21  MAR K.A. Simpson


COVID-19, the almost omnipotent disease is continuing it’s trek around the world and through our cities here in the US. As the government and medical professionals keep spouting off messages of prevention, how it is affecting the sometimes invisible LGBTQ+ communities of color is getting lost in the wind. 


We already face disproportionate health issues like heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses, which ultimately will make us bigger targets for contracting and succumbing to the coronavirus, so practicing preventative measures are crucial for our survival.

Renee Mahaffey Harris, President and C.E.O. of The Health Gap here in Greater Cincinnati, spoke with about the risks, what we need to do to stay safe and her thoughts about addressing the effects of pandemic of our community. 

“The LGBTQ+ community is at a higher risk of complications due to COVID-19 for three main reasons,” said Harris. “Smoking, having a higher risk of HIV/AIDS and healthcare discrimination.” 


The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a new virus. The disease causes respiratory illness (like the flu) with symptoms such as a cough,fever, and in more severe cases, difficulty breathing.

Originating in China, the disease has rapidly spread across the globe and, as of the publication of this article, has caused more than a fifth of Americans ordered to stay home with public gathering places largely shut down as US health officials issue warnings about the spread of the coronavirus.

Already, about 75 million residents of Connecticut, Illinois, New York and California have been directed to sequester, with only essential workers allowed away from home. 


“Smoking is prevalent,” Harris goes on to say, “because the LGBTQ+ community smokes at a rate close to 50% greater than the general community which can be further detrimental with a respiratory illness like COVID-19. In addition, smoking reduces immunity to respiratory disease and extends the recovery period.”



According to the journal Scientific American, although there have not been many studies investigating this link specifically, a wealth of evidence suggests that smoking suppresses immune function in the lungs and triggers inflammation. For example, one of Israel’s few coronavirus patients to be listed as serious is a 38-year-old man and according to reports, the severity of his condition — unusual for a man of his age — was linked by doctors to the fact that he is a smoker.


“Another factor,” Harris says, “is that members of the LGBTQ+ community are at a higher risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and have higher numbers of members with HIV and Cancer, both of which lead to compromised immune systems – leaving members vulnerable to potentially fatal complications. Also, healthcare discrimination, including denial of care and provider biases and attitudes, creates an environment where members of this community are reluctant to seek medical



According to The Center for American Progress, the LGBTQ+ community experiences discrimination in health care settings and that discrimination discourages us from seeking care. Also, the LGBTQ+ community may have trouble finding alternative services if we are turned away. 


“What's most important,” Harris concludes, “is that intersections exist between all of these risk factors for People of Color in the


LGBTQ+ community. Currently, there is a massive lack of research regarding People of Color in the LGBTQ+ community as it relates to clinical outcomes and healthcare. It is a void that needs to be filled with further research so we can better understand our communities and how we can best support and address the needs of our people. This research is especially critical for better understanding how we can close disparities in health and provide the best care for LGBTQ+ People of Color in perilous times like this.” 


For the latest on the coronavirus, contact your local health department or visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You can also visit Cincinnati's WLWT’s comprehensive coronavirus area coverage.


 22  JAN Whayne Herriford, MS, LPCC


Data from many sources confirms that sexual minorities (e.g. people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender) have higher incidence of substance abuse disorders as well as several mental health disorders (e.g. depression, eating disorders, social anxiety).  Additionally, for many people the pressure of dealing with their sexual minority status can create what’s called “minority stress” which is correlated to a number of physical and mental health related disorders. And racial minorities – particularly African Americans—have historically not accessed mental health resources as much as other racial and cultural groups, resulting in untreated disorders and more serious pathological situations. 

Just like physical health describes our body’s ability to adjust to environmental stimuli or events which challenge its functioning, mental health describes how well we respond to events in our life that challenge us mentally or emotionally.  And just as our bodies change as we grow older, so does our mental health as we learn more and gain more experience.   

Though there is no absolute way to measure it, positive mental health depends in general on our ability to successfully experience and process events that we feel are significant.  There are at least four ways that we can measure mental health:

  • The ability to express, feel and manage a range of both positive and negative emotions.  Humans are constantly exposed to situations which create emotional responses, and everyone has times when they feel challenged if not overwhelmed.  The key, though, is whether the impact of this event is significant enough that we are not able to carry out activities-of-daily-living (ADL) such as taking care of ourselves and maintaining responsibilities. Severe depression or anxiety are reactions to these kind of stressors that can be a cause of concern.  Additionally, some people turn to abuse of substances or processes (gambling, internet, etc.) as a way of coping with these feelings and this is another problematic way response. 

  • The ability to form and maintain health relationships with others.  Humans are social creatures and being able to interact with and create relationships with others is a critical and important skill.  This doesn’t pertain to extraversion versus introversion as there is no one way to develop and maintain relationships. The question is  whether you can have friendships or other relationships (including those with family) that are mutually satisfying and beneficial to all parties.




  • Ability to cope successfully with change and uncertainty.  Another given in life is that things will happen that we can’t predict or control.  It’s natural to feel anxiety or sadness as these situations emerge, but a healthy mental status gives us the tools to be able to get through the event without disruption of ADL’s or without other harmful or self-destructive actions. 

  • The ability to learn.   There are several mental health conditions, usually diagnosed in childhood, that affect a person’s ability to learn.  These are usually identified through testing or assessment and require interventions to help the person master reading, mathematics, speech or other skills.


As you look at these four general signs of mental health you see that they are not concrete or easily defined measures but are variable depending on the individual, the situation they are in and their mindset at the time.  Two people can experience the exact same situation and have totally different reactions. Whenever you feel that you are not experiencing something as well as you would like, or you see that you are unable to complete your ADL’s or are drifting towards unhealthy behaviors it might be a sign to seek help. 

Seeking help from a qualified professional, whether a physician or a counselor/therapist is important.  These people have training and experience in identifying symptoms and appropriately diagnosing conditions as well as helping identify treatment plans and options to address the symptoms and help restore people to a better functioning and happier life.  The top two predictors of success in a mental health relationship are the willingness of the client to engage and the relationship between the client and the provider. Though all qualified providers should be able to provide services to people of color and for LGBT people often it’s easier for clients to connect with a person of the same racial or ethnic background or who shares the same sexual orientation.  


Whayne Herriford, MS, LPCC is a licensed professional clinical counselor in Ohio and Kentucky and practices in both NKY and Cincinnati.  This column is intended to provide general information to people about mental health related issues and is not for diagnostic or treatment purposes.  You should always consult with a mental health professional when you have concerns about thoughts or feelings.  

If you have a question you’d like to see addressed in a future column, please send it to

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