Envision a world where a clean, healthy environment is not a privilege but a right, unaffected by race, gender, or sexuality. This concept is environmental justice.
Now, let’s extend this vision, intertwine our identities, and apply them to the climate crisis.
Welcome to the lens of intersectionality—a perspective that reveals how our unique identities shape our experiences, even in the context of environmental justice.
You see, climate change isn’t confined to being an ecological crisis characterized by retreating glaciers or diminishing biodiversity. It’s a human crisis, too, with communities around the globe grappling with environmental impacts while simultaneously advocating for their identities and their rights to clean and safe surroundings.
This blending of viewpoints is what is referred to as “climate change intersectionality.” An approach that doesn’t separate environmental issues but sees them as deeply intertwined with social and economic challenges. It’s a call for a more inclusive, equitable fight against climate change and champions the voices of the marginalized.
As we delve deeper into environmental justice, we turn the spotlight onto the intersectionality between climate justice and LGBTQIA+ rights.
Climate Change and LGBTQIA Historical Perspective
Before we tackle the struggles of minorities and the LGBTQIA+ community, let’s lay the foundations by taking a walk down memory lane.
Environmental Justice Movement
The environmental justice movement sprouted from the seeds of discontent in the late 20th century. Events like the Warren County PCB landfill protests—home to predominantly African-American communities, which had been unfairly chosen as the disposal site for PCB-contaminated soil—are often considered the spark that ignited the environmental justice fuse.
This example is also considered environmental racism, a form of systemic racism whereby communities of color are disproportionately burdened with health hazards. Certain policies and practices force them to live in proximity to sources of toxic waste such as sewage works, mines, landfills, power stations, major roads, and emitters of particulate matter. In turn, these communities encounter greater rates of health problems from hazardous pollutants.
LGBTQIA+ Rights Movement
Across the same decades, another movement was taking shape: the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights. This movement was born from a struggle against a society that marginalized and criminalized non-heteronormative identities and behaviors. The Stonewall Uprising of 1969, a series of spontaneous demonstrations by members of the LGBTQIA+ community in response to a police raid in Greenwich Village, New York, marked a turning point and led to the formation of numerous advocacy groups.
Intersections of Environmental and LGBTQIA+ Activists and Pioneers
The intersection of environmental justice and LGBTQIA+ rights might seem unintuitive. However, both pioneering activists and researchers have long recognized the shared territories within these struggles.
One key figure in this intersectional activism was Leslie Feinberg, a transgender activist, and author. Feinberg’s work, primarily in the 90s, laid much of the groundwork for discussions around intersectionality. While their focus was not solely on the environment, they emphasized how systemic oppression and discrimination, including environmental injustice, disproportionately impact marginalized communities, including the LGBTQIA+ population.
Parallel to this, Dr. Robert Bullard, often called the “father of environmental justice,” highlighted the inextricable links between environmental hazards and social inequalities. His work demonstrated how environmental degradation disproportionately burdens racial minorities and low-income communities, providing a foundation for understanding environmental justice through an intersectional lens.
Understanding Climate Injustice
Climate injustice is the manifestation of systemic inequalities in the face of global climate change. It represents the unequal distribution of environmental hazards and resources, where communities, often marginalized based on geographical location, socioeconomic status, or identity—including racial and ethnic minorities, low-income individuals, and the LGBTQIA+ population—are disproportionately burdened.
Throughout history, and today, these communities are more exposed to environmental hazards, less equipped for climate resilience, and face systemic discrimination, all of which exacerbate the impacts of climate change.
Let’s unpack this further.
Unpacking LGBTQIA+ Injustice
In some parts of the world, expressing one’s LGBTQIA+ identity can sadly still be met with severe legal and social repercussions. According to the Human Dignity Trust, homosexuality is criminalized in 67 countries, and at least 6 of these, the punishment can be as severe as death.
The injustices don’t stop there, though. Even in places where identifying as LGBTQIA+ isn’t illegal, there’s still a lot of work to do.
According to a report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA), only 11 countries grant LGBTQIA+ equal constitutional rights. And despite progress in some areas, health issues are a big problem too. LGBTQIA+ youth are three times more likely to try to take their own lives compared to their straight peers.
Being LGBTQIA+ can often feel like you’re under attack from all sides. And unfortunately, this sometimes manifests in physical violence. For example, the Anti-Violence Protection (AVP) organization reported that 52 hate crimes ended in death against LGBTQIA+ people in the U.S. in 2017, an 86 percent increase from the previous year.
Specific Environmental Challenges Faced by the LGBTQIA+ Community
Let’s jump into the crux of this topic—the LGBTQIA+ community encounters unique challenges shaped by the intersection of their identity and environmental issues.
Housing Insecurity and Climate Vulnerability
The LGBTQIA+ community experiences higher rates of homelessness and housing insecurity than the general population, a problem exacerbated by climate change. Increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events lead to more displacement and housing issues. For instance, in a recent US Trans Survey, results show approximately one-third of trans people living in Louisiana reported experiencing homelessness at some point in their lives.
It’s not clear how much of this homelessness resulted from Hurricane Katrina, but what is clear: as reported by Dame Magazine, some religious organizations blamed Hurricane Katrina on the LGBTQIA+ community, claiming the disaster was a judgment for the “sins” of New Orleans.
Yet another stark illustration emerges here, spotlighting the disproportionate hurdles faced by the LGBTQIA+ community, magnified by the environmental crises and reinforced by prejudice and discrimination
LGBTQIA+ Health Disparities and Environmental Hazards
LGBTQIA+ individuals, particularly those of color, often face health disparities due to social, economic, and environmental factors. For instance, the LGBTQIA+ community experiences higher smoking rates —1.5-2.5 higher — than their heterosexual counterparts. This makes them more sensitive to lung complications due to air pollution.
