The experiences of LGBTQ people across the UK during lockdown have been as diverse as the community itself. Married and cohabiting older gay men and lesbians have mainly felt the pandemic has had no more impact on them than on their heterosexual peers. But for many of the more than 200 respondents to the Guardian’s callout, the past few months have brought significant challenges, including weeks of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, increased isolation and deteriorating mental health.
Younger LGBTQ people reported that lockdown meant being confined with families who were unsupportive or hostile. Kate, a 24-year-old bisexual demi-girl, meaning she identifies as a woman but not completely, said moving from her flat in Glasgow back into her childhood home in Ayrshire had meant hiding her sexuality again.
“Being with parents who disagree with my very existence, with no one else or nowhere else to go for refuge, was tough,” said the visual merchandiser and sculptor. “I had to hide myself again. If I wanted to read a queer book I had to make sure I had something to hide the cover. I had to watch queer movies behind closed doors and hoped no one walked in and gawked at the screen.”
Many trans people said relatives did not respect their identities. One trans non-binary couple, Hester and Nik, who both use the pronouns they/them, spent lockdown with Hester’s parents in Suffolk, who they said “misgendered us both consistently”. Hester added: “My mum is pretty transphobic so we avoid a lot of topics, such as JK Rowling and gender-neutral toilets. It can feel invalidating, although we get on most of the time.”
For a few respondents, lockdown pushed them to demand more acceptance from their families. Huz Hussein, 31, a gay software engineer from Manchester, who lived with his family before lockdown, said being around them constantly made him feel he had “no choice but to open more about who and what I am”.
He said: “Even though I am out to my mum, dad, sisters and brother, I was fed up living two lives. I am not out to my extended family and people in the local mosque community. I told my mum I felt as though I was still living a lie and I can’t be me around those people.
“She said, ‘go tell anyone you want and I will stand by you and support you. You are my son and I love you.’ I know my mum still struggles with the idea of me being gay but every day she understands it more. And all she really wants is for me to be happy.”
Younger people, even those who were out to their parents, commonly said that going back to living with them had adversely affected their mental health. Daniel Norman, 24, a gay man from London, said his anxiety “progressively got worse” when he moved to his parents’ house in Surrey in March. “While I am out to my parents, I struggled to be away from my friends in London where I am more openly queer than I can be at home,” he said, adding that his isolation was compounded by staying in a village with no visible LGBTQ community.
“It feels like the work that queer people have put into coming out, finding community, discovering themselves has been reversed and now we have to put parts of our queer selves away when we navigate our hometowns and parents’ homes. I have only started to feel part of a community of other queer people in the past year, and was really starting to discover a lot about myself. So it was incredibly destructive to suddenly have that taken away from me.”
Norman, who was seeing a specialist LGBTQ counsellor before lockdown, was one of many respondents who expressed concerns about their mental health and the loss of access to dedicated support services. Jack Cullen, from Stepney Green, in east London, who works with LGBTQ venues such as the Glory in Haggerston, said he went to check on two friends in acute distress, one of whom talked about jumping off his balcony. Cullen drew a contrast between the lives of wealthy and privileged MPs who broke lockdown and his desire to support “a drag queen disowned by her family forced to sit in a windowless room for three months, except for a few laps around an estate where kids shout abuse at her”.
Most trans respondents said their distress was compounded by medical treatment being cancelled, including gender confirmation surgery. Hester’s partner, Nik, 27, a queer trans student physiotherapist, said the cancellation of their top surgery (bilateral mastectomy) was devastating “having jumped through many hoops to get referred to a surgeon”.
The loss of access to LGBTQ venues, such as pubs and clubs, events, such as Pride, and community services, such as youth groups and social networks, was another widespread concern. Many respondents feared the post-pandemic recession would lead to these businesses and services closing completely, as many were already in a precarious financial state.
Bronagh, a lesbian who works in media tech in London, said: “Before Covid, I made it a point to go to LGBT+ theatre, bars. Since lockdown began, just seeing fewer non-heteronormative people in daily life definitely makes you feel more like an island.”
Jamie Wake, 42, a social care bid manager from Reading, helped set up a weekly event called SaturGAY to replace the one regular LGBTQ club night in the town closed by the pandemic. “It was established to combat social isolation,” he said. “It’s a quiz night with phone-ins and entertainment. Reading is similar to other provincial towns in that several LGBT venues have closed in recent years. People underestimate the value of a local LGBT community. Dedicated safe spaces are good for mental health.”
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