OPINION: Queer people create community amidst Coronavirus pandemic

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by Sarah Gardiner, Queer Kentucky Board Member

Illness isn’t a foreign concept to queer people. The HIV epidemic of the 1980’s showed us just how quickly a community can be torn apart, how easily a government can turn a blind eye to the suffering of its citizens, and how vital it is for those affected to stick together. Epidemic is in our cultural DNA.

And yet, here we are, still at risk and still on the outskirts of aid in a time of crisis. Between our jobs, healthcare, and our financial security, the queer community teeters on the edge of being left behind by America once again. Add in the fact that queer people are more likely to smoke, drink heavily, and use drugs than our straight counterparts, and our risk for more serious health issues grows—all while many of us go without easy or affordable access to healthcare. 

We are a community of artists and entrepreneurs, service workers and the self-employed. When small business and non-corporate jobs begin to close, queer people are directly affected. Most of us here in queer Kentucky don’t have a salary or benefits or a 401k that we are now fretting over because lord knows most of us won’t be retiring. While many Americans are wringing their hands over the dipping DOW, we turn to social media asking for jobs, for help, for anyone to hear our call. We aren’t worried about our stocks, we are worried about survival. 

With the Coronavirus outbreak now officially a pandemic, the community’s response has been so classically queer that its almost comforting to know that some things will never change. First there were the memes—because we learned young that sometimes the only way to survive is with a callous joke and a good read. 

Next came the fear. The Facebook posts, the Instagram stories, the callout tweets all showed that the tide had shifted. People started to get worried, and worry spreads like wildfire. 

And yet, in the most lovely and queer final turn, last came the community. Social media became a place of hope (a crazy sentence to write in 2020). Fundraisers are being set up, virtual hangouts and workshops are on the rise, but more than anything, people are standing up and reminding each other that we are not alone. 

In many ways, these responses remind me of some of my favorite stories from the 80’s HIV crisis. When the healthcare system and the Regan Administration turned their back on the sick, the community stepped up and did what they had to do—what we’ve always had to do—take care of ourselves. When medication was federally restricted, groups set up Buyers Clubs to smuggle in life-saving drugs from countries without such restrictions. When HIV+ patients were turned away from the hospitals out of fear, private houses were set up to serve as clinics. These houses were run by fellow queers—many of them lesbians and healthcare workers—and were often the only place where the sick could find safe and inclusive help. 

If one of us is in need, we are all in need. 

In a time of crisis, look to those building communities rather than those stoking difference. If social media gets overwhelming, mute those spreading the negative and turn toward those making the best out of a shitty situation. If you’re in isolation and get lonely, find one of the AMAZING queer groups popping up for virtual connection. Most of all, if you are hungry or in need or afraid, reach out. There are a lot of queer hands ready to help you up. 

Written by Sarah Gardiner, owner of Nanny Goat Books, one of the many queer businesses launching online events, bookclubs, and workshops in the coming week. Announcement forthcoming, but reach out to Sarah for more information if you would like to participate or host any online content—and we many any. Let’s get weird and creative in quarantine y’all!

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