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Celebrating LGBTQ+ Climate Leaders and Changemakers
RMI STATEMENT FOR PRIDE MONTH: We at RMI proudly stand with our LGBTQ+ staff, contractors, partners, and supporters in celebrating Pride Month. We believe this is an opportunity to acknowledge the LGBTQ+ community’s contributions to the energy transition and the fight against climate change.
Pride Month is a time of year when the spotlight shines on LGBTQ+ equality. It reminds us to collectively reject the centuries of shame imposed on LGBTQ+ people by society and to celebrate the identities of LGBTQ+ people. Pride month is also an occasion to take stock of progress in the recognition of human rights of LGBTQ+ people to date, while acknowledging the lack of freedom that many suffer around the world and the need to continue the fight for human rights.
June was selected as Pride Month to commemorate the Stonewall Uprising in New York on June 28, 1969. That was a demonstration of LGBTQ+ people standing up against harassment, oppression, and police violence, and was an important moment in the movement for LGBTQ+ equality around the world.
Although climate change affects everyone, it does not affect all groups equally. Poor and marginalized communities are already experiencing the negative impacts of climate change to a greater extent. This includes the LGBTQ+ community.
“LGBTIQ people, as a marginalized group in society, suffer more in times of crisis; and climate change and its effects are a crisis,” says Daina Ruduša, senior communications manager for Outright Action International, a group that fights for the human rights for LGBTIQ people around the world. “The fight for climate justice and LGBTIQ equality are linked and intertwined and are not standalone issues.”
Some of the most vulnerable populations in relation to climate change are those that lack stable housing. It is estimated that while only 7 percent of American youth identify as LGBTQ+, 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+. In addition, the LGBTQ+ community are more likely to have lower incomes and less access to health care due to an overrepresentation in the informal job sector.
The unemployment rate for transgender people is three times higher than the general population—and even higher for black transgender people—thus putting them at greater risk of poverty and homelessness. All of these conditions add up to people being much less equipped to face increasing environmental catastrophes due to climate change.
In order to promote equity and inclusion within the climate movement, we at RMI recognize the need to combat discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. And in honor of Pride Month, Rocky Mountain Institute is excited to celebrate LGBTQ+ environmental leaders and changemakers. Despite systemic barriers, these individuals are creating positive, lasting impacts on clean energy and working to address climate change in communities spanning the globe.
Here we highlight four LGBTQ+ changemakers from across the United States:
Rachel Kyte is a lesbian and former CEO of Sustainable Energy for All, an international organization that works with governmental leaders to create equity around sustainable energy. After teaching as a professor in sustainable development within the Fletchers School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Kyte recently became the first female dean at the Fletchers School. She has two children.
Joseph Toolan is a gay Guatemalan American who works at the Chesapeake Bay Trust, a non-profit grantmaking organization located in Annapolis, MD. He supports the grants team through the management of a community tree planting grant program and the Chesapeake Conservation Corps Mini Grant Program and All Hands-On Deck Program. Toolan raises awareness of environmental stewardship through youth environmental education, community engagement, and restoration programs. Toolan also functions as the co-chair for Out for Sustainability in the Central Atlantic region where he shares his passion for increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the battle against climate change.
“Any LGBTQ individual is more likely to be food insecure than other groups, an issue that could be exacerbated by climate change,” states Toolan. “After Hurricane Katrina, transgender individuals were arrested after proper accommodations could not be made for restrooms in shelters. If there were other climate-related catastrophes, the protections for all LGBTQ+ individuals are not guaranteed. Climate change is a global issue but could prove dangerous for my community and the people I care about.”
Christine Hallquist is a transgender woman who serves as CEO of Cross Border Power, a company that aims to offer inexpensive renewable energy to consumers and industry. She was formerly CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative and was first major party candidate for Governor in the United States who is transgender. Christine Hallquist has three children.
“I was sure that when I came public and transitioned in 2015 that I would end up losing my family, my home, and my ability to continue with climate change work,” says Hallquist, who is passionate about her work to transform the electric grid. “Just the opposite happened. Vermonters welcomed me with open arms.”
Paul Getsos is a queer man who has worked at the intersection of social movements with a focus on economic and racial justice, and environmental sustainability. He helped organize the Peoples Climate March at the UN Climate Summit in 2014 and led efforts to build the Peoples Climate Movement, which brings together community organizations, environmental justice, and labor groups, and individuals to drive bold action in response to climate change.
Currently Paul is developing innovative strategies, tactics, and tools to engage people impacted by the recession to help develop policies in response to the COVID-19 crisis, including fighting for stimulus programs to rebuild a just and sustainable economy. Paul is a widely respected strategist, trainer and organizational development specialist who has worked with groups such as League of Conservation Voters, SEIU, and Community Change. He is a co-author of Tools for Radical Democracy: How to Organize for Power in Your Community.
“Not only is climate change going to impact the planet, but it’s also going to impact communities,” says Getsos. “As we have seen in the current COVID crisis, poor people, people of color, LGBTQ people, young people, and the elderly are going to be particularly impacted.”
Organizations working at the intersection of LGBTQ+ and climate justice:
OUT4S is an LGBTQ nonprofit dedicated to our social and physical environment, making a difference by bridging queer identity and sustainability values.
Queers X Climate (QXC) is an international an organization dedicated to uniting and supporting climate and LGBTQ+ activism to develop and implement solutions for our common global climate crisis.
Queer Ecojustice Project organizes at the intersection of ecological justice and queer liberation. The organization envisions this as an intersectional movement platform to catalyze culture, consciousness, and community around collective concerns and to build coalitions across difference.
OCV aims to humanize the climate disaster through storytelling, contributing to a shift in the climate change dialogue that puts the voices of those most impacted at the forefront of the conversation. They also work to connect people with ways to support the community-based climate solution-making work that frontline and vulnerable communities are already doing to combat climate impacts.