support our clients in any way needed,” Kaniya Walker, a Heart to Hand linkage-to-care navigator, told the Washington Blade. “We are offering drive-thru condom distribution on each Friday from noon until 2 p.m.”
Walker, who identifies as a transgender woman of color, also facilitates a trans support group which is one of the many services still offered on a virtual or otherwise adjusted basis. Other impacted services include medical case management, pharmacy access and a full clinic.
Area public services which support the LGBTQ community are also working together across regional boundaries.
College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn, one of Maryland’s openly gay public officials, told the Blade while “Prince George’s County is the primary provider of social services for College Park seniors,” his city does provide “case management for seniors.”
”We are reaching out one-to-one to seniors who live in College Park,” Wojahn said.
FreeState Justice Legal Director C.P. Hoffman also told the Blade its advocacy and LGBTQ legal services will continue with restrictions.
“We’re currently accepting name and gender change cases,” Hoffman said. “As well as employment discrimination matters where filing deadlines are especially tight.”
But Hoffman noted case filings are on hold due to court closures. Their LGBTQ advocacy work is also on hold due to the Maryland General Assembly’s early end to the 2020 session.
“As for the possible special session,” Hoffman said. “We don’t have final details yet, but depending on if it happens and how it’s structured, we may have an opportunity to push some of the bills, such as the panic defense ban, that passed one house but not the other.”
Still, Hoffman realizes the special session will likely be “limited to considering emergency legislation related to the COVID-19 situation and its economic impact, so we will be playing things by ear.”
For now, limited LGBTQ services continue throughout the region while restrictions on nonessential businesses and mass gatherings remain in effect.