Honoring Our LGBTQ Essential Workers. They Deserve It More Than Whom We Currently Praise
COVID-19 is shaping all of our lives in extremely odd ways. Some of us are dealing with how the virus has changed our lives. Some of us are learning new crafts at home, finding ways to entertain the masses with digital videos or tacky TikToks, while many have altered their lives to blur their work and home spaces together. Some have dealt with the changes well, while others are experiencing anxiety and depression from the loss of jobs and income as well as being forced to be introverts.
We all have changed in some way, but there is a section of the public that has been forced to step it up big time and they need to receive some high praise right about now, our Health Care workers. Yes, we’ve seen the videos of people in our large cities throwing open their windows at 7 PM, grabbing their pots and pans and making as much noise as they can with their hands, pans, and voices to show their appreciation for the health care workers efforts.
In an effort to honor some of our LGBTQ Health Care Workers, we wanted to talk to a couple to see how they are doing, to see what they are experiencing. We could only imagine before, but now we know after talking with Larry, Michael, and a few others.
When searching for individuals to chat with, I came across two gentlemen whom had chosen to leave their Midwest apartments and travel to New York, terrified and shaken, but ready to go, help, and perform their duty. They knew the battle would be long and hard-fought and New York City would need as many caring and educated people the city could get.
I also chatted with a young Emergency Room Nurse who had fiery words for those not abiding by the health rules that were set in place. Her voice was more political against the current Trump Administration, so much that after we had chatted for some time, she decided ask for her comments to be stricken from this post in fear of losing her job for showcasing her political views. This was terrifying and eye opening as most of us are very lucky that we can voice our political views without fearing an employer’s retaliation, but it is true that some of us can only share opinions at the kitchen table with the blinds closed. This ER Nurse living on her own was in fear of being fired and losing her livelihood because she simply can’t be political. The two Midwestern men mentioned above, they actually came back and asked for the same treatment, but they didn’t even want me to mention what role they played in health care, they were that worried.
I was able to connect with a One Critical Care, ICU Nurse working in Pennsylvania, Larry Emeigh-McBride, and he didn’t mind being acknowledged in this post. Emeigh-McBride’s story on battling COVID-19 head on was compelling. As a nurse for critical patients, he’s truly on the front lines of defense and is seeing the worst. While at the time of our interview, none of his assigned patients have succumbed to the virus. However, there have been some patients in his hospital who have lost their lives because of organ failure and other complications caused by COVID-19. In our conversation, he told me his patients aren’t just those who are elderly with underlying conditions as he’s has patients in their twenties who are fighting for their lives on ventilators. Despite the mayhem, he gave some insight and comfort that he’s seen more patients fight through their complications and get better than pass away. He believes that he’s been exposed to the virus, but also trusts his hospital is taking full care of their staff by providing them with the necessary supplies, like scrubs, masks, sanitary equipment, and gloves to assure their safety. He dared to call himself “lucky”, so thankfully he’s been taken care of. As someone who is facing the pandemic head on, I was curious if the media was actually manipulating the masses with fear rather than being informative. Emeigh-McBride stated:
The media has affected us by making us panic a little bit, but I think it was a good thing. Now, people are scared of it. At first, I didn’t think it was going to be that scary. Most citizens were already quarantining themselves at home. We stopped talking out patients. We weren’t busy, but… there was a cloud looming above us. We were like, “When are we going to get hit?” Then, it was like a nuke hit us. The next day at our hospital, shit was hitting the fan. We knew it was going to happen, but it was hard to prepare yourself for it. You’re waiting for it and then having doubts. I want to clarify that our hospital has made us feel safe. I believe we have enough protection now to get through this. I hope it doesn’t last much longer.
I’m sure most of us cannot grasp the concept fully, nor do we want to, but going to a place where the virus literally exists cannot be a fun experience. Emeigh-McBride has to go head on into such a ground zero place. How was he handling that mentally? He shared:
It’s dreadful coming to work. I keep thinking we won’t have supplies and this and that. But, then I get here and I feel much better. Thankfully, I only have to work twelve hour days. It takes time to prepare to go into the room with a COVID patient. Heaven forbid there’s a problem with a patient in the COVID-room, you have to prepare yourself for safety before going in. Most of the COVID patients are on ventilators and sedated and since they cannot have visitors, they are left alone when we aren’t with them. We are constantly reassuring them that they are going to be okay, and that’s draining. Nurses put themselves out there physically, mentally, and emotionally. At the end of the day I feel I take care of my patients more than I take care of myself.
