Pride in the environment

This week, guest author Bailey Otter explains the deep-rooted connections between the LGBT+ community and the environment.

Photo by Bailey Otter

The LGBT+ community and nature have inseparable ties. The green stripe on the original pride flag, created by Gilbert Baker in 1978, was intended to represent nature and the healing aspects which come from spending time within it. Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in California, was a champion of sustainability efforts and gay rights. Throughout the entirety of the climate change movement, LGBT+ individuals have been fighting on the front lines of the movement.

Pride in identity and pride in nature are integral factors when it comes to the values of the LGBT+ community. Nature does not discriminate; it provides everyone with peace. That is, until policies and environmental injustice take the rights of nature away from vulnerable communities. This leaves us with the question: Why are those who have fought – and continue to fight – so hard for environmental justice the ones affected the most by inaction and unjust policies relating to the environment?

Due to systemic issues in our society, LGBT+ individuals are on the front lines of environmental injustice and the impacts of climate change. Despite the strife for environmental justice within all minority groups, climate change will affect underserved populations more than anyone else, and the LGBT+ community is one of them. LGBT+ populations are concentrated in coastal cities at risk for sea level rising, air pollution, and severe weather patterns, such as San Francisco, Miami, New York, Seattle, Boston, and New Orleans.

LGBT Adults in large metropolitan areas, 2021. Provided by The Williams Institute.

Additionally, LGBT+ youth are 120% more likely to experience homelessness compared to cisgender and heterosexual youth. 28% of LGBT+ youth have experienced homelessness or housing instability during their lifetime. Certain groups within this statistic have an even higher rate of youth homelessness: 44% of Indigenous LGBT+ youth, 38% of trans women, 39% of trans men, and 33% of nonbinary youth. This disproportionately puts the community at risk to environmental vulnerabilities and extreme weather conditions. Homeless LGBT+ youth are also far less likely to obtain an education and, as a result, have a difficult time breaking the cycle of poverty they were forced into. As a result, they are likely to be on the streets, subject to environmental issues, for extended periods of time.

A study conducted by the Human Rights Campaign found that employed LGBT+ community members are paid 90 cents to every dollar that a typical worker in the United States makes. This disparity is further exasperated for Black LGBT+ members (80 cents to every dollar) and Native American LGBT+ members (70 cents to every dollar). Additionally, the Human Rights campaign also reported that members of the nonbinary community and transgender men make 70 cents for every dollar, and transgender women make 60 cents for every dollar. Overall, 22% of the LGBT+ population lives in poverty, compared to the national average of 16%.

Graph depicting poverty rates by sexual orientation and gender identity from The Williams Institute.

So, how do these statistics relate to environmental justice? Low income neighborhoods are situated closer to the industrial sides of cities, meaning that people residing in these areas are most vulnerable to pollution, food deserts, water contamination, chemical exposure, and other environmental risks. The property near these industrial sites is inexpensive, as people do not want to be subjected to these risks. As a result, at-risk individuals, including members of the LGBT+ population, are more likely to buy property within these areas out of necessity. This means that LGBT+ people are more likely to experience environmentally-related medical issues than cisgender and heterosexual people, including respiratory diseases, asthma, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. Low income neighborhoods also have a lack of public transportation, poor school options, lack open and affirming healthcare, and have higher rates of violence and discrimination against LGBT+ individuals.

The fight for environmental justice is indisputably linked to the fights for rights of all minority communities, including that of the LGBT+ community. To combat the environmental crises that are affecting minority groups, it is important that we be agents of change by getting educated about and advocating for change in environmental policies.

For additional information on the LGBT+ community and the environment, please visit the sites below. When reading these, keep in mind that these serve as a starting point, not a cumulative reading of the topic:

If you are interested in environmental justice for the LGBT+ community, check out the links below for various groups cultivating worldwide change for the community:

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