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Climate Change & Queer Representation

June 2023 by Catherine McGinn

Photo by Mick De Paola on Unsplash

As the climate changes, we are witnessing, and some of us bearing, the effects of extreme weather events, and an ever-worsening threat to humanity and our shared world. But we know that climate change does not affect us all equally, and that marginalised groups, including the LGBTQIA+ community, are disproportionately affected by, and more exposed to, the effects of climate change.

There is an ever-growing population, with tens of millions of people across the world identifying as LGBTQIA+. That said, despite growth in populations around the world, queer voices remain under-represented, including within the climate sphere.

Although the intersectionality between climate change & the LGBTQIA+ community is increasingly researched and recognised, most research overlooks the ways in which queer voices are represented, or the lack thereof, and how to better support and represent our LGBTQIA+ friends, colleagues, activists, leaders and thinkers in climate spaces.

Queer representation matters

Queer representation matters in the environmental movement because the climate crisis is displacing queer and trans identities at high rates. Not only are LGBTQIA+ people more exposed to homelessness, extreme weather events and face marginalisation in disaster relief practices, but systemic issues such as discrimination, economic disparities, and social inequalities are a prevalent issue for queer individuals, and something we could all better understand.

Representation matters because it allows more voices, experiences and ways of thinking to be heard, and enables us to learn from and grow with each other in the collective fight against climate change. However, fundamentally, queer individuals must see themselves in the reflection of intersectional issues such as climate change, so they can see positive images of people who look and sound like them, and figures who they can look up to, to encourage and inspire involvement in collective fights as such.

Speaking about representation in the climate movement, Isaias Hernandez, more commonly known as Queer Brown Vegan, says “Growing up as a low-income queer person of colour, there wasn’t really that much representation out there. When it came to my Latin identity, I never related to dominant class environmentalism, where some classes grew up travelling across the world or having experiences with the natural outdoors. I [didn’t] see myself in those pictures or experiences”.

But now, after finding his passion as an environmental educator and activist, Isaias found that his identity as a queer person of colour, is at the heart of his environmental teachings and activism.

“We need to showcase to young people that it’s okay to be a queer environmentalist – there are people doing this work that look like you.”

American drag queen and outdoors enthusiast, Pattie Gonia, has brought queer issues to the forefront of the environmental movement, by combining their fight for LGBTQIA+ rights with their passion for outdoor exploration and nature. This has helped create an outdoors community to encourage other queer people to foster a relationship with nature, promotes acceptance of queer identities in environmental communities, and promotes awareness of climate change and its effects.

While this outdoor community is based in the US, similar groups exist in different places around the world. The Gay Outdoor Club and Queer Out Here are two UK-based groups where regular outdoor activities and events are held for LGBTQIA+ people to join.

Pattie has also dedicated their work to promoting acceptance of queer identities within environmental communities and places of work, by creating a Queer Outdoor & Environmental Job Board, to support queer identities in finding safe and accepting places to work that align with their interests.

Brave voices

Amplifying the voices of those affected by climate change is vital to shed light on lived experiences and understand the ways in which queer individuals are impacted, and what steps we, as a society, can take to offer support.

That’s why this Pride Month, we surveyed our team at The Carbon Literacy Project to enable colleagues to share the thoughts, experiences and emotions they experience in the climate sector, allowing us to gain a true understanding of the impact that LGBTQIA+ individuals face in the climate sphere and sector.

Understanding the impact

Firstly, when asked “How well do you think the LGBTQIA+ community is represented in the climate sector?“, participants unanimously shared the opinion that queer individuals are not sufficiently supported in the climate sector, with an average score of 4.3 on a scale from 1-10.

Worries surrounding the status of transgender people and racialised queer people in the UK were prevalent, as transgender identities are faced with increasing and systemic marginalisation, and ethnic queer individuals face marginalisation, not only based on their gender and/or sexual identity, but on their racialisation too.

That said, while this highlights the more commonly known impacts, the survey revealed that advocacy and representation are the biggest issues that queer individuals face, and that climate activism and policy-making spaces are not always inclusive of LGBTQIA+ voices.

Understanding emotions

Our colleagues shared that as LGBTQIA+ individuals and allies working in the climate sector, they often feel anger, frustration, and fear – a fear of speaking up, or not being taken seriously if they do, and a fear that they have a lack of agency and power to contribute to their spheres of influence.

Understanding how organisations can better support LGBTQIA+ employees

Organisations must foster an inclusive culture for queer individuals, through creating safe spaces for the community to come together and share their voices.

More particularly, organisations can better support queer employees by promoting diversity among the team and in leadership positions, actively seeking diverse voices and perspectives in decision-making processes, implementing diversity training programs and fostering partnerships with LGBTQIA+ organisations.

Furthermore, organisations could review employee benefits such as healthcare plans, encourage LGBTQIA+ employees to provide feedback on practices, and seek to produce an inclusion statement, with specific reference to the organisation’s support for trans rights.

We need to allow queer colleagues to express their opinions comfortably, to help create a team environment where ideas are diverse, perspectives are varied, and everyone feels valued.

Where can we go from here?

It’s clear that LGBTQIA+ individuals do not have enough support when it comes to climate change, and while some progress has been made, there’s still much more to do. Climate change initiatives need to better adopt intersectional approaches and address the systemic issues that LGBTQIA+ individuals face.

We need to create better diversity in climate spaces and make environmentalism a more inclusive space for all. By amplifying the voices of those most affected, we can tackle climate change at its core and make meaningful strides towards a more equitable and sustainable future.

If you are from the LGBTQIA+ community and would like to share a story in relation to queer representation and climate change, please contact us at info@carbonliteracy.com and we would be honoured to help amplify your voice, and share your experiences and thoughts.

We are always working to increase the diversity and inclusion of our team. If you are an LGBTQIA+ individual, or from another group within society that needs stronger representation within the environmental sector, and are interested in working with our team, please keep an eye out for job openings, or apply for a volunteer role. If you feel you have something to add to our organisation, we would love your insight and to hear your voice.

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