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Out in the Bay: A year into COVID, how are LGBTQs coping?

by Eric Jansen

Ryan Horvath, left is past co-president and Chelsea DeMarte is a current co-president of Gaylesta, the Psychotherapist Association for Gender & Sexual Diversity. Photo: Courtesy Horvath and DeMarte
Ryan Horvath, left is past co-president and Chelsea DeMarte is a current co-president of Gaylesta, the Psychotherapist Association for Gender & Sexual Diversity. Photo: Courtesy Horvath and DeMarte  

How has COVID-19 — and the political and societal turmoil of the past year — affected our mental health? How are LGBTQs coping?

Even as some Bay Area counties enter the less-restrictive orange tier, our social connections have been severely limited for more than a year, and will likely continue to be for a while with troubling virus variants and the limited vaccine supply hampering efforts to get shots into arms. Many people have lost income, homes or both; some have lost loved ones.

All this on top of four years of anti-queer politics by the Trump administration, an incredibly divisive national election, a long overdue reckoning with systemic racism, and here in the West, intense wildfires — remember the eerie orange day last year when we never saw the sun?

It's no wonder so many of us feel anxious and depressed.

On this week's Out in the Bay radio show and podcast, Oakland-based psychotherapists Chelsea DeMarte and Ryan Horvath assess our situation and give coping tips. DeMarte is a current co-president of Gaylesta, the Psychotherapist Association for Gender & Sexual Diversity; Horvath is a past co-president.

Mental health challenges people already faced have been exacerbated by the isolation, financial, and/or working-from-home-related stress that the pandemic has brought on, said the pair, and are compounded by the fact that many of our usual coping strategies — primarily being able to go out and socialize — have been taken away.

The recent one-year mark of shelter-in-place orders was a trauma trigger. People are getting "more depressed, have a little more apathy and lack of motivation, and they don't know why," DeMarte said. "This is often common for us psychologically when we hit anniversary dates of things that are traumatic."

Queer and trans people must also cope with minority stress — constant, pervasive pressure that goes along with being part of a marginalized group that DeMarte said was exacerbated by "the very discriminatory and hateful policies and rhetoric that came out of the previous administration."

One group especially affected by the COVID pandemic is people who lived through the early days of AIDS, when "people were terrified of how to interact with their loved ones and how to interact socially. We've found ourselves back in that situation," Horvath said. "The isolation, in a community that thrives on a chosen family, is really impacting peoples' ability to cope."

Young queers also have specific COVID challenges. According to a Trevor Project survey, last year more than half of LGBTQ youth 13-24 were "sheltering" in homes that they considered not LGBTQ-affirming, and Horvath said that many are still stuck living with family "who are implicitly or overtly homophobic." Without their usual social networks, he said many youth are "left really struggling."

Both stress self-compassion: "Everyone is going through a hard time," said DeMarte. "We may not be all in the same boat, but we're going through the same storm."

Horvath advises keeping pre-COVID daily habits: "Brush your teeth, shower, and if you can, get outside — even if just for a minute — to get some sun on your face." These and other basic activities "can definitely improve your mental health."

Hear more from therapists DeMarte and Horvath on this week's Out in the Bay. The program airs 9:30 a.m. Saturday, March 27, on KSFP, 102.5 FM in SF only, and at 10 p.m. Tuesday, March 30, on KALW, 91.7 FM throughout the Bay Area. Or listen anytime from anywhere on Out in the Bay's website.

Eric Jansen hosts and co-produces Out in the Bay — Queer Radio from San Francisco. Learn more and listen at https://www.outinthebay.org/

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