LGBTQIA People Face Unique Barriers To COVID-19 Care

April 17, 2020

Congressional candidate Bre Kidman says profit-driven medicine depends on maintaining the unequal access to healthcare faced by trans, LGBTQ, and other marginalized groups.

Congressional candidate Bre Kidman says profit-driven medicine depends on maintaining the unequal access to healthcare faced by trans, LGBTQ, and other marginalized groups.


Protesters block the street in front of the Supreme Court as it hears arguments on whether gay and transgender people are covered by a federal law barring employment discrimination on the basis of sex on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019. Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Story Transcript

This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.

Kim Brown: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Kim Brown. Marginalized communities are being hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the disabled, black, and indigenous populations. But what about the gay community? Historically, facing societal scorn, neglect, and violence, the LGBTQIA community faces unique barriers in accessing care. So to get some more details about that and to understand exactly how this community is being impacted during the pandemic, we’re joined today on the line with Bre Kidman. Bre is the first non-binary person in US history to run for the Senate. They are an attorney, activist, and artist in Maine and are seeking the Democratic nomination to oppose Susan Collins this fall for the US Senate seat. And Bre joins us today from Southern Maine. Bre, thank you so much for being here.

Bre Kidman: Thanks for having me.

Kim Brown: So there’s a lot to get into this discussion. And I wanted to start first about accessibility when it comes to getting healthcare, when it comes to getting a diagnosis. Obviously the pandemic is putting more pressure on many marginalized communities, but how is the gay community feeling this uniquely?

Bre Kidman: So I’m going to borrow this from a headline from a piece that I talked to someone about a week or two ago and that’s that the Coronavirus isn’t transphobic, but our healthcare system is. So the 2015 US Trans Survey gave us some really devastating statistics about trans people in particular and their access to healthcare in that I think it was one in five, and I don’t have the statistics in front of me, I’m sorry, but I think it was one in five people who are trans who have been turned away from doctor’s office for care regardless of whether that care is related to transition purposes. The end result is that particularly trans people, and I think across the broader LGBTQ community, healthcare access has been a problem. So when we’re looking at access to care for this specific pandemic, you see states where they’ve expanded, all insurance carriers must cover testing. But if you don’t have insurance that doesn’t help you. In addition to just animus based provider discrimination or provider discrimination based on lack of knowledge. We see people who we get denied care because doctors don’t know how that’ll interact with hormones. And these are standards of care that have been out for a long time. Like W Path has been available. But there are a lot of medical professionals who just say, “No, I don’t treat people who are like that,” and kind of are skittish about it.

And that’s not to say that everyone is, but when we’re talking about discrimination, this is a population of people who already face a high barrier of care for even basic health care services. So we see concerns about just going to the doctor. I think it’s one in three trans people have avoided going to the doctor for regular care. So kind of a hesitancy about receiving medical care. But also reluctance on the part of the provider. And also a darker realm of thinking that I hesitate to even say out loud because it makes me anxious that I might bring it into existence by saying it, but the idea that guidelines about prioritization for things like ventilators notably doesn’t include discrimination on the basis of gender identity. So there aren’t protections in place for the trans community when we’re talking about decisions that are life and death in this crisis being made.

Kim Brown: And I want to apologize because I did not mean to conflate the gay community and the trans community. I know they’re under a big umbrella together, but the issues are very different and unique. So let me apologize for conflating the two. But I wanted to follow up because I know you say you didn’t have exact statistics, but I’m curious whether or not people have shared with you their anecdotal experiences, their individual experiences with the medical community, I guess pre-COVID and now post-COVID.

Bre Kidman: Yeah, anecdotally, most of the people I know have experienced some form of provider discrimination even over the last five years, some form of, “I have to find a new doctor because my doctor doesn’t know how to deal with transition.” But also post-COVID, I’ve heard from a number of non-binary people, even just in the state of Maine, where there’d be calls about wellness services coming around from the main CDC, and they’ll ask, “Do you identify… Or are you a man or are you a woman? Are you male or female? What’s your sex?” And I had a friend who said, “Well I’m non binary, so neither.” And they were like, “Yeah, but what’s your legal gender?” And my friend said, “Well Maine recognizes X gender. That’s what it says on my driver’s license. My gender is non binary.” And they said, “Okay, well thank you for your time,” and hung up, disconnected the call, just didn’t want any further data from them.

And I think we see that also on a broader scale in terms of statistical data collection about COVID-19. This is a couple of weeks old now and this data is changing so rapidly, but a couple of weeks ago there were zero non-binary cases of COVID-19, and I don’t think that’s because there are no non-binary people who have had it. I think that’s because there’s not data being collected on the basis of appropriate gender markers.

