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COVID-19 caused reduced access to gender-affirming care for trans, non-binary people: Survey

EDMONTON — Many transgender and non-binary people across the world faced reduced access to gender-affirming resources during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, causing a decline in overall mental health and furthering the health-care inequalities faced by these individuals, according to a new survey.

The survey, which includes data from 964 transgender and non-binary adults from 76 countries, showed that about half of the participants faced reduced access to gender-affirming resources from April to August 2020, when the survey was conducted.

Nearly 40 per cent said that the pandemic reduced their ability to live according to their gender.

“Transgender communities, who already face a myriad of health inequities, experienced even further health burdens due to restrictions imposed during COVID, like reduced access to gender-affirming treatments and mental health resources,” wrote study author Brooke Jarrett of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in a press release.

“To move forward, we need to support trans communities with policies that make gender-affirming health care affordable, accessible, and recognized as essential.”

Using LGBTQ2S+ dating apps Hornet and Her as the survey platform, researchers asked participants questions about how the pandemic had affected their access to gender-affirming resources, mental health, and financial stability.

Citing several other studies conducted over the course of the pandemic, Jarrett says there was mounting evidence to suggest that measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 exacerbated the health-care challenges faced by trans and non-binary people – from the cancellation of gender-affirming surgeries that were perceived to be elective, or having to move in with unsupportive relatives and spend more time living according to their sex assigned at birth instead of their actual gender.

Analysis of the submissions, broken down into continental regions, revealed that many trans and non-binary people anticipated financial hardships during the pandemic, such as possible reduced income and the loss of health insurance.

Those who reported reduced access to gender-affirming resources were also more likely to report symptoms of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.

In the “Americas” region, 60 per cent of participants reported reduced access to gender-affirming resources, with 40 per cent reporting a reduction in hormone therapy and/or gender-affirming medication.

More than 45 per cent reported losing access to things like cosmetic supplies and services such as makeup, wigs, and hair removal – all of which can play an important role in gender-affirmation for those that identify as trans or non-binary.

“The entire spectrum of gender-affirming resources and services— from haircuts to hormone therapy to surgery—are crucial to transgender and non-binary individuals, as these resources and services activate and enhance the interactive process of receiving recognition for one’s gender, sense of self, and sense of humanity,” reads the study.

“Given the abundant pre-COVID literature that gender affirmation also leads to better mental health and quality of life, our data underscore the importance of securing access to these essential resources and services to support the mental health of transgender and non- binary individuals during the COVID-19 crisis.”

The pandemic-specific report echoes some of the same concerns brought to light in a March 2020 national study on trans health in Canada.

The report published by Trans PULSE, the largest national study on health care for trans people in Canada, found that trans and non-binary Canadians still face under-employment, issues having their health-care needs met, and fear of harassment that leads many to avoid certain public spaces.

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