Earning The Green Stripe: The Environment & The LGBTQ+ Community

The LGBTQ+ community is one among many that make up humankind on our vibrant planet. Earth is home to so much life that works incessantly to thrive or in some cases struggle to survive. The course of human history has led to countless technological and societal advancements, but these innovations have come with little to no awareness of the implications it had on the world at large. Contemporary advancements in technology have long since wiped away any plea of ignorance as concerns the increased negative impact of human waste and irresponsible development and use of resources worldwide. Climate change and resource waste is more than just rising temperatures and sea levels, though those are certainly incredibly pressing issues, it is devastating natural disasters as a side effect of these changes in temperature and the loss of keystone species that can cause the collapse of entire ecosystems that truly need to be engaged with. These increased global risks have given rise to especially precarious situations for individuals in island nations and less developed countries who at the forefront of the early consequences of climate change. Now for any individual this sounds like a lot, and given the scope of the human population, it is. But the scope of environmental sustainability movements worldwide has become increasingly active in recent years has really allowed for, and encouraged a communal effort in tackling human waste and resource usage.

I won’t say this is a “relief” as that may make it sound like, “Oh, they’ve got it covered, so I don’t need to do my part,” but our community is particularly progressive and proactive when it comes to environmental awareness and participation in everyday acts of environmental sustainability. The reason for this is multi-faceted. LGBTQ+ rights alongside ideas about environmental stewardship and combating climate change tend to be championed in large part by more progressive, socially liberal politicians, which in turn puts these ideas under an oftentimes shared ideological umbrella. I would argue, however, that it goes even further than that; even iconography in queer communities has ties environmental movements, like the green stripe of the pride flag. The green stripe was specifically denoted to represent nature, likely in both terms of   our sexual and gender identities being  natural, as well as the more literal support of the environment. San Diego sustainability consultant, Kathleen Connell wrote a particularly keen article on both the importance of the environmental movement to the community, and the way community leaders like Harvey Milk championed environmental sustainability alongside his fight for gay rights.

USA Today’s Green House makes particular note that in data collected from Harris Poll, that LGBT individuals often beat out heterosexual individuals poll in both environmental concern and proactivity relative to environmental sustainability by upwards of 20%. Also, 40% of LGBT adults say they "encourage others to be more environmentally friendly," compared with 24% of heterosexuals. And while these statistics are certainly nothing to scoff at, it is also important that we stay conscious of the connection between our community’s needs and the environment – which are more intrinsically connected than you might expect.

Huffington Post contributing writer, Peterson Toscano notes a wide-range of reasons why we actually need to both be leading the charge for environmental legislation and fighting in our everyday lives to combat climate change. One reason is to protect young homeless populations, which tend to be disproportionately members of the LGBTQ+ community (upwards of 40% of homeless youth) due to familial rejection and prolonged by a fear to engage with service organizations that are oftentimes religious and anti-LGBT. These, as well as aging sexual and gender minorities face growing dangers of natural disasters and more drastic weather conditions that put undue pressures on their health, safety, and finances. And while the LGBTQ+ community tends to be more proactive about environmental efforts than other groups, green legislation and daily efforts at large have been shown in the same research have been in decline. There has been major pushback by conservative, populist leaders like Donald Trump, who has removed the United States from the United Nation’s Paris Agreement and taken measures to deregulate the coal industry and allow them to actively dump waste into waterways.

Organizations Are Setting Goals & So Should We

Aside from international agreements and long-term plans set by nations, individual organizations have been setting sustainability goals. From the 2014 Gay Games extensive sustainability protocols meant to cut down on waste and energy waste to the establishment of sustainable development goals in combination with LGBT inclusion by Stonewall International, organizations in our community are taking important steps in their operation and further development to embody green values in the structure of their operation. It is important that we do similarly in our own lives, the normalization of everyday green activities like less food, water, and energy waste as well as recycling and composting – which can be implemented simply by having multiple trash receptacles together. Creating a green culture, like the 400 European municipalities that have moved to zero waste models that work on a more circular economy are incredibly beneficial on both a global and local scale.

These steps however are not enough on their own. Advocating for legislative defense of our environment and the specific targeting of energy companies on every government is essential. According to the 2017 Carbon Majors Report only 100 companies are responsible for 71% of all carbon emissions worldwide. That number is astoundingly high when you consider millions of vehicles, homes and other all other contributors to global carbon emissions. When these companies have such a widespread impact it truly dwarfs the efforts of individuals and nations to truly combat climate change without taking direct action against the companies doing the most to harm to the planet. If our individual efforts alone are not enough, then be it by boycott, regulatory exclusion of these specific companies, or major investments in green technology, its essential that changes be made. Binding together as a community to draw attention to environmental issues and challenge lawmakers on all levels to do more for our planet is essential to both the protection of those actively facing the challenging repercussions of human irresponsibility as well as the potential lifeblood of global ecosystems that allow us all to thrive and develop as we do. We not only can do more, we should take every possible step to do more within our spheres of influence.

Written by Matthew Farrar

Sources [In Order of Appearance]:

Valiente-Banuet, A. et. al (2014). “Beyond species loss: the extinction of ecological interactions in a changing world.” Functional Ecology 29(3), 299-307. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1365-2435.12356/full

Harley, C. D. G. (2011). “Climate Change, Keystone Predation, and Biodiversity Loss.” Science, 334(6059), 1124–1127. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1210199

Kennedy, C. and Rebecca Lindsey (2015). “What's the difference between global warming and climate change?” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. https://www.climate.gov/news-features/climate-qa/whats-difference-between-global-warming-and-climate-change

Connell, K. (2010) “Green is not just another pretty color in the rainbow flag.” San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.  http://sdgln.com/commentary/2010/04/15/green-not-just-another-pretty-color-rainbow-flag

Toscano, P. (2017). “Save the unicorn! LGBTQ responses to climate change.” The Huffington Post. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/save-the-unicorn-lgbtq-responses-to-climate-change_us_589c7453e4b02bbb1816c367

Koch, Wendy (2011). “Harris poll: Gays are greener than heterosexuals.” USA Today. http://content.usatoday.com/communities/greenhouse/post/2011/01/gays-greener-harris-poll/1#.WnfGcWbMwnV

Plumer, B. (2017). “Why Trump just killed a rule restricting coal companies from dumping waste in streams.” Vox Media. https://www.vox.com/2017/2/2/14488448/stream-protection-rule

Werntz, K. M. (2014). “Gay Games: the power of LGBT pride in driving sustainability.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/gay-games-lgbt-pride-sustainability-environmentalism

“The sustainable development goals and lgbt inclusion.” Stonewall International. https://www.stonewall.org.uk/sites/default/files/sdg-guide_2.pdf