For LGBT+ Pride 2020, the Mental Health Foundation joins the call for ‘Acts of Allyship’ with all LGBT+ people.
Pride offers an opportunity to reflect on how identities often intersect, because of the many ways that LGBT+ people identify, and the diverse communities to which they are connected (ethnic, religious, national, geographic, etc).
In this way, intersections of identity are also points of community overlap, and offer a means of seeing how our communities are connected.
This is reflected in the activists past and present who have led the movements for LGBT+ equality and racial justice – among them Marsha P Johnson, Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors.
It feels important and timely to assert our shared humanity at the height of a pandemic, particularly when we are not all equally affected by it.
As a public health charity, we know that the risk of developing poor mental health is not evenly distributed in our society. In principle, any of us can be affected, but in practice the most disadvantaged communities are at the greatest risk of becoming unwell.
And this risk pattern is being replicated in the context of the global pandemic. Communities already experiencing economic and social marginalisation are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, and being impacted by its broader consequences, including unemployment and economic hardship. These factors, in turn, can have enormous consequences for people’s mental health.
Discrimination and social marginalisation are public health issues. And it is important to acknowledge that the pandemic has particularly acute mental and physical health consequences for some LGBT+ communities.
There is, however, a chronic and systemic underrepresentation of LGBT+ communities in research for reasons that are structural and complex. This has led to a smaller evidence base on the experience of mental ill-health of these disadvantaged communities and we should be careful not to associate this smaller body of research and the relative lack of data with the actual very real disproportionate risk LGBT+ communities are exposed to.
But people are multifaceted, and perhaps focusing on one aspect of group identity or experience at the expense of another can sometimes mean we miss a more detailed and diverse understanding of how things like life experiences, disability, sexual orientation, gender and gender identity, and racial or ethnic identity interact to affect people’s mental health.
For example, before the pandemic LGBT+ people were already at higher risk for poor mental health, but young LGBT+ people, trans people and BAME LGBT+ people reported particularly high rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation.
The mental health consequences of the pandemic are expected to be acute across society, but may be that much more severe among LGBT+ people, particularly those at additional risk.
There is evidence that some young LGBT+ people have been forced back into family homes where they have experienced homophobic treatment. Some will have been living with unaccepting family prior to lockdown, but will not have had the same access to their normal sources of support.
LGBT+ people in later life are less likely to have children and more likely to live alone. The resultant isolation is an additional risk factor for poor mental health during and after the lockdown period.
And it has been documented that BAME communities are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and dying from it, placing LGBT+ BAME communities at even greater risk as well.
To address these inequalities we are called to action. And allyship can lay the foundation for us to begin to redress the unequal circumstances that give rise to these divergent health outcomes.
Allyship can take many forms, some of which have been highlighted by the #YouMeUsWe campaign.
But the practice of allyship also relies on listening to those most affected by marginalisation, and acting according to what they say they need.
As an organisation we commit to practice allyship accordingly. In our workplaces, we want them to be a safe space for everyone regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. In our work, we want LGBT+ people leading innovations and solutions for LGBT+ people, based on the principles of co-production.
At MHF we have over a decade of experience facilitating peer-support for the improvement of mental health. The reflective and intentional practice of allyship is an opportunity to expand our notion of who are our peers, and dissolve distinctions of ‘us’ and ‘them’ to which we might subscribe, however unconsciously.
As an evidence-led, public mental health charity, we know that being kind to others can be good for your mental health. When we reach out to offer support to others, we often feel more connected, less isolated and generally happier. In this way, allyship is a contribution to ourselves as well as a contribution to others, and our society as a whole.