By Alice Staples, Sierra Club Maine Rural Organizing Fellow
While two very important issues in their own right, there is very little easy-to-find information about the link between LGBTQ+ youth and climate change. This correlation is a very unique, yet very important relationship to take into account when thinking about activism within both of these subjects. This article aims to inform about this connection between queer youth and the changing climate around us, while providing resources and places to find further information.
While only being 7% of the U.S population, LGBTQ+ youth make up 40% of the unhoused youth population in the United States. This could be because of the discrimination queer people, especially queer youth, face in the workplace, schools, and at home. While 64 percent of people in the US believe that gay or lesbian relationships are “morally acceptable” as of May 2023, this number went down from 71 percent in May 2022, according to a study done by Gallup. Similarly, in the same study in 2023, 43 percent Americans thought that “changing one’s gender” was “morally acceptable,” not specifying physically, socially, or both, while 55 percent thought it was “morally wrong.” This disapproval of transgender people was raised from 51 percent in 2022. These statistics are undoubtedly one of the many reasons why queer youth are disproportionately represented in homelessness.
Due to extreme lack of affordable housing in large, coastal cities such as Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York, most unhoused queer youth are located in these areas; these areas are also the most affected by climate change, as sea levels rise and the amount of storm surges increase due to climate change. Not only this, but with warmer temperatures, low-income housing becomes more and more dangerous to live in. This is in part due to many affordable apartments and houses containing lead paint, asbestos, and even radon. On top of this, many LGBTQ+ youth are subjected to the exposure of secondhand smoke, as well as being more likely to smoke themselves. Not only does this create a lot of stress for the respiratory system by itself, but uncontrollable factors such as air pollution and gender-affirming care like chest binding add to this stress.
On a governmental level, unhoused queer youth are also unprotected by extreme weather and natural disasters. During catastrophic storms such as Hurricanes Katrina and Laura in Louisiana, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) unfairly distributed resources towards higher-income renters and homeowners. This discrimination was so high that the poorest renters and homeowners were 23 percent more likely to not receive resources or assistance from the agency. Black individuals are also disproportionately affected by this crisis, as shown through a decline in the population of Black people within towns and cities after a natural disaster hits them. This shows that LGBTQ+ homeless youth are not getting resources they need from government agencies, and the intersectionality between gender, sexuality, and race are all determinants in the likelihood of assistance from the government.
The final point I would like to talk about is gender-based violence. While seemingly not connected to the effects of climate change, this violence is actually increased after major weather events like hurricanes and other natural disasters. Transgender individuals are also targets of this violence, as in 2018, the same year that Hurricane Michael affected Florida, 28 transgender people were killed due to gender-based violence. Of these 28, 19 of these people were also people of color.
These statistics are frightening, and as a transgender woman, I truly believe that environmental justice is not just the fight to save the planet from pollution, but it’s to bring justice to queer youth, homeless youth, and people of color. Luckily, there are plenty of resources, both national and local to Maine, to help with these issues. Those are listed here:
- The Trevor Project is a national non-profit dedicated to supporting LGBTQ+ youth through suicide prevention and mental health resources. Their hotline is 1-866-488-7386, and they can also be found at www.thetrevorproject.org.
- True Colors United is another national non-profit supporting LGBTQ+ homeless youth. You can learn more at www.truecolorsunited.org.
- The Sierra Club, a national organization that has chapters in all 50 states, as well as Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, is dedicated to bring awareness and invent solutions for the climate crisis affecting the world. www.sierraclub.org
- As for local nonprofits, OUTMaine is an organization based out of Rockland, ME focusing on supporting queer youth through local and online events, as well as providing schools with proper resources for LGBTQ+ students. www.outmaine.org
- New Beginnings is an organization from Lewiston, ME, helping to provide unhoused youth with housing, as well as assisting with transitional living and engaging in educational support. www.newbeginmaine.org
- Finally, JustME for JustUS (JMJU) is a nonprofit organizing youth in rural Maine in the fight against the climate crisis. Events are organized by other youth in hopes of bringing people together from Western, Northern, and Downeast Maine. www.justmeforjustus.org
- Brady, Aletta, et al. “What the Queer Community Brings to the Fight for Climate Justice.” Grist, 9 Apr. 2019, https://grist.org/article/what-the-queer-community-brings-to-the-fight-for-climate-justice/?bbeml=tp-GF3s2x0w1EigNB0MP78DTw.jZov5RIZLSU2xxH5Bp2izyg.rguY5DA3Ls0qWZPkvkZUJwQ.lGhrVIL1c9ECJzYUURu_NCg.
- Simhoni, Shanee. “How Environmental and Climate Injustice Affects the LGBTQI+ Community.” Center for American Progress, 16 June 2022, https://www.americanprogress.org/article/how-environmental-and-climate-injustice-affects-the-lgbtqi-community/.
- Calma, J. (2018, October 29). Yes, trans rights are an environmental issue, too. Grist. https://grist.org/article/transgender-rights-climate-intersectionality/
- “LGBTQ+ Rights.” Gallup.Com, Gallup, 6 July 2023, https://news.gallup.com/poll/1651/gay-lesbian-rights.aspx.