Disaster and the LGBTQ Community

–Amber Nodes

Due to compounding factors, members of the LGBTQ community are more likely to be seriously affected by climate-related disasters. These factors include discrimination causing hesitancy in seeking medical attention, fear of faith-based organizations, and lower levels of accessibility. These issues can be obscured because there is a stereotype that the LGBTQ community is better off in society than they actually are. New Jersey has robust laws against discrimination, but the LGBTQ community remains facing barriers.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) reported in 2020 a summary of likely changes in New Jersey due to climate change, including, higher temperatures, leading to more precipitation, more intense storms and greater amounts of flooding in the upcoming years, leading to more destruction.

Leo Goldsmith, a climate and health specialist and co-author of the articles mentioned, said, “People who have unique needs that need to be addressed during disaster planning, preparedness implementation and relief and services, that their needs aren’t being met.”

Goldsmith said that there is a heavy reliance on faith-based organizations for disaster relief, which have historically discriminated against the LGBTQ community. Many LGBTQ people are wary of faith-based organizations because of these historical prejudices.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness reports that faith-based organizations provide almost 30% of the total of emergency shelters.

“The most consistent place that I have dealt with harassment and hate crimes are by religious organizations. Even on our own college campus, I have dealt with really disgusting behavior from people that preach religion. I’ve been told I’m going to Hell, and that Satan is talking to me.” said Marceline Hale, a transgender political science major at The College of New Jersey, said in an interview. “It’s not just me. There’s a lot of people that don’t feel safe around religious organizations.”

“Queer and present danger: understanding the disparate impacts of disasters on LGBTQ+ communities” writes that disaster and response policies largely ignore the needs of the estimated more than 16 million people in the LGBTQ community in the country during disasters. It states that LGBTQ people are at an increased risk of being affected because of many factors that compound during disasters.

The community faces higher rates of homelessness, incarceration, chronic illness and disability. These factors place them at a higher risk of injury or death during a disaster, it said.

The article also explains how higher levels of poverty deny LGBTQ individuals from being prepared to guard against disasters. People with more than one marginalized identity, like race, gender or disability, were more likely to have disadvantages before disasters. The lack of planning for these factors aggravates this disparity.

Comparatively, LGBTQ people are more likely to experience homelessness than other groups. One in three transgender people reported being homeless at one point in their life. Additionally, LGBTQ youth were 120% more likely to be homeless than other youth groups; these homeless LGBTQ youths were disproportionally people of color, according to the article.

Another article called  “Queering Environmental Justice: Unequal Environmental Health Burden on the LGBTQ+ Community” also co-authored by Goldsmith, describes other impacts that LGBTQ people face because of environmental factors such as disasters, health care, air pollution and more.

Goldsmith said that often policies do not have protections specific to LGBTQ identities because many of the policies only use the term “sex” causing some state administrations to propose that “sex” does not cover sexuality and gender identity. 

According to the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) is one of the most comprehensive laws in the United States preventing discrimination. This law makes discrimination against LGBTQ people illegal, including in shelters. 

While New Jersey has a comprehensive anti-discrimination law, many other states do not. According to the Movement Advancement Project, an estimated 31% of LGBTQ people live in states with no protections against public accommodation discrimination and another 2% live in states in which there are only protections for sexual orientation, but not gender identity.

During disasters, medical care for HIV also becomes harder to access, according to “The Impact of Hurricane Sandy on HIV Testing Rates”. This article focused on the impacts of disasters on diagnosing HIV, and it found that there was an immediate decline in the rates of testing, which is detrimental to the prevention of the spread of the infection. HIV impacts mostly gay and bisexual men, the CDC reports.

The Human Rights Watch reports that LGBTQ people face many barriers in medical care. These barriers include difficulty finding providers knowledgeable about their needs, active discrimination, and delaying or hesitating in seeking treatment because of fear of how they will be treated. 

In 2017, research was done to see how the LGBTQ community in New Jersey felt about the medical care they received in the state. Over 80% of the participants with insurance underutilized care and opted to seek care less often. Thirteen percent were uninsured, this percentage was disproportionally represented by transgender respondents. 

Over half of the respondents said that their perceived barriers to seeking healthcare were lack of financial resources, fear of discrimination from providers if they found out about LGBTQ status and that medical professionals are unable to provide adequate LGBTQ-specific healthcare. Seventy-one percent of transgender respondents said that medical professionals were not trained to provide adequate care for them.

“I always err on the side of caution,” said Hale. “There’s always a sense of mistrust and like I don’t have the most trust in medical professionals at all times.”

Skip to toolbar