How lockdown is affecting queer mental health
For many young LGBTQ+ people, coronavirus quarantine means leaving their chosen family, returning home and being stuck in hostile or difficult living environments, but the Albert Kennedy Trust is here to help.
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For the majority of us, our homes are a sanctuary from a pandemic that rages outside. Apart from social distancing and staying healthy, if we’re lucky, our next biggest worry is the daily boredom and what show to binge next. But for some LGBTQ+ young people, lockdown becomes especially difficult when your identity isn’t respected, understood or accepted by those you’re isolating with.
“#aktogether is our new campaign to connect young LGBTQ+ people who need support as they lockdown in hostile or difficult living environments”, Lucy Bowyer, the Services Director at the Albert Kennedy Trust (akt) tells me. First formed in Manchester back in 1989, right in the midst of the AIDS crisis -- the organisation takes its name from Albert Kennedy, a 16-year-old who died under questionable circumstances after facing homophobia -- focuses on housing young queer people safely who had faced rejection at home. Over the years it's supported over 50,000 young LGBTQ+ people in the UK who are or at risk of homelessness or living in a hostile domestic situation.
Being locked indoors can be bad for anyone's mental health, but young LGBTQ+ people, especially those with precarious home situations, are struggling especially in the midst of our current pandemic. “Some people have had to leave their community and friendship groups and live in stealth at home again. That’s a really huge, almost grief-like, process,” says Lucy.
Of course, no one enjoys social distancing weeks on end, but the effect is rather different when you’ve had to step away from your accepting, chosen family, those you can be 100% yourself around, and instead isolate indefinitely whilst policing every action and hiding your true self. Research from the University of Montreal found that ‘the closet’ has a negative effect on mental wellbeing, increasing stress hormone levels and heightening the likeliness of anxiety, depression and burnout. For trans and non-binary people the toll is especially clear. “We’ve had people contact us because they were worried about accessing the medication for their transition or they’re in spaces with people who don’t respect their gender identity and pronouns” says Lucy. akt’s services gives people a space to chat through these daily worries and microaggressions; offering methods to safely deal with them within lockdown.
The organisation are already expecting a spike in calls in a few months time. “We know that the financial impact on young people is going to be huge,“ says Lucy. “We want to make sure that we can offer a package that supports young people to help them re-establish themselves, even helping to pay for accommodation in some cases”. Even though the Government has placed a freeze on evictions, many young people worry that deferred rents alongside job losses and an overwhelmed universal credit system is just saving up a problem for a few months down the line. For many people, there is a safety net in being able to move back in with their parents, but some young queer people, unwelcome in their family homes, could sooner find themselves on the streets if evicted.
Queer people already make up a sizeable chunk of the UK homeless population. akt’s own research has found that 24% of homeless people identify as LGBTQ+ -- a vastly disproportionate figure considering a 2017 ONS study found only 2% of the UK identify as such. Although the Government has pushed local councils to find temporary housing for those on the streets, to Lucy and those actually working on the ground, this is misleading: “We’ve had to advocate quite strongly for young people who have nowhere to go”. She notes that the problem is that the majority of the homeless population are unseen. “If we’re talking about rough sleeping, then yes lots of homeless people are being helped during this crisis but that’s only if they sleep rough, the vast majority don’t,” she says.
“LGBTQ+ young people are really vulnerable because a lot of them will use hookup apps to meet somebody and stay there for the night or stay in chillouts or chem-sex parties,“ Lucy explains. “People often don't recognise that as homelessness because they always find somewhere to spend the night but eventually that runs out and with this current crisis, even more quickly. They need something urgently.”
While akt advocate for those desperately needing accommodation and offer support in navigating hostile home environments, they’re also trying to keep the community connected and boost morale. “One of the things we are trying to do is recreate queer spaces digitally,” says Lucy, pointing to their Saturday talks and Q&As with Drag Queens and Influencers. They’re not the only ones and for the community, these spaces offer a glimmer of joy. “As a performer it had been so hard losing all my gigs, I missed it so much and with all the negativity taking place right now with the virus, I just thought everyone needed some positivity,” says Sophia Stardust, a queen who hosts Sophia’s Saturday Night Shablam weekly at 7pm on her Instagram live. “It’s also really nice for those who are under 18 and unable to come to our shows in real life anyway as it gives them the opportunity to actually see us perform”.
For those whose lockdown environments can feel as toxic as the outside world, these digital spaces offer an escape from reality and a chance to connect with other queer people. “Sometimes it can feel really lonely but please don’t feel like you’re on your own” says Lucy. “Get in contact with us and chat to people who have been where you are right now”. She also asks that allies of the community donate and spread the word about akt’s services. “If you come across people on your socials or if you have a bit of concern about a friend then please tell us or let them know we are here because it really does help.”
akt can be contacted via the live chat pop-up on their website from 10am-6pm weekdays and Saturdays after Instagram events. You can also refer yourself or someone else at any time through the forms also on the site.