The New U.S. Climate Report Includes LGBTQ+ People and Issues for the First Time

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This year, the U.S. government’s official climate report included LGBTQ+ communities as a population affected by climate change for the first time in the report’s 23-year history.

Published every four years, the U.S. National Climate Assessment details the ways in which climate change specifically impacts (and is affected by) the United States. This year’s Fifth National Climate Assessment (also known as the NCA5), which was released on November 14, references queer and trans Americans in chapters of the report dedicated to climate risks and human health.

This inclusion of LGBTQ+ populations was championed by climate and health science Leo Goldsmith (who uses he and they pronouns), who wrote the “Sexual & Gender Minorities’ Health,'' section of Chapter 15 of the NCA5 (titled “Human Health”). In a recent interview with Grist, Goldsmith said that they became interested in researching the impacts of climate change on LGBTQ+ people after not seeing queer and trans communities represented in their graduate coursework at Yale School of the Environment.

“As somebody who is pansexual and a transmasculine, nonbinary person, I did not see sexual orientation and gender identity being addressed in the literature as populations that are at risk for climate change,” Goldsmith said. “Having [this research] in the report means that this is something that is valid, and that LGBTQ+ communities are a vulnerable population, with the backing of the peer-reviewed literature.”

As the NCA5 points out in its opening chapter, the acceleration of climate change will inevitably worsen existing issues within healthcare, and even create new ones.

“While climate change can harm everyone’s health, its impacts exacerbate long-standing disparities that result in inequitable health outcomes for historically marginalized people, including people of color, Indigenous Peoples, low-income communities, and sexual and gender minorities,” the report reads.

“I feel that folks may not think that LGBTQ+ individuals are actually disproportionately impacted due to what’s called the ‘gay affluence myth,’” Goldsmith told Grist. “We primarily see in the media that LGBTQ+ individuals are white, wealthy, gay, cis men. [We’re] not really seeing the entirety of diversity within the community, and ways that they could be disproportionately impacted.”

The NCA5 expands on these inequities in its “Human Health” section, which outlines how some members of the LGBTQ+ community are more likely to experience the health impacts of climate change due to the intersection of their identities and also makes it clear that LGBTQ+ people are already a vulnerable population. The report cites the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, which found that Black and Latinx trans people were more than three times as likely as the overall U.S. population to live below the poverty line; and a 2015 Department of Agriculture report on “gendered vulnerability and resilience in Indigenous communities in the United States,” which found that queer and trans Indigenous Americans deal with heightened health disparities.”

Meanwhile, the NCA5 notes that the LGBTQ+ community is often not included in disaster plans “due to discrimination and institutional structures that prioritize the needs of cisgender, heterosexual individuals.” To compound this issue, many queer and trans Americans opt not to seek refuge at faith-based organizations, which often act as first responders, due to fear of being discriminated against or not receiving medical treatment due to healthcare workers’ religious biases.

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Speaking to Grist, Goldsmith also outlined some potential solutions that activists and community leaders can take to help address the disparities that LGBTQ+ Americans face in climate disaster scenarios, such as adding policies that explicitly include gender identity and sexual orientation in the Robert T. Stafford Act for disaster relief and emergency assistance, which is the nondiscrimination policy that covers all U.S. agencies’ disaster responses. Currently, the legislation only includes the term “sex” when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community. Goldsmith also recommended including cultural competency training on these communities among healthcare and disaster organizations like FEMA.

In the meantime, they emphasized the importance of research like this in enacting these protections for LGBTQ+ people.

“If there is no research or peer-reviewed literature on a subject, [government agencies] can’t really do anything about it… There’s a lot of really good intention, but unfortunately because it’s so under-researched, it can kind of fall away,” Goldsmith added. “[...] There’s been at least a little bit of progress. But we definitely need much, much more research. And not only research, but advocacy. The folks on the ground who are saying, ‘This is important and this needs to be listened to’ — they’re the most important piece out of all of this.”

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