Climate change and LGBTQ+ liberation: a global catastrophe of epic proportions and a social struggle for acceptance and equality. Although the two issues are seemingly distinguishable, their intersectionality is becoming more evident. What does a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation have to do with climate change? As explored in our previous article: Environmental Intersectionality –Race, Gender, and the Climate Crisis (Part 1), the climate crisis exacerbates the existing inequalities in our society. The problems that the LGBTQ+ community faces on a daily basis are only made worse by the natural disasters brought by climate change. For some time now, organisations such as GLAAD have described the climate crisis as a LGBTQ+ issue. Earlier this year, UK charity GiveOut launched the world’s first LGBTQI climate fund. The fund aims to support activists globally in their efforts to raise awareness and advocate for the LGBTQI community suffering as a consequence of the climate crisis. Such action is undoubtedly necessary as LGBTQ+ individuals face additional barriers in order to survive natural disasters.
Homelessness and instability leave LGBTQ+ youth vulnerable during natural disasters, which are becoming increasingly more common. The LGBTQ+ community has always been overrepresented in the homeless youth population. According to research by the Albert Kennedy Trust, approximately one in four young homeless people in the UK identify as LGBT. Additionally, the research found that 77% of LGBT homeless youth state their identity as a causal factor in them becoming homeless. With such concerning figures in one of the most LGBTQ+ accepting countries in the world, it is difficult to grasp the scale of these same issues elsewhere.
In recent years, the experiences of the ‘Gully Queens’ of Kingston, Jamaica have been well-documented by the media. The group of Trans and gay youths received notoriety for their unique fashion sense and drag styles. The term ‘gully’ refers to the sewers which the group were forced to live in to avoid violence and harassment.ᶦ Clearly, the sewer is not the optimal shelter from a hurricane or flood, but for those that have been exiled both by their families and communities, where else is there to go?
In the wake of a natural disaster, LGBTQ+ individuals often struggle to access government resources for fear of persecution in countries where trans identity is not legally recognised and homosexuality is criminalised. When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, Trans individuals were reportedly discriminated against and even denied access to emergency shelters. In Tonga, LGBT+ people were reportedly not welcomed in shelters organised by religious NGOs.ᶦᶦ Similar situations will continue to arise as communities reject trans identity and as a consequence deny trans women access to women’s shelters. The status of climate migrant is not LGBT+ inclusive. Those who are already marginalised will only be pushed further from society when they are most in need of support.
As discussed, climate change is a threat-multiplier in that it exacerbates existing social problems. One area that is often not discussed is the inextricable link between climate change and migration. Climate migrants are individuals who are forced to leave their homes due to drastic changes in the environment. Consequently, climate change intensifies the prevalence of disaster displacement and thus migration. Environmental degradation and climate change can disproportionately force farmers from low-income and BIPOC communities to migrate into cities. It can be difficult for those individuals to smoothly transition from agrarian lifestyles to adhere to metropolitan standards of living. Those individuals affected by environmental injustice may not be able to move elsewhere due to lack of financial resources or social networks.
Climate migration connotes climate displacement, mass migration, distress migration and climate refugees. Under international law, climate change is not considered a valid factor for claiming refugee status. The current stance enables migrants to claim asylum through refugee status if they have a ‘well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or particular opinion.’ᶦᶦᶦ
As such, the law does not recognise the term ‘climate refugee.’ The anti-immigration rhetoric in Europe has prevented governments from embracing policies that support climate refugees as a new class under international law. Therefore, borders continue to ostracise and criminalise marginalised groups in support of colonialism. International law is not equipped to protect climate migrants as there is no legally binding agreement obliging countries to support migrants. In 2018, the World Bank estimated that Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia’s regions will generate 143 million more climate migrants by 2050.ᶦᵛ
Moving forward, “We need to invest now in preparedness to mitigate future protection needs and prevent further climate caused displacement. Waiting for disaster to strike is not an option.”ᵛ
Climate action needs to be inclusive of those with disabilities as they are at increased risk of the adverse impacts of climate change. People with disabilities make up an estimated 15% of the global population. ᵛᶦDue to discrimination, marginalization, and certain social and economic factors, people with disabilities may experience the effects of climate change differently and more intensely than others. Persons with disabilities are often among those most adversely affected in an emergency, sustaining disproportionately higher rates of morbidity and mortality, and at the same time being among those least able to access emergency support.
ᶦ J Felsenthal, Meet the Gully Queens, the Transgender Women Defying Jamaica’s Culture of Homophobia (Vogue, 10 November 2016) < https://www.vogue.com/article/ray-blk-chill-out-video-premiere-gully-queens> 2 June 2021
ᶦᶦ H Greenhalgh, UK Charity launches world first LGBT+ climate fund (Everythingnews, 11 March 2021)< https://www.reuters.com/article/us-climate-change-lgbt-trfn-idUSKBN2B32YD> 2 June 2021
ᶦᶦᶦ UNHCR- 1951 Refugee Convention
ᶦᵛ Kumari Rigaud, Kanta, Alex de Sherbinin, Bryan Jones, Jonas Bergmann, Viviane Clement, Kayly Ober, Jacob Schewe, Susana Adamo, Brent McCusker, Silke Heuser, and Amelia Midgley. 2018. Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration. The World Bank. Pg 2. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/29461
ᵛ Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees