While all the arenas of our lives have undergone tremendous change in these last few weeks as many of us were forced to pack up and head home from school, it’s imperative that we check in on the communities impacted most by the coronavirus. While quarantine and stay-in-place orders may provide exciting or relaxing family time for some, many in the LGBTQ+ community are faced with difficult home situations. In a community plagued by ostracization and disproportionately high levels of mental illness, isolation can be particularly lonely and damaging as many of us have established new identities and support systems away from home. 

It’s easy to sink into depressive episodes or feel unsupported in isolation as the quick departure from campus and a lack of stability in educational routines has left many without closure. While sitting in bed all day and watching lectures or streaming services seems to be the new norm, it’s important to ensure those in your support system and friend groups are still connected and functioning. Many of the symptoms associated with depression and depressive episodes consist of feelings of hopelessness, loss of interest in activities, irregular eating patterns and persistence of empty moods, all of which can be compounded by the current pandemic and isolation. All of these feelings and symptoms are all too familiar for LGBTQ+ individuals, 80 percent of whom reported feelings of depression in the last week.

Only one in four LGBTQ+ youth identify having families that support them at home, while 78 percent cited not being out to their families due to negative comments surrounding their identities. In a quarantined environment, LGBTQ+ individuals will likely find unsupportive family systems that can exacerbate feelings of isolation and loneliness. Many in our community find alternative homes when they move out for the first time and can pursue new avenues to express their identity. Coming home to histories of unsupportive communities or family systems can be extremely difficult for LGBTQ+ individuals, and we rely on those in our support systems, schools or social circles to uplift us in times of isolation and discrimination. 

The presence of depression and mental illness in the LGBTQ+ community is all too common due to stigma and discrimination, in both youth and adult individuals. 31.5 percent of LGBTQ+ youth cited being so hopeless or sad they had stopped doing their usual activities, which can translate into our current day-to-day uncertainties about the COVID-19 pandemic. With higher rates of mental illness, suicide and homelessness than the general population, the LGBTQ+ community is uniquely at risk in times of separation like these. Further, the LGBTQ+ community is far too familiar with stigmatization and isolation in public health emergencies — as we saw in the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Throughout the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the federal government largely ignored the LGBTQ+ community, resulting in massive losses and distrust in many of the institutions intended to protect those at risk. With an abysmal past in epidemic conditions, coupled with the current administration’s war on LGBTQ+ rights, the community can tend to feel lost and reluctant to reach out for support from institutions and support groups.

In response to struggles at home and stigmas surrounding our identities, many LGBTQ+ individuals move to create “chosen families.” The “chosen family” stems from ballroom culture in New York City but has taken on a new form for many LGBTQ+ individuals. A chosen family serves as a support system separate from the biological family or home. Many LGBTQ+-identifying individuals find themselves creating a family in college when they are away and able to build a system that supports them and allows them to explore their identities in a loving environment. These chosen families stand in for the reinforcement and direction that many lack at home but, with online courses and mandates to return home, many have found themselves separated from their families. 

Many LGBTQ+ individuals rely on their support systems and chosen families for support in times of uncertainty, so reach out to your LGBTQ+ friends and family. With so many symptoms masking themselves in status-quo quarantine behavior, go out of your way to FaceTime and check in with your friends who might not have support systems outside of those at school or in their chosen communities. The same goes for other at-risk communities and those without the resources necessary to maintain a healthy mindset in times of chaos and uncertainty. It is imperative we support our LGBTQ+ family, especially as we find ourselves in uncomfortable environments without the institutional or societal support that those with mainstream identities benefit from.

Owen Stecco can be reached at ostecco@umich.edu.

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