How climate change affects the LGBTQ+ Community
June 16, 2022
I’ve often thought that my queer friends are more attuned to environmental issues and more likely to act on climate change. As we celebrate Pride Month and continue our social justice efforts toward queer liberation and environmental justice, I’m considering how two movements I’m passionate about are intrinsically connected.
It’s important to note that everyone on this planet will experience the burden of climate change if we don’t take steps to end the climate crisis.
However, minority communities, specifically BIPOC and LGBQT+ communities, are disproportionately affected by the environmental harms caused by:
- Air and water pollution
- Rising sea levels
- Food insecurity
- Plastic pollution
Yet, despite this increased risk, minority voices are more likely to be excluded from the movement.
The people who are already the most vulnerable will experience the greatest impacts of climate change.
Climate change intersects with racism, classicism, and sexism. Low-income, BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and gender minorities already experience an undue burden of marginalization, disenfranchisement, and discrimination. These communities are already underserved and are least prepared to recover from the most severe harms caused by the climate crisis.
The LGBTQ+ community has a collective poverty rate of 21.6%, and the percentage is even higher for BIPOC, LGBTQ+ individuals. LGBTQ+ youth are 120% more likely to experience homelessness than their cisgender, heterosexual counterparts. Housing instability, food insecurity, and general uncertainty about overall well-being are factors that contribute to extreme poverty and homelessness. The climate crisis exacerbates all of these things.
Due to rising sea levels and toxic air pollutants, low-income communities are becoming inhabitable. Individuals and families in these areas are vulnerable to the threat of forced migration as well as adverse health effects. Health problems that can result from increased exposure to pollutants include higher levels of asthma and cancer.
Research already reveals that sexual minorities are at a greater risk of health disparities due to heightened social stress. Still, this study by three sociologists at the University of Texas at El Paso examines the absence of scientific research on LGBTQ+ health disparities caused by environmental exposures.
Gender minorities and racial minorities are more likely to experience environmental hardships than other groups. Oil pipeline projects such as Dakota Access and Bayou Bridge desecrate native land and threaten two-spirit indigenous populations.
The LGBTQ+ community is systemically and intentionally stigmatized and oppressed by many politicians and legislative changes. The powers that deny the existence of climate change, actively support the removal of the US from the Paris Agreement, and support the expansion of heavy-polluting corporations are the same powers that advocate against health care for trans individuals, gay marriage, and overall pose a threat to equal rights.
A Hopeful Future
I don’t write this to say that the relationship between climate change and the LGBTQ+ community is always negative. In fact, quite the opposite. My experience as an environmental activist has shown the LGBTQ+ community has been and can be a leader in sustainability.
The green stripe on the pride flag represents nature. This stripe emphasizes that being queer is in nature’s design, and that pride must support the environment. According to a 2010 Harris poll, personal commitment to environmentalism is more pronounced in the US LGBTQ+ community than in the heterosexual population.
Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man elected to public office in California in the 1970s. He championed environmental sustainability alongside his fight for gay rights. Today, many leaders in the environmental movement are proud members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Caring about climate change is a radical part of the queer identity. We must remember that injustice against any minority, including the environment, threatens all other marginalized communities.
Activism must support people and communities who face multiple forms of intersectional oppression and fight for the liberation of all. EARTHDAY.org is committed to combating these issues and has many resources for learning more. Check out Our Toolkits, take a quiz, use our factsheets, become an Earth Day member, and join us as we take action to end bigotry, injustice, and climate change.