the voice and vision of a new generation
Image credit: Peoples Climate

There is no Planet B: Why climate change is an LGBTQ issue

March 15, 2019

Global warming has been a topic in the news for as long as I can remember. Al Gore’s climate change documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, winning the Nobel Prize is one of my earliest media memories. Although I may not have understood every part of the film at the time, I took away one big message: Global warming is bad and we have to stop it.

Much in the same vein, when I learned I was gay, I didn’t understand all the ins and outs of sexuality. Yet, society taught me that being a boy who likes boys was wrong. The same existential dread I felt around the end of the world due to global warming reared its head again, except this time it wasn’t about the whole world, just mine.

My world didn’t end when I came out—on the contrary, it expanded. Coming out to friends in high school and then publicly to everyone in college brought me in contact with a whole new world, one I wouldn’t have been able to join had it not been for the support I received from my community, people I’d met by getting involved with fighting climate change. While the fight was important to me, before I came out I had been so scared that I was going to be one of those people who loses everything: family, friends, support, and community. I was convinced that my family was going to disown me, throw me onto the street without a dollar or a blanket. The existential dread was akin to the overarching fear I felt about the destruction of the world. I had to find some way to understand myself and move forward. Coming out became one way to do this. Once I was out, I had the ability to show up more fully. So much of the fear I had felt about being queer dissipated. With the shrinking of this fear came the expansion of my hope, which allowed me to turn my gaze outward and see a future for the world.

Learning about concepts like environmental racism and environmental sexism—in other words, the ways that climate change intersects with racism and sexism—helped me understand the ways that oppression is totally experienced. Even though I may be oppressed by virtue of my sexuality, my whiteness protects me from a myriad of injustices present in this country (and the world). My class, as well, is something that protects me. I’ve never had to worry about not having a place to eat or sleep, and while I’m appreciative of everything my parents have done for me, the differences in class in my community are stark.

Additionally, homelessness is a problem that plagues LGBTQ people and is especially felt by queer youth. According to the True Colors Fund, a nonprofit focusing on LGBTQ youth homelessness, LGBTQ young people are 120% more likely to experience homelessness. According to a report released by the organization in 2015, LGBTQ youth make up around 40% of the homeless population in the United States, with the majority of people being either gay or lesbian, and/or transgender women of color.

You might be asking yourself: Where does climate change fit in to all of this?

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that everyone will feel the effects of climate change. It might be felt differently by everyone, it might hit some people more slowly than other people, but everyone will notice a change in the way we live our lives due to the overexertion of our resources. Among the most vulnerable populations for climate change-related phenomena is the population of people without stable housing. Lacking stable housing can look like many different things—your friend who is always couch-surfing, or living in a car, or in a shelter—not just being out on the street. Regardless of the specific circumstances, lacking stable housing is difficult, especially as the climate changes. Though I’ve been lucky enough to not have to worry about my housing, I know too many people who have only had couches to sleep on. These young people were my friends, whose families would rather cast their child out than accept their sexuality.

Last winter, on the east coast of the United States, we faced one of the coldest winters of the decade. Something that was once extremely rare has become commonplace. The same with heat waves that feel as though they’ll never end. Every year since 2015 has become the hottest year on record, and the duration of heat waves keeps increasing. Often, people without stable housing lack the basic necessities to handle extreme weather patterns. As I write this, an extreme heat wave has been hitting North America, causing at least eight (recorded) deaths in the United States and Canada.

Image credit: Queers for the Planet

LGBTQ people are already on the margins of society and that marginalization doubles when we look at queer youth. In shelters, LGBTQ people often face danger, which pushes  them more to the streets; meanwhile, LGBTQ-specific homeless shelters often don’t receive enough funding to fully support their population. Making a change isn’t optional—it’s a necessity. In order to protect our community from the disastrous effects of climate change, we need to do more. We can’t just stop using plastic straws and recycling. When just 90 corporations are responsible for 66% of carbon emissions, we need to demand more from our governments and from ourselves.

As queer people, our existence is powerful. When we came together from seemingly disparate communities to fight, we created a force united in liberation. We can do the same in the fight against climate change. The time to act is now. There is no Planet B.

Noah Goodwin is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador Alum and graduate of the University of Mary Washington.

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