MOORHEAD — The coronavirus pandemic has upended so much for so many, but the impact isn't necessarily equal on everyone, according to David Myers.
The creator of the local religious organization now known as the Fargo-Moorhead Interfaith Center says the outbreak of COVID-19 and all of the economic, social and political changes that have come about as a result have particularly hit the LGBTQ community hard. Many grew up feeling "alienated and isolated" from mainstream society, he says, and religious condemnation is not unusual.
"The pandemic seems to have really intensified that feeling of isolation," he says.
That's one of the reasons Myers wanted to foster a discussion specifically about the pandemic's effects on the LGBTQ community — and what people from various faith backgrounds have found that could help others get through a difficult time.
The center, along with Concordia College's Forum on Faith and Life and St. Mark's Lutheran Church, has sponsored and organized the upcoming virtual "Being Queer During the Pandemic" interfaith panel discussion, which will take place 2-3:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28, on Zoom.
The free event will be moderated by Jacqueline Bussie, an author and the director of Concordia's Forum on Faith and Life, and feature four panelists who will share their experiences as queer people during the pandemic. Panelists include the Rev. Wakoh Shannon Hickey, who identifies as lesbian and a Buddhist; Eliana Shira Rubin, who identifies as a queer trans woman and a Jew; Pastor Joe Larson, a gay cisgender man and Christian who is the pastor at St. Mark's Lutheran; and Cody Severson, who identifies as gay and an atheist.
Severson, who is also a board member of the FM Interfaith Center, says he wanted to get involved to represent atheists and secular ideas among the LGBTQ community. While there's been a lot of talk over the past year about what the pandemic might be doing to mental health as a whole, he says there hasn't been as much conversation about its unique impacts on the LGBTQ subgroup of the population.
"We decided to get as broad of a spectrum of faith and non-faith individuals together and just have that discussion," he says.
Severson says his own view of the pandemic has been informed "through the atheist lens" and he's come to one conclusion about things: "People are responsible for people. There's no higher being that's actually held responsible for what's happening right now."
To him, that means it's all a matter of science and getting the right medical experts and researchers together to get the pandemic under control.
Myers says he's interested to hear what Severson and the other panelists have done in the past year to find comfort or strength to get through a difficult time for everyone. Those individual reactions, whether it's finding peace through meditation, prayer or faith-based art, might offer some ideas to viewers of the panel discussion.
"My hope is that what has helped them will help others, even outside their traditions," he says.
According to Myers, there are many reasons that those in the LGBTQ community might be especially affected by the pandemic. In addition to the alienation they have long felt, he says many queer people were already medically at-risk — LGBTQ people have a higher rate of mental illness, suicide, addiction issues, homelessness and a lack of health insurance than the general population, and that can all affect their health during a new widespread viral outbreak in the world.
In addition, many in the LGBTQ community have lost their already limited systems of social support over the past year, whether it's an inability to gather for in-person meetings at a local pride center or addiction support groups, or even the shuttering of queer-friendly bars that were a safe space for people to be themselves before the pandemic.
Job losses that have come with coronavirus might also be sending some younger LGBTQ people and college students back home to live with their parents, who might not be accepting of who they are.
"Some may have to go back into the closet," he says.
Transgender people may have had to delay gender reassignment procedures due to the cancellation of elective surgeries, which can further compound their anxiety and stress during this time, according to Myers.
"It's compounding issues and it creates a crisis for them," he says. "It's really a hard time."
Myers says the upcoming panel discussion is meant for anyone — whether or not they identify as LGBTQ — to hear unique perspectives and find some hope or strategies to get through the pandemic as it continues to impact everyone in different ways.
If you go
What: "Being Queer During the Pandemic" panel discussion
When: 2-3:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28
Where: watch the Zoom discussion at http://zoom.us/j/89068041532