Virtual community

Why Creatively Leveraging Virtual Community During COVID-19 Matters

As scholars on a collaborative research team focused on the health inequalities experienced by 2SLGBTQ+ people, we know that discrimination, mental distress, and isolation are the daily reality for many queer people in the international scale.

At the same time, it amazes us to witness the range of creative strategies deployed by queer communities in Canada and around the world as we strive to maintain the connection during this pandemic.

Gay people show, as Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye sing (and by Diana Ross) that “there is no mountain high enough” to keep us apart.

As Pride Month approaches, we both note the challenges facing queer students during the pandemic and reflect on what queer theory and disability justice can contribute to our awareness of the importance of staying connected for queer students.

Challenges for gay students

Measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have serious potential to harm the well-being and health of queer people. A study of how social distancing might affect gay, bisexual, queer, trans and two-spirited men in Canada notes that since social support from friends, family and partners is a known protective factor against negative mental health outcomes for queer people, “distancing can exacerbate negative mental health outcomes.

Some queer students no longer have access to the queer-friendly resources and social networks that the college campus once offered. Many found refuge in university spaces, such as student clubs and research groups, and felt relieved at their newfound independence from family. In-person Pride events are also being canceled and events have gone digital.

Data suggests graduate students across Canada are seeing their mental health impacted by the pandemic.

Graduate students who identify as sexual minorities may experience additional stressors associated with gender or sexuality-based and intersectional forms of oppression such as racism, colonialism, sexism, classism and ableism, without talk about the unequal effects of the pandemic on black, racialized and low-income people. communities.

Unfortunately, the public health response to the pandemic could mean a return to home environments where it is not possible or safe to “go out”.

Read more: Some students in the Class of 2020 may be dealing with traumatic loss from the coronavirus. Here’s how to help you.

Beyond that, many doctoral students face the expectation of prioritizing studies over personal life to be highly competitive in a “publish or perish” mentality when entering the academic job market – all of this despite the pandemic.

Some homosexual students lack physical places where it is possible and safe to “hang out”.
David Von Diemar/Unsplash)

Chosen families

Queer people are used to wrestling with our unique challenges by reimagining who is responsible for caring for each other. For example, queer people have learned to build and rely on “chosen families,” ties composed of members outside of a person’s biological and legal relationships, developed to survive within heteronormative societies.

Queer people often have to “code-switch” – change the way we present ourselves and hide authentic parts of ourselves – when sharing space with others in daily life to come across as straight (or at least, “less gay”), including online social networks and family obligations during the pandemic.

Our research draws on queer theory to destabilize heterosexuality as the norm, to interrogate and disrupt the diverse ways in which queer people encounter oppression, and to find ways to build solidarity. Disability justice also teaches us the value of interdependence, reminding us that no one can do it alone.

Two men are laughing in the street.
Queer people have learned to rely on members of their community as “chosen families”.

Find ways to stay connected

Queer graduate students harness the power of digital technologies and find ways to express themselves, access support networks, and maintain a sense of belonging. Queer people must recreate the essence of lost physical safe spaces through virtual means unique to the countless Zoom calls and Jackbox Games parties that everyone seems to be having.

In our own experiences entering the pandemic as queer graduate students, we have found support and mentorship from other queer students and faculty. We drew inspiration from what disability justice activist and performance artist Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha calls “networks of care,” in their writings about “a movement that centers the life and leadership of people. sick and disabled queer, trans, black and brown”. people, with knowledge and gifts for all.

From a disability justice perspective, being aware of our interconnections means seeking empowering and grassroots ways to care for each other and form communities. We also reach out to those we may not know to foster a connection and make sure they are okay.

These care networks are essential. With an interdisciplinary team of queer people, we discuss topics related to queer studies and report on the progress of our academic work. We send meals to each other, eat together virtually, collaborate on posts, and work for hours simultaneously.

Together, we challenge the notion of business as usual in academia during the pandemic, for example, by disrupting notions of productivity. At the same time, we feel joy for each other’s success and aim to foster a community of care and space for people to come as themselves.

Protesters stand with a trans flag on the street.
Protesters gather to defend transgender rights in Austin, Texas on May 20, 2021.
(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Queer adaptation to thrive

We are also aware that some queer people do not have access to the networks and support needed to thrive in their lives.

As universities and existing queer networks consider supporting queer students, it is essential that communities of queer people and their allies make space for marginalized voices and narratives to be part of discussions about health and well-being. -being students, support and the pandemic. We must consider those who may be most affected by systemic risks and inequalities, including those without class privilege, black and racialized queer people, and queer people with chronic health conditions.

We believe that the research of colleagues in our network, such as the work done to increase the capacity of health and social service providers to provide trauma-informed care to 2SLGBTQ+ people, can contribute to this.

Recent research on the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on LGBTQ communities raises various ways that gay people face precariousness in the pandemic in the United States and around the world: for example, gay men and people transgender people are at increased risk of experiencing violence during the pandemic.

In Canada, emerging urban planners Benjamin Bongolan and Jc Elijah M. Bawuah note that the voices of racialized gay youth must be heard when considering the effects of COVID-19, including when examining domestic violence issues or violence in general.

For generations, queer people have demonstrated their adaptive capacity to navigate life outside of the status quo, by finding and supporting each other. Our creative and bizarre ways of fostering resilience are not impervious to discriminatory social conditions.

We will continue, to the best of our abilities, this legacy of queer adaptation to thrive in the midst of adversity. Finding creative ways to strengthen and expand our networks of care has never been more important than it is today.