Inclusive Paid Leave Policies Are Critical as COVID-19 Harms the LGBTQ Community Disproportionately

LGBTQ workers need paid leave laws in place that allow them to care for their chosen family, regardless of biological or legal relationship.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been understood that LGBTQ people are more likely to be adversely affected by COVID-19. Now, as we reach the year-mark since the virus took root in the U.S., recent reports confirm that LGBTQ, and LGBTQ people of color in particular, experience increased health risks associated with COVID-19 and are much more likely to have tested positive for COVID-19 as compared to non-LGBTQ white people. 

One report, recently published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals have higher rates of underlying health conditions that increase the risk of severe illness associated with COVID-19—including cancer, heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)—as compared to heterosexual persons. This trend is true for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people across racial and ethnicity groups. 

And another report, published by UCLA’s Williams Institute, found that while LGBT people of color are more likely to follow public health measures (like social distancing and wearing masks) than non-LGBT white people, they are also more likely to be affected by COVID-19. The COVID-19 positivity rate is particularly staggering—LGBT people of color were twice as likely to have tested positive for COVID-19 than non-LGBT white people. And both LBGT and non-LBGT people of color are much more likely to personally know someone who died of COVID-19 than LGBT and non-LGBT white people.  

Undoubtedly, these unsurprising data about COVID-19’s effect on LGBTQ people are reflective of the deep-seated inequities and health disparities that persist in the United States, especially for people of color. We know that one piece of the puzzle for overcoming COVID-19 and curbing its effects is enacting paid leave for all workers. A Better Balance and other advocacy groups understand that increasing access to paid leave is of particular importance for LGBTQ workers, of whom 37% do not have access to paid sick or paid family leave

And as highlighted by the results of a recent survey by the Center for American Progress, LGBTQ workers need paid leave laws in place that allow them to care for chosen family members—63% of LGBTQ workers report having to take time off work to care for a close friend or chosen family member. Currently, four state and eight city/county paid sick leave laws and four state paid family leave laws allow or will allow workers time off to care for their closest loved ones, regardless of biological or legal relationship—Colorado was the latest state to join both counts by passing both a paid sick leave law and paid family and medical leave law in 2020 that honor all families. As A Better Balance works on paid leave laws at the federal, state, and local levels, we continue to push for inclusive family definitions that capture the breadth of today’s family structures—an effort that is increasingly important for LGBTQ Americans as we enter the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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