More than 200,000 LGBT adults in California at high risk for COVID-19 illness

Over 200,00 LGBT people in California have one or more medical conditions that put them at high risk of COVID-19 illness, including asthma, diabetes, heart disease, or HIV, according to a new study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. Approximately 361,000 LGBT adults in the state were in fair or poor health before the pandemic began.

In addition, about 612,000 LGBT Californians were living below 200% of the federal poverty level prior to the pandemic. An estimated 251,000 of them were working in industries facing substantial job losses, such as hospitality, health care, retail, and construction. The economic fallout of the pandemic is likely to significantly impact these LGBT people due to their pre-existing vulnerabilities.

Using data from the California Health Interview Survey, researchers examined the health and economic characteristics that may increase vulnerability to COVID-19 for the nearly 1.7 million LGBT adults in California.

“California is home to nearly 15% of all LGBT adults in the United States,” said author Kathryn O’Neill, public policy analyst at the Williams Institute. “And our studies found that many of them were facing health and economic challenges even before the pandemic. It is important that we have data on the impact of COVID-19 on the LGBT population in order to develop interventions that address their specific combination of needs.”

Key Findings


  • California is home to nearly 1.7 million LGBT adults, including 1,646,000 lesbian, gay, and bisexual people of any gender identity and 109,000 transgender people of any sexual orientation.
  • The majority (92%) of LGBT adults in California live in urban areas.


  • 361,000 LGBT adults in California have fair or poor health.
  • Many LGBT adults in the state have underlying medical conditions that elevate their risk of serious illness related to COVID-19:
    • 216,000 have asthma
    • 114,000 have diabetes
    • 81,000 have heart disease
    • At least 114,000 have HIV
  • 134,000 LGBT adults in California do not have health insurance.
  • 150,000 LGBT adults in California have delayed or foregone needed medical care because of cost, or lack of insurance.

Economic vulnerabilities

  • Before the coronavirus pandemic, 612,000 LGBT adults in California lived below 200% of the poverty line.
  • 814,000 LGBT adults in California were employed in industries that have been heavily impacted by the pandemic, including health care and social assistance, retail, leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, and construction.
    • 251,000 of LGBT people employed in these industries earned below 200% of the poverty line.
  • 140,000 LGBT adults were unemployed before the pandemic began.
  • Over 300,000 LGBT adults in California experienced food insecurity before the pandemic began.

Currently, California’s COVID-19 monitoring systems do not collect data on sexual orientation or gender identity, making it impossible to track the impact of the virus on LGBT people. A bill introduced in the California Legislature, SB 932, would require monitoring systems to include questions to identify LGBT people. If passed, California would become the first state in the country to collect such data.

Read the brief on LGBT health vulnerability

Read the brief on LGBT economic vulnerability

May 21, 2020

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