Queering COVID: The Impacts of Social Distancing Practices on 2SLGBTQ Communities in Manitoba

McPhail, Deborah | $38,686

Manitoba University of Manitoba 2021 SSHRC

Emerging evidence suggests that Two Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer (2SLBTQ) communities are at a higher risk of serious illness related to COVID‑19 due to prior medical conditions (National LGBT Cancer Network, 2020). Additionally, there is growing reason to believe that 2SLGBTQ people are disproportionately affected by the unintended side effects of public health mitigation policies (Egale, 2020). In a 2020 national survey, for example, Egale Canada found that 42% of 2SLGBTQ Canadians reported negative mental health outcomes and reduced quality of life resulting from social distancing, compared to 30% of their non-queer counterparts (Egale and Innovative Research Group, 2020). Preliminary “rapid response” research is beginning to investigate how disparities in mental health rooted in social distancing measures are linked to public health’s reliance on heteronormative conceptualizations of individual households, “home,” and “family bubbles” (c.f. Gonzales et al., 2020). Such policies prevent alternative forms of kinship specific to 2SLGBTQ communities that are not reliant on blood, legal bond, or single residences (Lewis, 2020). For many 2SLGBTQ people, complex kinship arrangements such as chosen family and polyamorous relationships with more than one household fulfill survival functions and emotional needs (Gutierrez, 2020), and are essential for 2SLGBTQ people throughout the life course (Knauer, 2016). While the existing literature offers a preliminary snapshot of COVID‑19 impacts, no research published to date has provided an in-depth qualitative exploration of the effects of COVID‑19 pandemic measures on 2SLGBTQ communities in Canada. There is, then, an urgent need to substantively explore the implications of COVID‑19 public health measures for 2SLGBTQ communities in order to better understand the socio-cultural dynamics of the pandemic response and, in particular, its relation to kinship. The overall objective of the proposed qualitative study is to therefore examine how 2SLGBTQ communities navigate social distancing measures that affirm heteronormative notions of family and home in Manitoba. We ask: Do COVID‑19 social distancing policies – which stand in tension with queer experiences of kinship – produce new forms of social stigmatization for 2SLGBTQ communities?

Assembling a leading team of 2SLGBTQ researchers, and in collaboration with community Knowledge Users, our pilot study will investigate the effects of COVID‑19 public health measures on 2SLGBTQ people in rural and urban Manitoba. To achieve our research objective, we will employ two qualitative methods. The first is “narrative go-alone” interviews with 20 members of the 2SLGBTQ community – a new « pandemic method » we have adapted from the « narrative walk along, go along” interview technique (Burns et al., 2020). In “narrative go-alone” interviews, participants will reflect on social distancing and stay-at-home policies in relation to their 2SLGBTQ identity. In addition, we will conduct 10 semi-structured interviews with social service providers from 2SLGBTQ-serving organizations who, as essential workers providing social support to 2SLGBTQ communities throughout the pandemic, hold key insight into the impacts of social distancing on queer kinship and wellbeing.

The proposed research will form the basis for community-grounded knowledge mobilization, including a report, webinars, academic scholarship, and media engagement. As such, our findings will provide a foundation for more equitable measures for this and future pandemics, helping to ensure that “flattening the curve” can be achieved in the most compassionate, inclusive, and socially just ways possible.

Avec un financement du Gouvernement du Canada

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