Stress from discrimination can also lead to mental and physical health issues, which can be worsened by environmental factors like a lack of access to green spaces.
Climate Migration and Asylum Seekers
Climate change is causing increased migration worldwide, and LGBTQIA+ individuals face unique challenges in this context. In many countries, LGBTQIA+ individuals are particularly vulnerable to violence and discrimination, which can be intensified by the displacement caused by climate disasters. LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers fleeing regions affected by climate change may struggle to find safe refuge, particularly in countries with discriminatory laws or practices.
The Role of Policy and Legislation
So what’s being done to curb these challenges and disadvantages on a policy and legislative level? Let’s take a look.
Current Policies Addressing Environmental Injustice
Recent years have seen a growing recognition of environmental injustice and the need for policies that address these disparities. For instance, in the United States, the Environmental Justice for All Act seeks to address environmental and health disparities in minority communities.
Around the world, similar initiatives are taking shape. For example, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a significant global initiative. Specifically, Goal 11 aims to “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable” by 2030.
Current Policies Addressing LGBTQIA+ Injustice
Progress has also been made in recognizing and protecting LGBTQIA+ rights, though progress varies considerably by country. For instance, in the US, landmark rulings like the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, which guaranteed the right to marry for same-sex couples, have significantly advanced LGBTQIA+ rights.
Internationally, human rights organizations and bodies, particularly the United Nations Human Rights Council (OHCHR), are championing the rights of LGBTQIA+ individuals. Since 2011, OHCHR has enacted several initiatives that tackle discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and provide protection against violence and discrimination that the LGBTQIA+ community often faces.
The Gap: Where Policies Fail to Address Intersectional Injustice
Despite the groundwork laid by current initiatives, there remains a significant gap where these policies fail to intersect, leaving LGBTQIA+ individuals vulnerable to environmental injustices. This vulnerability is not a mere conjecture but is reinforced by recent studies revealing that nearly three out of every ten LGBTQIA+ adults reported experiencing some kind of housing discrimination or harassment in the past year. This stark reality emphasizes how housing insecurity, a critical environmental justice issue, disproportionately affects the LGBTQIA+ community.
Perhaps even more concerning is the evidence presented by the introduction of over 400 discriminatory bills introduced across US states in 2022. This alarming trend only underscores the pressing need for inclusive dialogue in our pursuit of environmental justice.
Beyond government efforts to tackle environmental and social inequalities, the role of corporate social responsibility becomes increasingly essential in addressing these intersectional injustices.
You can learn more about the role of corporate social responsibility here.
Activism and Advocacy: Leading the Charge for Change
The emergence of organizations such as Queers X Climate and OUT for Sustainability has greatly enriched the intersectional activism scene. These groups actively bridge the divide between environmental and LGBTQIA+ issues, drawing attention to their interconnectedness and advocating for their simultaneous consideration in policy-making.
Notable individuals have also been instrumental in the realm of intersectional activism. For example, Tori Tsui has effectively leveraged her platform as an intersectional climate justice activist to highlight the unique challenges individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+ and environmental advocates face.
These examples of organizations and individuals, such as Tori, are emblematic of the larger movement that recognizes the intersectionality of identities in environmental discourse. By highlighting the overlapping challenges people face at these intersections, they underscore the need for policies addressing these multifaceted injustices.
Moving Forward: Strategies for Addressing Intersectional Injustices
So what’s the best approach to tackle the injustices that face the LGBTQIA+ population? Policies that address these intersectional injustices need to be developed with the involvement of the LGBTQIA+ community to ensure that they are inclusive and effective.
Specifically, an American Progress report puts forth the following key policy recommendations:
- Enhance the availability of cost-effective, superior, unbiased healthcare services and insurance benefits for the LGBTQIA+ community.
- Boost economic prosperity and financial resilience of LGBTQIA+ individuals by encouraging diversity-friendly employment methods and office policies.
- Defend and reinforce the civil liberties of LGBTQIA+ individuals interacting with the legal and law enforcement systems.
- Cultivate an inclusive, secure, welcoming, and affirming environment in schools and educational institutions for LGBTQIA+ students.
- Guarantee improved accessibility to secure and consistent housing for LGBTQIA+ individuals and assistance services for those facing homelessness.
- Advocate for equitable and compassionate treatment of LGBTQIA+ immigrants, including the promotion of LGBTQIA+ rights internationally.
Policy changes are just one course of action. Community-led solutions are another vital aspect of addressing intersectional injustices. Communities most affected by these issues are often best equipped to devise effective solutions. An example is regenerative sustainability, a holistic approach that goes beyond simply reducing harm to actively restoring and regenerating ecosystems.
The wider society, including allies of LGBTQIA+ communities and environmental advocates, can also play a strong role in improving the lives of marginalized groups. This could involve using their platforms to amplify the voices of marginalized individuals, advocating for policy changes, or supporting LGBTQIA+ and environmental initiatives.
Equally important is the need for society to be vigilant and well-informed about greenwashing—deceptive practices that give a false impression of environmental responsibility.
In striving for a fairer society, we must recognize the value of intersectional activism in addressing the many challenges faced by minority groups. This approach will allow us to view environmental sustainability and social justice as interlinked rather than separate issues. And as we turn our gaze to the future, the importance of intersectionality becomes increasingly clear. It offers us a comprehensive roadmap to solutions that respect and respond to the diverse experiences of all communities.
By working together, we can create a more just and sustainable world that recognizes and values the intersectionality of environmental and LGBTQIA+ issues.