Emeigh-McBride lives in Philadelphia with his husband, another Critical Care Nurse, and their dog. Despite both being nurses, they are trying to have fun amid the virus. He proclaims he’s taking a lot of dog walks and enjoys having fresh air since he is always contained inside the hospital while he’s at work. With the grace of God, he’s thrilled this isn’t happening in the midst of a bitter winter. With some final, unsolicited advice, he proclaimed:
I don’t think this is the worst thing we [as a society has] ever gone through. Just stay home. We’re all trying to get through this and every day is different. Allow your emotions to be felt. Feel your feelings. Everybody is feeling the same way. We’re all scared and confused. But, at the end of the day all of us are heroes. Whether you’re in health care, working at a grocery store, or are staying home. We’re all in this together. Just stay home. And the biggest thing – please be kind to one another.
Michael Hight, a Physical Therapist Assistant at the biggest health care organization in Maine, was a little nervous upon learning of the impending pandemic, but has always practiced the sanitary and safety steps the world is now taking. Hight, who visits the elderly in their homes, was recently furloughed as social distancing became the best practice for fighting the virus’s spread. When COVID began, a lifelong friend he was living with for years, began to consider Hight a carrier of the virus. Through paranoia, his roommate and owner of the home he was living in, kicked him out of in fear of catching the virus. He lost his job and home on the same day… during a thunderstorm… and their friendship seemingly destroyed after decades of memories. Thankfully having a social circle and family in Maine, he was able to find a safe place to stay. He highlighted how the pandemic has affected many people’s state of minds because of the information and sometimes misinformation they are receiving from the media. Although he believes panic is running amok, he does trust most of the media sources. He’s still been in touch with a handful of his patients and is being as digitally connected as he can be, but unfortunately and strangely, his size is going to prevent him from working in the near future. Hight stated:
I went to the office last week to be fitted for an N95 Mask. They are very meticulous about this. It looks like an oxygen tube attached to a digital machine. It measures how much air gets out of the mask as your breathing at a normal and heavy rate. I failed at both. I’m six foot six, with a big head and a big face. The masks don’t fit me well and they don’t fit me tight. So, I’m not able to get a mask. Which means when the COVID patients come out of the hospital and head home, I won’t be able to see them because I won’t have the proper protection. Right now, my job is up in the air. I know there is a surge of patients coming home who will need our services. I’m not sure I’ll be able to see them. For now, my job will be to see the other patients who don’t have COVID, but I don’t know when that will happen.
Like most of us, Hight is trying to keep busy during his furlough weeks. He’s staying back and forth with his mother and boyfriend. At first, he wasn’t as active as he typically is – he openly admits to being a gym bunny. He’s out and about on lots of walks and mini exercises, but does want to have a drink with his boyfriend at a bar and talk to strangers when this has all become manageable.
When we reach the end of this pandemic, will we return to business as normal? Sure, Prides have been canceled or postponed across the globe, but it doesn’t mean they won’t ever happen again. But another set of celebrations, ones in particular that as someone living in Los Angeles I look forward to every summer, are the many LGBTQ galas and award ceremonies that are seemingly every weekend.
The purpose of many of these events is to honor and support various LGBTQ charities and centers, like one that was held to bring awareness and financial support to the Los Angeles LGBTQ Center. I attended this event last year and ran into social media influencers, A-D List celebrities, and gays of most varieties, but, as someone who had visited the center many times over the past five years, I was saddened to not have run into a single counselor or familiar face during the event. As I sat at the press table, I watched as award after award was presented to wealthy, popular persons and entertainers of the LGBTQ community. I watched as gays patted themselves on their backs for coming out of the closet or simply being attractive. None of the honorees talked about the counselors at the center who have to muster strength everyday to go in and do their jobs. None of the people being honored were those who use the center’s services for everyday survival or the persons who help shape lives and calm anxieties each day. I was expecting to be moved by a story of someone who was sleeping on the streets and had been uplifted by the center’s incredible mental health services to get on their feet. Or someone who had pulled through with the help from the center to get their GED. Or a worker of the center who believes their lives have been changed for the better for being a counselor, medical professional, etc. Those stories went unheard and unseen in favor of honoring celebrities or pretty faces who very likely have never stepped foot in the center unless it was a strategic PR move. This feeling still upsets me, as I believe we were making a poor call honoring someone for their celebrity rather than their journey.
I hope we can take a step back to reflect on those who actually took care of us, the ones who answer the Suicide Hotline calls, the ones safely preparing your food, the ones who calming us down with a silly story as they draw blood from our arm. No, we are not here to tap specific individuals for an award, like Larry Emeigh-McBride, Michael Hight, and the other to-remain-nameless health care workers we interviewed, but well, yes, they and others need to be praised.
When it comes time to honoring our LGBTQ brothers and sisters during award ceremony time, I hope we choose to put our essential workers in front of celebrities. Do you? Could we make it happen?
Writer’s Note: This is the opinion of one Instinct Magazine contributor and does not reflect the views of Instinct Magazine itself or fellow contributors.