Climate Crisis Poses Unique Threats to LGBTQ+ community

Global warming concept: A tree sits in the center of the image, which is split down the middle. The left shows a barren desert while the right shows greenery.

The headlines are nothing short of apocalyptic.

“We are living through Earth’s hottest month on record, scientists say.”

“A crucial system of ocean currents is heading for a collapse that ‘would affect every person on the planet.’”

“U.S., European heat waves ‘virtually impossible’ without climate change, study finds.”

“More than 40M Americans living in cities experience ‘heat islands.’”

Human Adaptation to Heat Can’t Keep Up With Human-Caused Climate Change”

Climate change is intersectional in all the wrong ways, exacerbating racism, classism and misogyny. People who are low-income, Black, indigenous, Latinx or LGBTQ+ all face marginalization, disenfranchisement and discrimination. These communities are already underserved, which makes them least prepared to recover from the most severe harms caused by the climate crisis. 

As the environmental activist group Greenpeace notes, like many social crises, “climate change exacerbates the pre-existing inequalities found in society such as housing and medical care, among many others, leading to trans and queer people being disproportionately affected during climate disasters and by the wider effects of climate breakdown on society.”

Most news sites have stopped using the term climate change and moved to climate crisis and climate emergency as more accurate descriptions of what’s happening. What is climate crisis? Oxford Languages Dictionary defines it as “a situation characterized by the threat of highly dangerous, irreversible changes to the global climate.” Here is how it can be used in a sentence: “These pillars of action give us a global roadmap to tackle the climate crisis and to ensure a sustainable future.”

In the midst of this summer climate crisis, that “sustainable future” feels less and less likely.

In Phoenix, the temperature has been above 110 for a month, breaking all records for the city widely regarded as the hottest livable city in the U.S. Phoenix is a cautionary tale as climate crisis causes summers to be hotter and less livable. Phoenix is also revealing how marginalized groups are more at risk in heat. Homeless people are being brought to hospitals with burns sustained from sitting on sidewalks because the temperature of a sidewalk in this heat reaches 180 degrees — causing second and third degree burns.

Philadelphia — situated in the mid-Atlantic, the mildest sector of the country, with the least weather extremes — has not gone unscathed. The city is entering yet another heat wave. Philly also had no snow this past winter and in May had no measurable rainfall — both symptomatic of climate disruption.

Philadelphia summers are getting hotter. And as is true nationwide, that heat is distributed unevenly, with wealthier areas with more trees being as much as 22 degrees cooler than others. The impact of climate crisis is classist, racist and anti-LGBTQ+. In Philadelphia’s low-income neighborhoods, low-tree canopy, fewer green spaces and a legacy of redlining add up to a far hotter area.

Some of Philly’s hottest neighborhoods include Cobbs Creek, Hunting Park, Point Breeze and Strawberry Mansion. 

Philly’s average summer temps rose 4.2 degrees in 2022 compared to 1970, per a new analysis by climate research group Climate Central. Average temperatures were 79.3 degrees in 2022, compared to 75.1 in 1970. Philly’s 2022 average temps during the summer were the second highest since 1970 and 2023 will likely exceed all records.

Philadelphia — the poorest big city in the U.S. — isn’t the only one at risk from climate crisis, obviously. But the breadth of poverty in the city — which impacts queer and trans people dramatically, as PGN has reported — intensifies the threat from increasing heat and those “heat islands,” like Center City, Northern Liberties, Point Breeze and other areas where LGBTQ+ people are settling. 

The statistics on rising temperatures aren’t the only concerning ones.   

Climate crisis will exacerbate structural inequalities, creating divergent challenges for LGBTQ+ people. The Center for American Progress (CAP) states that, “Environmental injustice disproportionately affects women, low-income communities, and LGBTQ+ people; what’s more, people who share more than one of these identities may be even more disproportionately burdened.”

CAP states, “LGBTQ+ people have long been subject to a disproportionate burden of pollution compared with cisgender heterosexual people — due to discriminatory housing policies, ‘heteronormative NIMBYism,’ or the exclusion of LGBTQ+ spaces in certain communities, and higher poverty rates. Studies have found that areas with higher proportions of same-sex couples saw increased amounts of hazardous air pollutants compared with areas with lower proportions of same-sex couples.”

CAP adds, “This has resulted in LGBTQ+ people suffering higher rates of chronic diseases associated with environmental exposure, such as respiratory diseases, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.” 

As Greenpeace explains, LGBTQ+ people are “often forced to leave their homes due to family conflicts, threats of abuse or actual violence, which makes them experience higher rates of homelessness.” 

Greenpeace adds that queer and trans people also “tend to move to segregated locations to reduce the risk of discrimination and harassment from neighbors and landlords. These areas are often the most polluted, which causes many health issues long term and also make them much more vulnerable to natural disasters.”

Greenpeace focuses on the vast amount of housing inequities among LGBTQ+ people, particularly the disproportionate number of homeless queer and trans youth.

They note: “Homeless people and those with inadequate housing such as the LGBTQ+ community will always be the most affected by natural disasters, temperature rise and polluted air. Not only are they often on the front lines of natural disasters, but they also often get refused the help and shelter meant to assist climate impacted communities.”

Climate Change is an LGBTQ Issue,” published by Northern Michigan University states that the marginalization of the LGBTQ+ community is exacerbated by climate crisis and natural disasters stemming from climate crisis. NMU also states that “gender-based violence, especially for the trans community, increases significantly after climate-related disasters.”

Both Greenpeace and NMU note that LGBTQ+ people are often turned away or outright banned from shelters during climate emergencies. But CAP notes other, more daily concerns that run parallel to environmental racism. 

CAP states, “While little data exist on this topic, LGBTQ people also likely experience disproportionately high exposure to indoor environmental hazards, such as lead paint, lead pipes, asbestos, radon, and other pollutants, due to the many housing challenges these communities face; these hazards are extremely common in substandard housing. LGBTQI+ people are also more at risk of secondhand smoke exposure; smoking rates are higher among these populations, creating higher secondhand exposure where they live, work, and socialize. This exposure can exacerbate the respiratory stress that LGBTQ populations may experience from air pollution and chest binding, which is a common practice among transgender men to achieve a flat chest.”

In addition, all that smoke from the wildfires burning in Canada and New Jersey have a disproportionate impact on people with HIV, due to particulate matter in that smoke, which settles in the lungs. 

“Until recently, there has been a gap in our understanding of how environmental and climate injustice specifically impacts LGBTQI+ people,” Anahí Naranjo, the communications manager of the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy (CEED), told CAP. “Adding an LGBTQI+ lens to environmental justice work will ensure we are advocating for clean air, clean water, and a livable climate for every community.” 

She concluded, “It’s vital that we continue to listen to the stories of all communities that experience multiple systems of oppression to truly deliver on environmental justice.”

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