Getting LGBTQ Communities Through the Storm

–Amber Nodes

The LGBTQ community faces disproportionate harm because of climate change, especially during climate disasters. The harms include less access to medical care, discrimination causing a lack of trust in faith-based organizations and less access to preventative measures, which places them at a higher risk of injury or death during a disaster. 

New Jersey is heading down the path to more climate disasters in the future, according to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (NJDEP) summary of likely changes.  Changes include higher temperatures, leading to more precipitation, which will cause more destructive storms in the coming years. 

New Jersey has been a leader for LGBTQ rights in the past couple of years, reports Asbury Park Press, but the community still faces issues with medical barriers, homelessness and climate disasters in the state.

Some risks may be partially averted through higher rates of trust in medical professionals, less reliance on faith-based organizations for relief and more funding and research into the types of relief that the community needs.

New Jersey could be missing out on federal funding for the LGBTQ community because the census does not include questions about sexuality and gender identity, reports They report that some municipalities in NJ have started asking questions on their forms anyway to create programs that the community needs.

There has been historical discrimination against the LGBTQ community by faith-based organizations, unfortunately, there has been a heavy reliance on faith-based organizations for disaster relief, said Leo Goldsmith, a climate and health specialist and co-author of the article mentioned.

“The most consistent place that I have dealt with harassment and hate crimes are by religious organizations,” said Marceline Hale, a transgender political science major at The College of New Jersey.

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

“I think you can do community work without something being religious in any sense of the word. Because it makes everything a lot more complicated,” said Hale.

In recent years, more LGBTQ shelters have been opened in NJ, like the RAIN Foundation in Essex. RAIN said on their website that often LGBTQ people are dropped off and left with them after they come out. The foundation wants to provide them with life skills they are missing out on by being homeless and without parents, like how to have a stable home, employment and relationships. New Jersey has even launched an initiative to help end discrimination in shelters across the state, reports

An article titled, “Queer and present danger: understanding the disparate impacts of disasters on LGBTQ+ communities” highlights the disproportionate amount of pressure on the LGBTQ community during times of disasters, like hurricanes. The article describes different factors affecting the community and gives examples of their treatment. 

The LGBTQ community is often absent from relief policies because there are not many studies that look at the experiences of LGBTQ individuals during disasters, the article said. It also recommends possible policy changes that may relieve some of these hardships. 

Plans for disaster should address the way populations are serviced by emergency responders, shelters, evacuation, and preparedness, the article recommends. It writes that this should include groups that depend on institutions, like incarcerated people, homeless shelters, rehabilitation centers, foster care and other institutions as well. A focus should be given to ensure the LGBTQ community can specify their pronouns and chosen family in paperwork and emergency responses.

Goldsmith said that cultural and structural competency training are possible solutions.

Questions and concerns answered by “cultural competency” training include: “‘What’s the proper language?’ ‘What’s the community?’ ‘What does it mean to be gay or trans?’” Goldsmith said. “Those types of things, very basic understanding of the LGBTQ+ community, and then incorporated with disaster organizations, health organizations, allied community centers, things like that.” 

New Jersey became the second state in the nation to require the inclusion of LGBTQ topics into the school curriculum in 2019, reports WHYY.

The article said that structural competency would expose providers to conversations about discrimination based on race, class, sex, gender expression, identity, and immigration status to help convey “contextual vulnerability” to plan better safety measures for the community.

“Structural competency, in terms of engaging communities that primarily provide services to LGBTQ+ communities. So, that includes like assisted living facilities, substance abuse centers, homeless shelters for youth,” said Goldsmith. “Also, incorporating LGBTQ+ specific language within communication plans resilience plans, disaster plans and ensuring that, that kind of language being used is being worked on with LGBTQ+ leaders and communities.”

He said that one possible solution would be to provide funding for LGBTQ community centers so they could become “resilience hubs” during disasters. They could provide shelter, basic medical care or resources and by becoming a Community Emergency Response Team or CERT trained. CERT is a nationally-funded, locally-driven initiative to teach communities how to respond in the event of hazards that may impact their communities.

“There’s very little funding that actually goes to LGBTQ+ issues. And there is very little funding that goes to disaster relief and services for LGBTQ+ individuals, a lot of that is crowd-sourced,” said Goldsmith.

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 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. 

There are some things the medical community could do to make Hale feel more welcome to seek treatment. “Stuff like having an option in your application process that says, ‘what is your preferred name and pronouns?’ I’ve had experiences with medical professionals where something will be just a little off,” she said.

Seventy-one percent of transgender respondents said that medical professionals were not trained to provide adequate care for them.

“They’ll open the door and they’re calling out my dead name,” referencing being called in for her visit. She said she can never know what is going to happen and it can be scary. 

“To people like me, a name is everything,” Hale said. “It’s how a person respects you. When you have to deal with someone that doesn’t respect your name, that hurts.”

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