How to stay connected to the LGBTI community during lockdown

As someone who has often had to retreat into safe spaces during difficult times, I know their true value.

The importance of having such a space is vital – as I’m sure anyone else who’s felt vulnerable or not understood can testify. 

Some of us are in phases of our lives where we need spaces so we can be ourselves – somewhere we can feel supported and recognised. However, for many transgender people and LGBTI people in general, the Covid-19 lockdown has caused a real disruption in being able to seek that support.

A lot of LGBTI life is focused around social gatherings – support groups, LGBTI centres, clubs or other spaces that people seek out to feel safe and be with people who don’t judge them for who they are.

Having that suddenly taken away, especially if you use them regularly, can be really frightening. This doesn’t only apply to LGBTI people, but anyone who needs support. People who are in abusive relationships can suddenly be even more isolated and trapped.

Young people in particular can be vulnerable, especially those who seek help from peer-to-peer groups. They are no longer able to meet with their friends and might even be stuck with families that don’t fully accept them.

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Being LGBTI and trapped somewhere you feel you can’t express yourself is really terrifying. I know – I grew up in a rural place in northern Iceland and I remember feeling so utterly cut-off in my situation, being unable to tell anyone out of shame of who I was, and fear of how I’d be received. 

There wasn’t anywhere I could go but, thankfully, towards my late teenage years, I was able to find support online. If it hadn’t been for the internet, computer games and the amazing support from close friends I don’t know what would’ve happened to me.

That’s why it’s so incredibly important to check on those around you, because people have less access to meet up in the physical world and seek out those spaces. We are all struggling with this situation in one way or the other, but being afraid to be at home during this pandemic makes things really stressful and anxiety inducing.

It’s horrifying that there are people right now being subjected to discrimination and even violence every single day without a place to escape to.

Being in such a hopeless situation can have really adverse effects on a person’s mental health, and can be undeniably taxing on top of what is already a pressured and difficult situation. In severe cases, I imagine, it’s even caused people to find themselves homeless in the middle of a global pandemic.

There are many things we can do to feel supported or escape what’s around us, and I encourage you all to get creative with what’s around you, seek support if you need it and tend to yourself and your mental health

But thankfully we are living in a time where it’s possible to stay connected remotely. Even though we might not be able to see physical contact and comfort with others, we can still pick up the phone, text, offer a friendly voice to someone. 

We can share resources online and let people know where they can get the help they need. People could be struggling without you knowing, so make sure you remind them that you’re there to support those that need it.

Many LGBTI groups are already offering online spaces for people to talk and meet, including phone counselling and remote support. Many are hosting online events and drop ins, such as a local trans group in Brighton called The Clare Project, and there is an array of films, shows and art that you can now access online to feel inspired, understood and validated.

There is also a wonderful amount of LGBTI books that have been released in the past few years that offer support to those in need. In 2018 myself and my partner released the Trans Teen Survival Guide, which gives advice to transgender teens and their families. It’s been really well received and has made so many people feel listened to, affirmed and inspired.

Now is also the perfect time to binge watch all of those series you’ve been holding off on without feeling guilty about it, such as Pose, Tales of the City or the The L Word: Generation Q. Maybe dust off that old console you have stashed away and get out some old games – or get a brand new one! Some of my all time favourite games to get lost in are the Dragon Age series, Mass Effect Series and Ori and the Blind Forest.

To help me get through this perplexing time, I bought a box of flowers and plants online that I’m going to be tending to for the next few weeks, and have been connecting with old friends and having a lot more phone conversations. I’m also doing more yoga and going for walks, while social distancing from others – even dogs that I am desperate to pet!

I know that things might seem tough right now, but this too will pass.

There are many things we can do to feel supported or escape what’s around us, and I encourage you all to get creative, ask for help if you need it and tend to yourself and your mental health. You might not realise it right now, but there are so many people who can and will support you during this time. 

And you might be surprised — your family could be a lot more accepting than you think and for some people, this could be a perfect time for you to connect with them as your authentic self. This was certainly my experience, as my parents have always been incredibly supportive of me despite living in a rural, conservative community in Iceland.

There’s no one right way to come out to your family, so you just have to do what feels right for you. I wrote a letter to my parents that I gave to them and told them to read, have a think about and then come talk to me. It worked quite well, and gave them time to reflect on it and read some information before we had the talk.

But regardless of your situation, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. There is still a community out there that can support you — albeit remotely for now — but we’re here. So don’t feel afraid to reach out if you’re struggling.

If you’re in a position to support others or want to be an ally, make it your goal today to reach out to someone and check in on them.

You don’t always know who might be struggling for whatever reason, so it’s important to keep in touch with people during these times. They might appreciate it more than you can imagine.

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