The discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community in America is well documented. However, the public discourse tends not to focus on the interpersonal acts of bigotry or legislative debates. What has received less attention, however, is how this discrimination puts the LGBTQ+ disproportionately at risk to environmental exposures — and, in particular, how these challenges intersect with issues of public health.
In a Recent paper published in American Journal of Public Health, Michelle Bell, Mary E. Pinchot Professor of Environmental Health at Yale, and Leo Goldsmith ’20 MEM, who worked in Bell’s lab while at YSE, lay out the unequal environmental burden that the LGBTQ+ community faces and the ways in which the environmental justice movement can be more inclusive.
“The LGBTQ+ population is at more risk to environmental challenges because, just like many other marginalized populations, they face social, economic, and health inequities and disparities,” says Goldsmith. “The resilience of LGBTQ+ populations can also be affected as they are less likely to be able to access necessary resources, aid, and health care due to structural policies.”
According to the Center of American Progress Goldsmith, more than 1 out 3 LGBTQ+ Americans experienced some form of discrimination in 2020. This includes more than 3 out 5 transgender Americans. This discrimination manifests itself most clearly in the LGBTQ+ community’s access to housing, employment, health care, and mental health and safety.
This discrimination, the authors say, reduces the LGBTQ+ community’s capacity to respond to environmental harm. Much like social determinants of health have been shown to be associated with unequal harmful environmental exposure based on race and socioeconomic status, chronic diseases associated with environmental exposure — respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases and cancer, for example — are found at a higher rate in the LGBTQ+ community than in cisgender, heterosexual populations.
According to the authors, insufficient research has been done on the links between environment and health inequalities among LGBTQ+ populations. They believe that there is a pressing need to address these issues. The paper contains specific recommendations including the implementation of a system for collecting sexual orientation and gender identity data both nationally and locally, anti-discriminatory policies in the federal government, policies to assist transgender and nonbinary individuals to get appropriate identification documents, and the incorporation LGBTQ+ issues into environmental justice research or organizations.
“There has been a start to addressing LGBTQ+ issues within the environmental justice movement with an intersectional environmental justice social media campaign meant to educate those on the issue,” says Goldsmith, who is Latinx and identifies as queer and transgender. “However, LGBTQ+ populations need to become a focal point of the environmental justice movement and academics to fully capture the impact from environmental injustices and the needs of those who are Black, Latinx, indigenous, low-income, and/or identify as LGBTQ+.”
Goldsmith, a student, co-chaired student interest groups (SIGs). Yale Environmental Justice and Out in the Woods, an LGBTQ affinity group at the School. He also organized an event in 2019, “Queer Present Danger in the Context of Climate Change,” a workshop that brought climate experts to campus to discuss the climate impacts and risks specific to the queer community.
American Journal of Public Health
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Queering Environmental Justice: The LGBTQ+ Community’s Environmental Health Burden
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