Coronavirus Economy Especially Harsh for Transgender People

This article is part of our latest Pride special report, featuring L.G.B.T.Q. voices on the challenges and possibilities of these troubled times.When Aria Villajin was a teenager, her father made clear his feelings for gay and transgender people.“He always called L.G.B.T. folks ‘it.’ He didn’t address them as pronouns. They were ‘its.’” Ms. Villajin, now 33, said. “If he found out one of his sons were gay, he would make them change their name.”Ms. Villajin presented as male then. When her mother was deported to the Philippines, her black father moved the family to a conservative, white Sacramento suburb. At 18 she left for San Francisco, but even there life was not easy, and without support, she dropped out of college.“Sexism is everywhere, transmisogyny is everywhere, transphobia is everywhere, racism is everywhere,” she said. “You can’t go anywhere without having to deal with that, being any of those things.”Ms. Villajin’s experience of rejection and struggle is all too familiar in the transgender community. While the L.G.B.T.Q. community at large has seen greater acceptance, transgender people have not experienced the same gains.The Trump administration years have been especially turbulent. A landmark Supreme Court ruling this week banned workplace discrimination against gay and transgender people, but last week the administration eliminated federal protections against discrimination in health care for transgender people and barred them from military service except under certain circumstances.Inequity has been even worse for transgender people of color, who face higher rates of poverty, homelessness, violence and H.I.V. infection, research has shown.“They’ve been discriminated against being able to find formal employment because of their transition, how they look,” said Felipe Flores, founder of the Queer and Trans People of Color (QTPOC) program at Strut, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s health and community center.As the coronavirus pandemic ravages the country, there are concerns that an already marginalized group will be further left behind, according to interviews with more than a dozen experts who work with the transgender population.“Transgender people are going to be more harmed by the impact on the economy than other L.G.B.T. people,” said Rebecca Rolfe, executive director of the San Francisco LGBT Center. “People who are most marginalized are going to be most impacted. They’re going to be the last hired, the lowest paid.”The center runs the Trans Employment Program, which over the past 12 years has helped more than 1,000 transgender people with job assistance.The obstacles — even before Covid-19 — were daunting. While studies show that white gay men experience levels of poverty similar to heterosexual men, transgender people of color are six times more likely than the national average to be unemployed, and “five times more likely to have incomes of less than $24,000,” Ms. Rolfe said.Before the pandemic, many transgender people of color who failed to find traditional jobs turned to sex work, according to advocates, and some have continued despite the virus risks.They “are still engaging in sex work because that’s still their primary form of income,” said Mr. Flores.“They can’t negotiate social distancing methods because they still have to generate income,” Mr. Flores said. “They don’t have access to other forms of income.”Naomi Wright, who does community outreach for the San Francisco LGBT Center, said a client who was a sex worker became ill in early March with Covid-19 symptoms.“Not only could they not afford going to the hospital, but they didn’t have health insurance,” Ms. Wright said.The exact impact of Covid-19 on the L.G.B.T.Q. community is not known, at least in part because state and federal agencies are not collecting information. California, for example, did not collect data about sexual orientation and gender identification in pandemic statistics.But another source is sounding the alarm.The national Trans Lifeline handles 75,000 calls annually from transgender people, connecting them with transgender operators for help and conversation. Since the pandemic calls have increased and taken on new urgency.

Updated June 12, 2020

Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?
So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?
Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

How does blood type influence coronavirus?
A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?
The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?
Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?
Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?
States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

How can I protect myself while flying?
If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

Should I wear a mask?
The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

What should I do if I feel sick?
If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

“We’ve seen four to five times as many calls about unemployment and about workplace discrimination,” said Elena Rose Vera, the hotline’s executive director. Calls about domestic violence and health care increased 300 percent, because of lockdown-related hurdles to accessing treatments and medications, Ms. Vera said.Organizations are rallying to intervene.The Alliance Health Project, which provides mental health services to San Francisco’s L.G.B.T.Q. community, has shifted to provide therapy by video chat or phone, and is offering phones to homeless clients.In Los Angeles the “Covid-19 Mutual Aid Fund for LGBTQI+ BIPOC Folks” on GoFundMe raised more than $253,000; it was distributed, mostly nationally, to more than 2,500 in need.“Trans, gender nonconforming, nonbinary people of color were going to fall through the cracks in this moment,” said Amita Swadhin, the fund’s organizer.Those individual grants are small, generally $100, but such gestures can have an outsized impact for transgender people, who often feel isolated.Sammie Ablaza Wills, a 25-years-old person who identifies as nonbinary (and uses the pronouns they and them), grew up in poverty in Las Vegas and now lives in the Bay Area. “My teachers would help bring food for me to eat at school because they knew I didn’t have much access to food,” they said.Those kindnesses led to a scholarship at Stanford University and a job as director of API Equality — Northern California, a group fighting discrimination of L.G.B.T.Q. Asian and Pacific Islander people, a problem exacerbated by a rise in anti-Asian bigotry during the pandemic.“What the Covid-19 moment is showing us is that the inequality that existed before the crisis is only heightened and magnified during the crisis,” they said.Ms. Villajin is also helping during the pandemic. After her initial struggles as a teenager, she’s now an advocate for people with mental health issues. And as the drag performer Pearle Teese she curates Trans Voices, a community-building event at Strut.“I think a lot of us need some kind of help and I am someone who needed that help when I was younger and I didn’t have it,” she said.

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