Kim Brown: So I want to talk to you about how your platform as you are running for Senate seeking to oppose Senator Susan Collins, who’s the longtime incumbent, she seems to have enemies like everywhere, no one seems to really like Susan Collins on either side of the aisle. So I can see how you would aim to replace her. But on a federal level, what can be done federally to ensure and guarantee the civil rights, the right to access for equal treatment by the medical community for gay, trans, and non-binary people?

Bre Kidman: Well, so a couple, and there’s a couple of different routes that I could take with this, but the one that is kind of closest to me personally is we need representation at our federal level. The proportionality of even gay and lesbian and bisexual legislators is well below a figure that represents the general population. And there has never been a trans person in either the House or the Senate. So there have been studies that have shown that having an LGBT person just in the room of a legislative body makes that legislative body more likely to pass legislation that is friendly towards LGBT people and less likely to pass discriminatory legislation against LGBT people.

And I think that’s because when legislators have to look someone in the eye before taking away their rights, it gets a little bit harder to do it. So I think one of the biggest ways to get more legislation that is helpful for LGBTQ people is to let us make the legislation. That said, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that Medicare For All would also go a long way for this. If we had universal healthcare, if we weren’t wrestling with insurance companies and all the different corporate sets of values that come with different insurance providers around how we receive and get care paid for, if it was kind of a blanket everyone gets care, then I think it gets easier to address different disparities of care because we’re at a baseline where everyone gets care and so now the standards of care are… We assume everyone is going to be taken care of, how do we make sure that all of these different groups who have had health disparities are cared for appropriately? I think standards like W Path and kind of that greater awareness.

Could it be implemented in the current healthcare system? Yes. Should it be implemented in the current healthcare system? Yes. And also if we’re not also wrangling with health insurance companies to figure out how the care is going to be paid for or what care each kind of person is worthy of receiving based on the tier of health insurance they get, it makes it a lot easier to make those decisions based on the wellbeing of the individual and not on the profit motive. Having a program like Medicare For All creates opportunities to kind of cautify anti-discrimination provisions that have kind of been under attack. Like with the Affordable Care Act, we’ve seen the Trump administration repeatedly try to walk back protections on the basis of gender identity and I think also sexual orientation. So we’ve seen those protections kind of get poked at and chipped away at even if not necessarily kind of followed through on that destruction. And I think when we have a baseline that is everyone receives care no matter who you are or how much money you have or what plan you have, everyone is we’re going to get the healthcare that they need.

Kim Brown: I hate to happen here because I wanted to ask you about Medicare For All, because as proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders, his Medicare For All proposal includes transitional surgeries for trans people and also access to mental health services for people who are going through that transition. And it seems as if opposition to Medicare For All, perhaps by the Democratic establishment at large, not necessarily the progressive wing that Bernie Sanders represents, it could be perceived as homophobic. Because their opposition to this is going to specifically harm not just the gay and trans communities, but black community as well, a group of people who have historically been denied equal access to healthcare treatment and testing, etc. Is it homophobic that Medicare For All is not being adopted by the Dem establishment?

Bre Kidman: Yeah, in a broader sense, homophobic and transphobic, I think the way that I would frame that is by saying groups that are marginalized and things like employment and things like access to housing and things like access to wealth, essentially any group that has a disparity with regard to access to wealth is being further marginalized by a lack of access to healthcare. And so when we look at legislators who oppose Medicare For All, we’re looking at people who don’t actually want to close those disparities. Those healthcare disparities are going to exist for as long as healthcare is tied to profit and access to wealth.

Kim Brown: You’re talking about institutional systemic issues and barriers that have been placed against entire communities really since the inception of this country. It’s only now that we are finally starting to flicker awake a little bit with how we view the value of bringing everyone and making sure that every person in this country, undocumented, regardless of the race, sexual orientation, etc., that people have access to basically what we paid for in America.

Bre Kidman: And I think it’s tough to talk about these things without looking at how they’re interconnected. You see the LGBTQ people have higher rates of homelessness than the general population. You see that mass incarceration impacts access to future earnings. All of these different things relate to one another. And so in a society that bases your access to healthcare on your access to wealth, any of these different factors that impact access to wealth are necessarily going to impact access to healthcare. And particularly now where we’re waiting for the Supreme Court to come back on whether you can discriminate against someone for being LGBTQ in the workplace, that disparity stands to actually get even more stark without a universal healthcare solution.

Kim Brown: You know, I wanted to ask you about mutual aid in the time of a pandemic, how many marginalized communities are reaching out, engaging with one another, helping one another access food, medicine, a variety of essential needs that people rely on in order to survive. And the gay and trans community is obviously no exception to that. But honestly, between gay and trans communities, they have really set the bar for reaching out and helping one another, because oftentimes people in positions of governmental authority, were not accessible to them or not responsive to the needs of those communities. And there were and are laws still on the books that actively discriminate. So talk to us about the role that mutual aid and grassroots organizations are playing at this pivotal moment right now.

