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By Oscar Lopez
MEXICO CITY, April 20 (Openly) - More than 180 rights groups on Monday asked the U.S. Congress to take steps to protect LGBT+ people from discrimination in the coronavirus pandemic, saying the community faces long-standing bias in health care that has left them wary of seeking help.
In a letter, the coalition called upon Democratic and Republican party leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives to include specific anti-discrimination wording in legislation responding to the health crisis.
The United States has had the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide, with more than 753,000 infections and more than 41,000 deaths.
"It is a matter of life and death for LGBTQ people to be explicitly protected against discrimination in any legislative response to the COVID-19 pandemic," said Sasha Buchert, an attorney at Lambda Legal, one of the letter's signatories.
"For someone who is LGBTQ, the fear that they will be denied life-saving medical care or access to help for them and their families just because of who they are, is sadly very real," she said in an emailed statement.
The letter said discrimination in the medical system has had a negative impact on the health of LGBT+ people and made some people hesitant to seek care.
Data on the virus' impact on LGBT+ people is not readily available, but their higher rates of HIV and cancer that depress their immune systems make gay and trans people susceptible to the virus, campaigners have warned.
People who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual are more likely than straight people to rate their health as poor and to have more chronic conditions, according to research by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a U.S. health policy analysis group.
"A key way to address this gap is to directly address one of its primary causes: discrimination," said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a U.S. rights group that also signed the letter.
"No one should be forced to confront bias due to who they are or whom they love, especially in a time of crisis," he said in emailed comments.
Democrats and Republicans are nearing an agreement on adding funds to a small-business loan program established last month as part of a $2.3 trillion coronavirus economic relief plan.
Some 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in the past month as businesses closures and severe travel restrictions pummel the economy.
(Reporting by Oscar Lopez @oscarlopezgib; editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.
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