How environmental and climate injustice affects the LGBTQI+ community

Fifty-three years ago this month, members of the LGBTQI+ community, many of whom were people of color, stood up to a sectarian police force raiding the Stonewall Inn, a New York City gay bar. This momentous event helped launch the LGBTQI+ rights movement which saw the decriminalization of homosexualitythe legalization of gay marriageand protection against discrimination in the workplace. The decade of the Stonewall Riots also saw key moments in the fight for environmental protection, such as the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Air Actas well as in the fight for racial equality, such as the adoption of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

While the environmental legislation of the 1960s and 1970s was historic, it did not go far enough in protecting everyone from environmental pollution. In response to this clear need for stronger climate solutions, the movement for environmental justice grew out of the civil rights movement, promoting the idea that “all people and communities have the right to breathe clean air, to live free from dangerous levels of toxic pollution, to access healthy food and to share in the benefits of a clean, prosperous economy and dynamic”. Led by Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, the environmental justice movement has since made significant strides in bringing racial and economic justice to the forefront of modern environmentalism and crisis relief. climatic. And as these movements evolve over time, they have become increasingly intersectional in the issues they address. For example, in 2019, environmental justice leaders co-authored and launched with national environmental organizations the National Fair and Just Climate Platform— the first national climate program focused on promoting racial, economic, environmental and climate justice.

Whereas race is the the biggest determining of environmental injustice, environmental justice must be seen through the lens of the most marginalized communities, in particular multiple socio-economic stressors and unequal environmental loads that these communities experience. Environmental injustice disproportionately affects women, low-income communitiesand LGBTQ+ people; moreover, people who share more than one of these identities may be disproportionately affected even more. To help paint a more holistic picture of environmental justice, this column explores the harmful effects of environmental injustice on LGBTQI+ populations in particular.

LGBTQ+ people have long suffered a disproportionate pollution burden compared to heterosexual cisgender people.

Exposure to pollution and environmental hazards

A key pillar of environmental justice is the ability to live without toxic pollution in the air, water and land. LGBTQ+ people have long been matter to a disproportionate pollution burden compared to cisgender heterosexuals – due to discriminatory practices housing policiesHeteronormative NIMBYism”, or the exclusion of LGBTQ+ spaces in certain communities, and higher poverty rates. Studies have found that areas with higher proportions of same-sex couples saw increased amounts of hazardous air pollutants compared to areas with lower proportions of same-sex couples. This has resulted in suffering for LGBTQ+ people higher rates chronic diseases associated with environmental exposure, such as respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

Although there is little data on this topic, LGBTQI+ people are also likely to be disproportionately exposed to indoor environmental riskssuch as lead paint, lead pipes, asbestos, radon and other pollutants, due to the many housing challenges faced by these communities; these risks are extremely frequent in substandard housing. LGBTQI+ people are also After at risk exposure to second-hand smoke; smoking rates are higher among these populations, creating higher secondary exposure where they live, work and socialize. This exposure can exacerbate the respiratory stress that LGBTQI+ populations may experience from air pollution and chest bindingwhich is a common practice among transgender men to achieve a flat chest.

Among young adults aged 18-25, LGBT people have a 2.2 times higher risk of homelessness than non-LGBT people.

Vulnerability to extreme weather conditions

The climate crisis, from destructive hurricanes at extreme heat wavesalready disproportionately affects vulnerable communities, especially without housing. Studies found that between 20% and 45% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ, at least two to four times higher than the estimated percentage of all youth who identify as LGBTQ. And among young adults between the ages of 18 and 25, LGBT people have a 2.2 times higher risk of being homeless than non-LGBT people. transgender people are particularly more likely to be homeless due to discrimination in the spaces of the refuge. When disaster strikes, these already vulnerable populations become at risk of hypothermia, hyperthermia, respiratory distress from wildfire smoke, and infectious disease from flooding, among other conditions.

In the event of a disaster response by local, state, or federal government, LGBTQI+ people may face discrimination in the distribution of aid. A study found that the lack of legal recognition of LGBTQI+ families by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is expected to play a greater role in responding to extreme weather emergencies and disasters as the climate crisis deepens, led to an unequal distribution of resources following Hurricane Katrina. FEMA also has a self-confessed the story discrimination against low-income communities and people of color, potentially compounding the effects on intersectional LGBTQI+ communities. Whereas Section 308 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, disability, and economic status in disaster assistance, it does not protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

LGBTQI+ populations are also at higher risk for certain medical conditions that can worsen the health effects of environmental pollution.

Health and healthcare

LGBTQI+ populations are also at higher risk for certain medical conditions that can worsen the health effects of environmental pollution. For example, gay and bisexual cisgender men and transgender people are more likely develop HIV, and studies have shown that exposure to particles with a diameter of 10 micrometers or less (PM10), nitrogen dioxide and ozone – all hazardous air pollutants – are associated with an increased risk of hospitalization for pneumocystis pneumonia in people with HIV. Similarly, LGBTQ+ people experience upper rates of mental health problems, often due to stressful experiences linked to stigma, prejudice and discrimination; studies have shown that these conditions, such as depression and anxiety, can exacerbate the effects of air pollution. It also puts LGBTQI+ populations at risk during and after climate disasters, when the stress of rebuilding, displacement, and the loss of loved ones and communities takes a toll on mental health.

Learn more about LGBTQ people’s experiences of discrimination

When accessing medical care, LGBTQI+ people often face discrimination and/or harassment or barriers to paying for services. A 2020 KAP survey found that 37% of gay, lesbian, queer or bisexual people and 59% of transgender people had experienced discrimination from a health care provider or doctor in the course of their life. ‘last year. It also found that about 3 in 10 LGBTQ Americans faced difficulty in the past year accessing needed medical care due to cost concerns, including more than half of transgender Americans. Another one study found that more than 1 in 6 LGBTQ people avoided seeking health care for fear of discrimination. Such discrimination increases the likelihood that LGBTQI+ people will receive little or no treatment for health problems caused by environmental pollution and stressors related to the climate crisis.

Until recently, there was a gap in our understanding of how environmental and climate injustice specifically affects LGBTQI+ people. Adding an LGBTQI+ lens to environmental justice work will ensure that we advocate for clean air, clean water, and a livable climate for every community. It is essential that we continue to listen to the stories of all communities experiencing multiple systems of oppression to truly deliver environmental justice.
Anahí Naranjo, Communications Manager, Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy (CEED), email to author


The fight for climate and environmental justice is inextricably linked to the fight for racial justice, economic justice, women’s justice, health justice and LGBTQI+ justice. To address these deepening crises, policymakers must begin to see them as interconnected and interdependent. As the nation celebrates Pride Month and the progress of LGBTQI+ rights, it must also commit to creating a just climate and environment for all.

The author wishes to thank Caroline Medina, Lindsay Mahowald, Cathleen Kelly, Justin Dorazio, Shannon Baker-Branstetter, Hannah Malus and Shanée Simhoni from the Center for American Progress and Sofia Sainz, Anahí Naranjo and Ansha Zaman from the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy (CEED) for their valuable contributions to this column.

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