Today, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle will introduce legislation that would require New Jersey hospitals to report demographic data on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. Garden State Equality worked with the Assemblywoman’s office to bring forward the legislation; a draft of the bill can be viewed here.
“Across New Jersey, LGBTQ people and marginalized communities are disproportionately impacted by the current pandemic. Our community experiences higher rates of cancer, HIV, and tobacco use, which puts LGBTQ people at greater risk against COVID-19,” said Christian Fuscarino, Executive Director of Garden State Equality. “And because of persistent discrimination in the healthcare system, we know that LGBTQ people are more likely to face barriers to care. It’s critical that we immediately begin reporting demographic data for sexual orientation and gender identity among COVID-19 cases, so that we can effectively direct state and community resources and funding.”
“Without comprehensive demographic data, we do not have the information that we need to adequately understand the extent to which marginalized communities have been impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle. “While New Jersey has made great strides to ensure that we are collecting data on the racial implications of this crisis, I believe that we must also take action to better understand how this pandemic has impacted the LGBTQ community in our state. The bottom line is, we cannot advocate for resources without fully understanding the scope of the problem; this legislation will help to ensure that resources and support will be directed towards those who need them most during this critical time.”
Last month, Governor Murphy signed legislation to require hospitals to report data on race in relation to COVID-19 cases, in light of health disparities and barriers to care among Black Americans.
In April, Garden State Equality joined the National LGBT Cancer Network in urging health and policy leaders to begin collecting SOGI data among COVID-19 cases. The LGBTQ community faces extreme health disparities and barriers to healthcare, and COVID-19 disproportionately impacts individuals with compromised immune and respiratory systems:
- The LGBTQ population uses tobacco at rates that are 50% higher than the general population. COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that has proven particularly harmful to smokers.
- The LGBTQ population has higher rates of HIV and cancer, which means a greater number of the community may have compromised immune systems, leaving LGBTQ people more vulnerable to COVID-19 infections.
- LGBTQ people continue to experience discrimination, unwelcoming attitudes, and lack of understanding from providers and staff in many health care settings, and as a result, many are reluctant to seek medical care except in situations that feel urgent – and perhaps not even then.
In addition, there are more than 3 million LGBTQ older adults living in the United States. LGBTQ elders are already less likely than their heterosexual and cisgender peers to reach out to health and aging providers, like senior centers, meal programs, and other programs designed to ensure their health and wellness, because they fear discrimination and harassment. They are more likely to experience poverty, experience exaggerated health disparities than the broader LGBTQ community, and lack children or loved ones to care or advocate for them. The devastating impact of COVID-19 on older adults — the current mortality rate is at 15% for this population — makes this a huge issue for the LGBTQ communities as well.
Garden State Equality is also urging lawmakers to pass A680 / S1926, a Bill of Rights for LGBTQ Older Adults in long term care facilities. The bill would provide specific, enumerated protections for LGBTQ elders and elders living with HIV in long term care facilities, so that they can get the critical healthcare they need right now.
Earlier this year along with bill sponsors Jasey, Zwicker, Downey, and Huttle, Garden State Equality introduced A1060, which would mandate SOGI data collection across all state agencies. New Jersey currently mandates SOGI data collection within higher education.