Bre Kidman: Yeah. So if there is kind of a silver lining to the cloud of existing disparities that disadvantage LGBTQ people in this pandemic, I think that silver lining is that we’ve always had to care for our own. We have a long and storied tradition of grassroots organizing, of coming together to care for our community, of building those networks to be supportive networks. To some extent some of that infrastructure is already built for us. And so we see that with those connections that exist. You have community centers, you have community health centers, you have support groups. And kind of in a lot of cities, at least in the Portland area where I live, there are already kind of those online communities and also kind of networks of people who are used to gathering to support one another as society fails to meet our needs.

And so that continues on through this. I think those networks are a little strained, more strained than they would normally be because everyone is under a lot of strain right now. But I think the fact that those things have always existed is kind of a resiliency that we have to leverage during this time. Because connecting with your neighbors and making sure that your friends, your neighbors, your community have what they need is something that we have always had to do.

Kim Brown: So let’s talk about the politics of the race right now. You are in a race for the US Senate. It should be an interesting fight there in Maine. You have a number of different opponents. And on your Facebook page you took a shot at one of your opponents, Sarah Gideon, in a post that she made about COVID-19. It included a link for donations to her campaign. If you could share with us what your campaign and what you have been doing to outreach to people and to help people during this very just unusual and critical time period that we find ourselves in.

Bre Kidman: Yeah. So from the start of this race, really even one of the reasons that I am running or that I’m doing this is the idea that it is normal and expected to spend millions of dollars on advertising and millions of dollars on acquiring donor lists to get more money. And the idea that how much money you have and how much money you spend on objects that will ultimately be worthless at the end of the campaign, that that is how we judge viability and that’s how we judge the strength of a candidate, that makes me sick. I can’t stand it. And I wanted to change it. I wanted to be the kind of candidate that I had hoped to see. So I said, “Okay, how do we do that?”

And so from very early in this campaign, our plan was always to use kind of the seed money that we had gathered, which was less than $10,000 which is not a lot, but it’s not nothing, so to use that money to have fundraisers for local charities all over Maine in hopes that just doing good things in the community and having people talk about those good things, that doing good speaks for itself and is more powerful than another TV ad that says nothing. And so as this crisis kind of unfolded in Maine, I realized pretty quickly that I couldn’t have a whole bunch of in-person fundraisers, and also I realized pretty quickly that there was going to be a need for direct support.

And so what I did was I signed up to be involved with a couple of mutual aid projects in my community. And in doing so, basically what we’ve done instead of holding these fundraisers is use our campaign funds to directly provide for people who are struggling. So I’ve done a bunch of grocery runs for people who can’t go to the grocery store because they’re immunocompromised or otherwise struggle with transportation and can’t buy groceries. So I’ve just gone and picked up groceries for them. I’ve sent grocery cards to people who are having difficulty because they’re out of work. And essentially we’re just using the funds that we have to provide for people. And the thing is, yeah, I can go a pretty long way with, I think it was around $6,000. But can you imagine if these campaigns who had millions of dollars put even $100,000 into this, how much further it would go?

They’re making these videos saying, “We’re solving this crisis, we’re in this together.” But they’re still asking you to give you their money. They’re not giving anything back to you. And I think that’s disingenuous. And frankly, I think it’s gross. Why would you trust someone who comes to you with their hand out when such a huge percentage of our population is unemployed and struggling right now? I think that the fact that that’s, the norm, that’s what we expect from our elected officials , is one of the biggest problems with our political system today. And I think we’re at a point now where this is a cheesy old quote, but like a big and important thing is to stop asking what your community can do for you and start showing up for them. So we’ve tried really hard to model that with what we’re doing and I hope to be able to continue that as the campaign goes on.

Kim Brown: Bre, just to make sure I heard you clearly, did you say you were using your campaign funds to buy groceries for people?

Bre Kidman: Yeah, no, that’s right. The FEC said it was okay.

Kim Brown: That speaks for itself, and it speaks volumes. We’re going to have to leave the conversation there. Attorney, activist, and artist, Bre Kidman, running for the democratic nomination for the US Senate seat in Maine. They have broken barriers as the first non-binary person in US history to run for the Senate. Bre, thank you so much for joining us. It’s been a fantastic conversation and opportunity to talk with you.

Bre Kidman: Thanks for talking with me.

Kim Brown: And special thanks to our producer and editor, Taylor Hebden, for all of her help on this piece. I’m Kim Brown. Thank you for watching The Real News Network.