When the shelter-in-place order went into effect to combat the spread of COVID-19, many people found themselves back at home with family members. Some welcomed the idea of spending all their time with parents, siblings, children, extended family or significant others. For members of the LGBTQ+ community, however, being confined with family may be traumatic.
While there’s a perception that more and more people widely accept the LGBTQ+ community, many are still unkind or even aggressive toward those who are not heterosexual or cisgender (where your gender identity aligns with your sex assigned at birth).
If some or all of your family is not accepting of people who identify as gay, queer, transgender or gender-nonconforming, it can create a hostile living environment. This can lead to emotional and/or physical abuse, which, in turn, may also put this population at greater risk for anxiety, suicidal thoughts and mood disorders.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. has a seen a sharp increase in domestic violence calls. And according to the Chronicle of Higher Learning, “the Trevor Project, which focuses on LGBTQ+ youth and mental health, said that the number of young people reaching out to the group’s crisis-services programs has more than doubled since the pandemic began.”
If you or someone you know is currently living in this type of situation, you can take steps to make things more comfortable and, most important, stay protected. And know that you’re not alone: There are resources available to help.
Matthew Vail, LCSW, manager of social work and patient navigation at Affirm: The Rush Center for Gender, Sexuality and Reproductive Health, offers advice on how to manage sheltering in place with family members who are not accepting of your sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Stay connected to your support system
Whether you are being forced back into the closet or are dealing with hurtful comments from family members, it’s important to remind yourself that you have people who love and support you for who you are. Your mental health should not take a back seat during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reaching out to family or friends who are accepting is a great way to stay positive during difficult times.
“Finding ways to stay connected to the people who love and support you the most is vital,” Vail says. “The last thing you want to do is isolate yourself when you may be feeling unwanted or unloved. If a parent says something triggering or hurtful, take the time to talk to your friends and ask for the support you need.”
It can be therapeutic to hang out with your friends in a judgment-free zone. Services like Zoom or Google Meet are perfect for a virtual game night or Netflix watch party — or just to get some much-needed face time.
Even if you can’t virtually get together with your friends, try talking with them on the phone as often as you can. Sometimes just hearing the voices of people you love can be soothing if you are feeling anxious or stressed, Vail says.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive living situation, don’t be afraid to reach out or seek a way out.
Don’t be afraid to get out of a bad situation
When staying with family members who are not accepting, things can easily escalate. Both emotional and physical abuse can occur. However, even in the midst of a pandemic, you have options for getting out of an abusive living situation.
“If you have concerns about your physical safety and well-being, there are resources out there for you to get emergency housing,” Vail says. For example, the city of Chicago’s new partnership with AirBnb helps those fleeing domestic violence during COVID-19. Places like Chicago House, who help the community with housing, health and employment support, as well as many other resources are still available at this time.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive living situation, don’t be afraid to reach out or seek a way out. Many LGBTQ+ community resources are still available around the clock to ensure that those in harmful situations can find somewhere safe to stay and receive any additional needed support.
Talk to a mental health provider
As the shelter-in-place directive remains, and you continue to live with someone who may not understand who you are as a person, your mental health may take a hit. Talking through your situation and emotions with a mental health professional can be beneficial — whether you’re dealing with depression or anxiety, or are in living situation that you need to get out of.
If you had a mental health support system in place before the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to maintain those connections now. And many therapists are now taking new clients virtually, so if you don’t already have a therapist, you can find someone to talk to.
“Affirm is also accessible to anyone who needs help or guidance,” Vail says. “With informational videos and a list of trusted resources, the Affirm website is a great way to find the help you may need.”
Affirm providers are available to speak with you if you need support. Valerie Tobin, CNS, in the department of psychiatry is able to see patients 21 and younger for psychotherapy. “Even though we don’t have the capacity to take on new therapy clients right now for adults over 21,” Vail says, “we do have the connections in the community to connect you to providers if needed.”
To speak to our patient care navigator or for more information about Affirm, please call (312) 563-8786.