Bisexual Elders and COVID-19 – At Risk, Ignored, and Our Responsibility

I walked into one of my favorite local grocery stores after depositing what could be my last real paycheck for March and saw the tell-tale signs of a community in panic. Toilet paper was gone, milk supplies running low, and other cleaning essentials wiped out. I got a text from my mother and sister, desperately on the hunt for toiletries my grandmothers needed to get through the day.

The next few weeks were the ones that really baffled me: at-risk demographics were shopping at stores and going about their days like nothing was happening. Clinging to some sort of normalcy, maybe, or just too stubborn to take any concern as health organizations published statement after statement about how important it is for the public to help “flatten the curve” of COVID-19.

Weeks later, the United States is almost blanketed in shelter-in-place orders, yet my home state refuses to issue one. Grocery stores are still flooded, home improvement centers packed, and non-essential businesses seeing patronage from almost exclusively those in their 40’s and up.

Plainly put, it’s ridiculous. Older generations are the ones that will suffer the most during this world-wide pandemic, and among them are bisexual elders.

Various studies, tracking agencies, and medical professionals have stated time and again that those most at risk are those aged 50 and up, and many of the demographics facing additional complications are those with pre-existing medical conditions, inadequate physical accessibility and accessibility opportunities (through additional sources of care), and face poverty which renders them unable to get the medical attention they so desperately need.

Encompassing all of these demographics is the bisexual community. Bisexual elders make up 2.7 million LGBTQ+ adults over 50 in the US alone; a 2015 YouGov survey found that 1% of Americans aged 50 and up are members of the bisexual community (3% identify as members of the gay and lesbian communities).

Within this 1% is a high concentration of individuals that face extreme poverty. A MAPS study from September of 2017 shows that 47%/48% of bisexual men and women (respectively) live at or below 200% of the Federal poverty line. The Caring and Aging with Pride study shows that due to this poverty and a lifetime of other disparities, bisexual adults are more likely to face increased physical limitations, bodily pain, and decreased access to health care that they need. These adults are also more likely to suffer from additional mental health problems that may lead them to self-isolate, causing many to suffer without the care of health care professionals.

Bisexuals, as a whole demographic, tend to live in poverty at higher rates than their gay and lesbian counterparts, a fact shown in multiple PAVES and MAPS studies, and live in circumstances that do not allow them access to medical help (rural housing, lack of transportation, lack of medical funding).

With 40%/36% of bisexual men and women facing disabilities, 36% of those facing unemployment, even bisexuals of middle age are at risk of being impacted by this pandemic. What that means for the community as a whole is almost half of those carrying the history and stories of the beginnings of the LGBTQ+ community, and roles of bisexuals within it, are potentially in danger of being crippled and having their stories erased forever.

Even then, why is it important to focus on the bisexual community specifically during this epidemic? Why not issue a call to arms in support of protecting and securing access for all adults within the LGBTQ+ community? It’s in the stats. Regarding previously mentioned poverty and disability numbers, the bisexual community fares much worse than their lesbian and gay counterparts. Include the fact that almost 50% of the transgender community identifies as bisexual, and has extreme disparities of their own, these numbers get even more depressing.

Bisexual elders of color are already suffering, as numbers within African American communities are proving to be worse than the numbers for non-African American individuals. In Milwaukee county, Wisconsin, 50% of reported cases and 81% of COVID-19 related deaths consisted of people of color – in a county with a black population of only 26%. These numbers are no better for cities and states reporting demographic numbers like Michigan, Illinois, and North Carolina. In Louisiana, the majority of deaths reported have happened in Orleans Parish, which is a neighborhood in which the majority of residents are people of color.

When 36% of bisexual women are women of color, most of whom have even less access to necessary medical care and the proper funding to seek what care they do have, these numbers increase the concern regarding the future of bisexual elders amidst the COVID-19 outbreak.

There is no cut and dry way to address this spread – even those taking every possible precaution are at risk. Ultimately it is up to those who DO have adequate access to medical care or are physically able to support and assist those in compromised surroundings/physical health to step up and fill in the gaps that bisexual elders are facing.

Community outreach programs may not be aware of the needs of these elders, and donation centers may not have the manpower to reach the rural areas in which these elders often reside. Volunteering time and resources could save a life – something as simple as communicating with those who are cut off from the larger community to as grand as donating whatever time you have to making masks and other necessary resources could be the difference between an elder being able to tell their story and an elder dying due to lack of care.

These suggestions go beyond COVID-19 – hey can be followed regardless of a global outbreak. For those within the bisexual community that face these gaps in care, attention, and resources, it is up to the outside communities to keep them safe and keep their stories alive.

Stay close, stay strong, stay indoors if you can – and if you are able-bodied, unnecessarily hogging resources that so many others are lacking, may you find enough compassion to donate to those in need.

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