Research News: Exploring the experiences of trans and non-binary Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic

By Crystal Mackay

A new survey led by researchers at Western University is exploring the experiences of trans and non-binary Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic – statistics that until now were largely invisible in the Canadian data.

Trans-Pulse-COVID.pngWhen the pandemic was declared in March, Greta Bauer, PhD, and co-principal-investigator Ayden Scheim, PhD, had just released the first report from the Trans PULSE Canada survey which took a deep dive into understanding the health and wellbeing of trans and non-binary Canadians on a whole.

As it became clear that there was a lack of information on how the pandemic was affecting marginalized communities, the team quickly put together a follow-up study in order to better understand how the pandemic was specifically affecting this population of Canadians.

“We know that the pandemic has not affected everyone equally, and it is important to understand the specific effects on different communities, particularly those who experienced pre-pandemic barriers to health care access and to resources,” said Bauer, Professor and CIHR Sex and Gender Science Chair at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.

A theme that emerged in the initial research from the Trans PULSE Canada survey highlighted that many trans and non-binary Canadians will avoid seeking necessary health care because of a fear of discrimination.

The first reports from the COVID-19 specific survey reflect that theme as well. One in ten respondents said they avoided COVID-19 testing or care when they believed they needed it; and 40 per cent indicated that avoidance was due to fear of discrimination. Ten per cent reported that they did experience discrimination when seeking these services.

The authors say these findings make it clear that it is critical that trans and non-binary friendly testing and care be available across Canada.

“Prior to the pandemic, we knew that trans and non-binary people experienced health and social inequities that could make them more vulnerable to COVID-19 infection, disease and negative socio-economic consequences,” said Scheim, Adjunct Assistant Professor at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and an Assistant Professor at Drexel University. “Nevertheless, due to the largely binary way which data on COVID-19 are being captured, the experiences of trans and non-binary people have been largely invisible in Canadian data on the pandemic.”

The survey findings also show that trans and non-binary Canadians had disruptions in primary health care, mental health care and gender-affirming care during the pandemic, and a high frequency of interruptions to hormone regimens. They also found that twice as many trans and non-binary people reported that they stopped accessing mental health support than those who started accessing support.

“Everyone has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic a little differently,” said Caiden Chih, co-investigator on the study. “Trans and non-binary Canadians’ experiences were overlooked in non-pandemic times already; it’s especially important to highlight these experiences now, as many disparities in our system have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The team also looked at the social and economic impacts of the pandemic and found that a majority of trans and non-binary people in Canada are experiencing negative financial and social impacts of COVID-19. Almost 60 per cent of respondents said they their access to trans and non-binary social spaces has decreased.

“While these first reports provide some basic statistics on the pandemic’s impact, we will now be conducting more detailed analyses that link these data to our pre-pandemic data, in order to see how people’s lives and health have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Bauer.