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Gender and Sexual Minorities: The Invisible Victims of Climate Change

There is no Pride on a Dead Planet

Author: Emma Felisi

Human Rights Researcher at ReportOUT

The life-altering consequences of climate change are becoming increasingly clear, with increasingly changing and extreme weather patterns, rising sea levels leaving cities such as Jakarta, Lagos and Venice sinking and flooded, being forced to come up with local solutions to a global problem. Global summits such as the yearly COP meetings and the recent G7 leaders’ summit in Cornwall continue to set lofty goals for the individual nations’ expected efforts to help alleviate the climate emergency, but despite this, the global temperature keeps rising exponentially with an average increase of 0.18 C per decade since 1981.[1]

Although the consequences of climate change have global reach, the effects are not equally divided. It is well-documented that marginalised people will suffer the most from the consequences of climate change.[2] Sexual and gender minorities are one of these marginalised groups. The vulnerabilities that come with being a sexual or gender minority, such as social exclusion and stigma, violence, discrimination, hate crimes and general social vulnerability, are only enhanced due to the effects of climate change, including limited access to social services, healthcare services, education and infrastructure.

As a point of reference, LGBTQI+ youth makes up 40% of homelessness in the US and 24% in the UK, and 1 in 5 LGBTQI+ Americans live in poverty. The unemployment rate amongst transgender people is triple that of the general population and is even higher for transgender people of colour.[3][4] These statistics are only worsened by climate change, as increasing natural disasters continue to displace more and more people. [5] Homeless people are particularly vulnerable to erratic weather patterns due to lack of shelter and access to resources, including events such as heat waves, freezing temperatures and hurricanes.[6] During Hurricane Katrina in the US it was documented that trans people faced discrimination and transphobia in emergency shelters, as due to heteronormativity they were forced to house with the opposite gender of which they identified or presented as, leaving them vulnerable to discrimination and violence.[7]

Local discrimination also often leaves sexual and gender minorities in inhospitable or unsafe housing environments which are particularly vulnerable to erratic weather patterns. For example, during an interview with International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), a transwoman from India stated:

“..With the upcoming monsoons, there will be heavy rains in Chennai and my house will also be flooded, because of which I can’t even invite any of my friends from the community to my home. It’s very difficult for a transgender person to get a house in the city, to make the house-owners understand. Hence, whatever be the issue, I’ll stick with my current house because there’s some understanding with its owner.”[8]

The discrimination experienced by sexual and gender minorities also often leads them to seek out and live in larger segregated and disadvantaged communities, where any potential natural disaster will have catastrophic local effects. For example in Kingston, Jamaica, many LGBTQI+ youth live in camps outside the city due to social exclusion, which are easily flooded and destroyed during hurricanes. [9]

LGBTQI+ youth homeless in Jamaica

Relief efforts tend to favour middle-class home-owner families above low-income renting households, making recovery all the more difficult for gender and sexual minorities.[10] Furthermore, It’s more difficult for sexual and gender minorities to cross national borders as refugees or migrants during national conflict and natural disasters due to the potential danger of discrimination in refugee centres, according to blogger Mahmoud Hassino.[11]

The disproportionate effects of climate change on marginalized communities also notably includes indigenous populations across the globe and their often historical diversity of sexuality and gender, thus having an indirect negative effect on the existence of non-normative sexual and gender identities.[12] Those whom fall outside the hetero-normative lens in the indigenous communities are even often excluded from the response and relief systems in place when it comes to natural disasters.

For example, it has been reported that in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, a district called the Aravanis, where a group of stigmatized people in India live who identify as neither female nor male, were completely neglected in the relief process, neglected in emergency shelters and not included in the officially recorded deaths, rendering them essentially invisible in the emergency efforts.[13]

Sexual and gender minorities often lack the means in which to tackle the consequences of climate change, compared to the general population, due to a lack of resources worsened by social exclusion, discrimination and violence. And this will be posing a growing problem as erratic weather patterns and rise of the oceans increasingly pose existential threats to humanity.

Our community is a invisible victim of climate change, and are much too often neglected as a point of discussion in climate summits, despite being one of the worst affected groups, which has only worsened their vulnerability. It is vital that in the future, any climate relief discussions will make an effort to include their biggest victims, including sexual and gender minorities. It is crucial that current plans for future development, such as the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) accepted by the UN summit of world leaders in 2015, is integral and intertwined with the fight for sexual and gender minorities and their own human rights. Some of its biggest victims cannot be neglected in environmental discussions of climate justice.

With the Sustainable Development Goals needing a more intersectional focus and to live by their tagline of ‘no one being left behind’ and the pressures of queer organisations pushing for this inclusion, then sexual and gender minorities should not be left to fend for themselves as the climate continues to amplify the hardships and oppression suffered by sexual and gender minorities worldwide.

A focus will have to fall on creating safer environments and safe spaces for sexual and gender minorities in development, relief and emergency efforts, where heteronormative lenses and homophobic/biophobic/transphobic stigmas don’t pose as a risk to survival of LGBTQI+ people, to truly show that no one is left behind or ignored. However, this push for inclusion in climate justice cannot be left solely to queer organisations to do alone.

"Climate change compounds the struggles of trans and queer people worldwide. Because of this, we believe that queer liberation must be lifted up as a key principle in climate justice organising"

How can you help?

Please share this article to raise awareness of this issue and engage in discussions around this issue.

Are you a climate or environmental organisation or NGO? To help ensure gender and sexual minorities are not neglected and forgotten in the battle for climate justice, we encourage you to contact us and to work with us to help us achieve this goal as the climate discourse grows in international prominence.

Are you an international development organisation or NGO? If so, contact us about our upcoming training course on including sexual and gender minorities in development projects. For more information on this, please click here.

For further information on the Sustainable Development Goals and the ways in which we at ReportOUT are aiming to include the SDG’s in our research, and on the effects of climate change on the rights of gender and sexual minorities, click here.

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13]

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