Social support and unmet needs among older trans and gender non-conforming people during the COVID-19 'lockdown' in the UK

Toze, Michael and Westwood, Sue and Hafford-Letchfield, Trish (2023) Social support and unmet needs among older trans and gender non-conforming people during the COVID-19 'lockdown' in the UK. International Journal of Transgender Health, 24 (3). pp. 305-319. ISSN 2689-5269 (

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Background: Previous research has suggested that older trans and gender non-conforming (TGNC) people may face particular challenges related to stigma, social exclusion and discrimination in later life. However, direct data on social support and needs in older TGNC population both internationally and within the UK is limited due to the small, dispersed nature of this population, and the absence of specific data collection on aging TGNC populations. During the UK COVID-19 lockdown in summer 2020, older people and those with long-term health conditions were advised to adopt particular precautions. Aims: This study aimed to explore older TGNC people's social support networks, key concerns and unmet needs during the COVID-19 'lockdown'. Methods: A UK cross-sectional survey of LGBT + people aged 60+ (n = 375) was undertaken during the lockdown. This paper analyses responses from the subset (n = 38) of TGNC participants. Results: The majority of TGNC respondents described diverse social networks, often centered around friends and non-kin social networks, although partners and adult children were also significant for some. In most cases, those with existing strong networks continued to maintain social connections during lockdown, albeit with some regrets about loss of activities and face-to-face connection. However, a minority of respondents had experienced greater challenges prior to lockdown, and may have been at increased vulnerability during the pandemic, for example indicating that they had no-one to call on for practical support in an emergency. When asked about unmet needs and challenges, social isolation was repeatedly raised as the most frequent concern. Several respondents also mentioned issues specifically affecting TGNC communities, including access to gender affirming care and a perceived rise in social intolerance. Conclusions: Health and social care providers should be aware of the diversity of support networks within TGNC communities. There may also be benefits in community sector interventions to help older TGNC build and maintain strong social networks.