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Chance Kawar

LGBTQ+ Voices Are Crucial in the Fight for Climate Resilience

Summer has finally arrived and so has Pride Month! This month is not only a time for joyous celebration but is also a time for solemn reflection as we commemorate the Stonewall Uprising that occurred over five decades ago in June 1969. I’ve been taking some time to reflect on my own identity as a gay person, and how it intersects with our planet’s climate crisis and the work we’re doing at Greenbelt Alliance.

My love of the great outdoors and passion for environmental conservation was ignited at a young age, stemming from my active involvement in Boy Scouts. I started as a Tiger Cub in first grade, and by the time I was a teenager, I was spending most weekends with my scout troop hiking, camping, backpacking, and exploring. And if you’re wondering—yes, I even earned my “Wilderness Survival” merit badge! 

Sadly, this all suddenly changed when I came out of the closet during high school, resulting in immediate expulsion from my Catholic-affiliated Boy Scout troop. Experiencing such rejection really stung, and perhaps as collateral damage, the ordeal adversely impacted my enthusiasm for nature for years to come.

A small silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic has been rediscovering my deep-rooted affinity for nature. Unable to go to movies, bars, or concerts, my boyfriend and I purchased an $80 Federal Land Pass and now frequently enjoy many of those cherished activities from my childhood. Often, we’ll explore trails close to home, but occasionally we’ll drive somewhere extra special like Yosemite, Joshua Tree, or Pinnacles. In the peaceful solitude of nature, there’s nobody to stare when we want to hold hands or snicker when we share a kiss on the cheek. Nature has again become my happy place.

I’m keenly aware, however, that nature faces an existential threat as our planet’s climate rapidly changes. Californians know the severity of this situation all too well as we constantly grapple with devastating wildfires, eroding coastlines, and severe droughts. It is an unfortunate reality that disadvantaged, frontline communities, including LGBTQ+ folks, often face the earliest and harshest effects of the climate crisis.

Take for example, the disproportionately high number of homeless youth who self-identify as LGBTQ+, many of whom are forced out of their homes and onto the streets because of their identities. Without adequate shelter, these youth are frequently exposed to the smoky air, floodwaters, or blazing heat we increasingly see in the Bay Area and throughout the state. These climate factors only compound the severe hardships already faced by individuals experiencing homelessness.

It’s not just youth experiencing homeless though—research indicates more than 1 in 5 LGBTQ+ Americans are currently living in poverty, substantially higher than the overall rates. Often faced with discrimination and health challenges, many in the community report struggling to find a stable source of income. When climate disasters inevitably strike, this means LGBTQ+ are less likely to have the financial resources to easily adapt and may lack a family-supported safety net when fires or floods force them from their residences.

The San Francisco Bay Area is known around the world as being a center of LGBTQ+ culture, history, and activism. Our region must live up to this reputation by putting LGBTQ+ voices at the forefront of the discourse on climate change, and recognize how much is at stake for this historically marginalized community. As someone with strong ties to both climate and LGBTQ+ justice movements, I’ve come to appreciate their intersectionality. Leaders and activists in both movements share a deep conviction rooted in social justice, and grounded in parallel histories.

Let’s consider the 1980s AIDS pandemic that devastated the LGBTQ+ community, particularly here in San Francisco. Scientists sounded the alarm bells about the problem early. Government leaders, blinded by special interests, initially ignored the problem and subsequently lied about the dangers it posed. Activists on the grassroots level had to work tirelessly to get the attention of the media and the public.

Sound familiar? Any environmentalist or climate activist who’s been around for a few years can tell you a strikingly similar story. The parallels are simply a reminder that a better future will not be easily achieved unless communities can come together through building coalitions willing to take bold action and advocate for equitable and just public policies.

My hope is that during Pride Month this year, anyone reading this who supports the critical work being done at Greenbelt Alliance will extend a welcoming hand to the LGBTQ+ community. Start with the people you already know—your transgender neighbor, your nonbinary coworker, or your lesbian niece. Show your solidarity by listening to their perspectives and empowering their leadership. Together, we must stand united in our efforts to end discrimination, protect our communities, and save our planet.

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