In the absence of state and federal demographic data, Pa.’s LGBTQ community conducts its own research

By: - May 15, 2021 7:31 am

JCAA resident Mary Groce receives her first Covid-19 vaccine dose (Philadelphia Gay News photo)

A new report is shedding light on the barriers that LGBTQ Pennsylvanians face when they’re trying to access the COVID-19 vaccine, and it tallies up the number of those residents who still might be hesitant to get the shot.

In the absence of state and federal demographic data researchers at Bryn Mawr College and the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown decided to move on their own. 

Partnering with other LGBTQ community centers and community organizations, they canvassed 1,545 respondents across 413 zip codes and 56 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. It was conducted statewide from March 4 – April 5.

The report found that the majority of LGBTQ Pennsylvanians are adhering to public health guidelines regarding COVID-19. 

In fact, 97.8 percent of LGBTQ Pennsylvanians said they “often or always wear a mask” in public, and 94.9 percent said they “often or always” practice social distancing. 

“It is always exciting to see how resilient our community is,” Adrian Shanker, executive director of the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown said.

More than half of all respondents (54 percent) said they had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. 

Of Black LGBTQ Pennsylvanians, 57.5 percent had not been vaccinated compared to 45.8 percent of all LGBTQ Pennsylvanians, the report found, noting that Black LGBTQ Pennsylvanians are accessing COVID-19 vaccinations at a lower rate than the community at large, and “display more hesitancy than other LGBTQ Pennsylvanians.”

In respondents who were hesitant to receive the vaccine, 58.7 percent reported having “concerns about safety,” 38 percent said they felt other people needed the vaccine more than them and 35.9 percent had concerns about the vaccines’ effectiveness. 

Shanker said the concerns about others needing a vaccine more urgently highlights the “communitarian idea” of LGBTQ Pennsylvanians, adding that better education is “clearly needed” to help individuals understand that getting vaccinated protects the whole community.

Researchers also included four recommendations to help get COVID-19 vaccines to LGBTQ Pennsylvanians. 

  • “Vaccines should be offered at LGBTQ+-affirming community-based sites to address the barriers to care that may inhibit LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians from seeking vaccinations from more traditional healthcare providers;
  • “Trusted messenger strategies should be utilized to provide tailored information to LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians about where vaccines are available and how to make an appointment. Such outreach campaigns should also address misinformation about costs and side effects of the vaccines;
  • “Public health professionals and healthcare providers should partner with LGBTQ+ community-based organizations to utilize an intersectional approach to addressing vaccine hesitancy that acknowledges and responds to the unique concerns of Black LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians;
  • “Pennsylvania Department of Health and the CDC should prioritize sexual orientation and gender identity data collection for COVID-19 vaccine tracking,” the document reads. 

In February, the Capital-Star reported that LGBTQ community leaders and advocates were dismayed at the lack of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) demographic data in state and federal health data. 

‘When they don’t count us, we don’t count.’ LGBTQ leaders ask state health officials for more data on COVID-19 vaccinations

The data, advocates argued, is essential to making COVID-19 vaccine distribution more equitable, providing valuable information on who is receiving vaccines, who is not, and why. 

Frustrated by the lack of data, they set out to collect the data on their own. 

“It should have been included from day one,” Shanker told the Capital-Star. 

Dr. Kathleen “Kat” Carrick, a researcher and adjunct faculty member at Bryn Mawr College, who worked on the report, said this survey is the “first of many.” In fact, Carrick is already working with researchers in other states to develop similar surveys. 

“It’s a start of having a better understanding of how the LGBTQ community is impacted by COVID,” Carrick told the Capital-Star. “If we help one person not get COVID or get linked up to a resource they did not know about, it’s worth it.”

Shanker and Carrick argued that SOGI vaccine data would be preferred and welcomed at the state and national level, but in the absence of that data, reports such as these are necessary to fill the void. 

The CDC not collecting SOGI data “sends a real clear message to the state’s that that data’s not important,” Carrick said.

Agreeing, Shanker said, “I hope that it [the report] inspires a renewed interest in adding sexual orientation and gender identity” to collected demographic data. “We need to make sure we are invested in vaccine efforts that help all of us.”

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.