The world for Atlas Marshall, a popular Portland, Oregon, drag performer and karaoke company owner, imploded last spring.
Marci Perry, a Denver personal trainer with a beloved shoeshine business, felt her livelihood slip “right through my fingers” in March.
COVID-19 has crushed a lot of souls in its lethal stampede across the nation. But for members of the LGBTQ community such as Marshall and Perry, the pandemic has been particularly pernicious, exposing vulnerabilities that often bubble beneath the surface.
A report out Wednesday documents the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on LGTBQ households, and the findings are sobering: greater economic upheaval, higher unemployment rates and deeper challenges in accessing health care.
“What you are seeing is a reflection of disparities that existed prior to COVID being exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Logan Casey, policy researcher for the Movement Advancement Project, which produced the report based on a national poll from July and August.
Some of the report’s findings from the poll by NPR, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health:
• 64% of LGBTQ households have experienced job losses vs. 45% of non-LGBTQ households.
• 38% of LGBTQ households have been unable to get medical care or delayed going to a doctor for a serious problem vs. 19% of non-LGBTQ households.
• Specific groups within the community face even greater challenges: Nearly all, or 95%, of Black LGBTQ respondents and 70% of Latinos indicated they or someone in their household experienced one or more serious financial problems.
The report notes that many LGBTQ adults are employed by industries devastated by COVID-19, said Naomi Goldberg, MAP policy research director.
“LGBTQ people are more likely to work in retail, restaurants, health care … all places where we have seen job cuts,” she said.
LGBTQ people are also more likely to live alone and lack a family support system, the report shows: 44% said they or someone in their home had a serious problem coping with social and physical isolation, compared with 23% of non-LGBTQ people.
“People across the nation are struggling,” Casey said, but the mental health repercussions for LGBTQ adults are “huge.”
‘The world pulled the rug from under me’
Marshall, 31, a transgender woman, has been on her own since she was 17. She moved to Portland five years ago before she transitioned and was thrilled to discover a city with “many different pockets of queerness.”
She started a karaoke company with weekly gigs at a “little hole-in-the wall dive bar” but a place that enabled her to help spirits stretch and soar.
“You would see all these beautiful, unique human beings,” she said. “Being able to create a space for people to come and sing and express themselves was always a huge passion of mine.”
Marshall hosted drag shows all over the city, and soon the former “American Idol” contestant became an entrenched Portland entertainer. She was scheduled for gender-affirming surgery in April; life was good.
Then came COVID-19. The bars shut down, and “I lost everything,” she said. “I moved here with nothing and built a career for myself, and then the world pulled the rug from under me.”