LGBTQIA+ Communities and Disasters


“While disasters do not discriminate, relief and recovery practices do.” ~ The Climate Reality Project

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex and asexual (LGBTQIA+) communities experience the impacts of disasters differently than heterosexual, endosex and cisgender individuals.

First, some grounding definitions. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, questioning and asexual refer to the sexual orientation and/or behaviors of individuals, whereas transgender (or trans as a short form) and intersex are connected to gender, gender identity and gender expression.

The plus sign (+) is often used with the acronym LGBTQIA to refer to other identities that fall under the LGBTQIA umbrella. The use of any short form or alternate version of what is often called the “alphabet soup” can be assumed to encompass all non-mainstream gender identities and sexual orientations. CDP’s style guide uses LGBTQIA+. A more comprehensive glossary of the terms is found in the Learn More section below.

Due to pre-existing marginalization before disasters, LGBTQIA+ people are even more at-risk during and after disasters. These factors include fear, discrimination and exclusion by other people, especially emergency responders, and aspects of inequality such as race, income, disability, health and gender appearance.

Many government programs fail to recognize LGBTQIA+ family structures, which often include non-biological “chosen family.” Some countries outlaw LGBTQIA+ people and relationships; U.S. states are increasingly passing laws against trans people. Many disaster-relief and recovery services are provided by faith-based organizations that have anti-LGBTQ+ belief systems and practices. Some religious leaders have blamed disasters on the LGBTQIA+ community.

Issues in Science and Technology reported, “In late September 2022, as Tropical Storm Ian intensified into a hurricane, someone threw a brick through the front door of the Pride Community Center of North Central Florida in Gainesville. The vandalism was declared a hate crime by the city’s police. This unfortunate event underscores recent analyses that demonstrate that LGBTQ+ individuals’ rate of hate crime victimization is six times greater than non-LGBT people. LGBTQ+ communities around the nation are reeling from violence and political attacks, which affect their access to services and impact their mental and physical health. Hurricane Ian placed many LGBTQ+ Florida residents at risk—and showed the ways marginalization, insecurity, and hate experienced by LGBTQ+ communities can be further exacerbated during a disaster.”

One of the most famous examples of discrimination occurred after Hurricane Katrina when two trans women were arrested for showering in women’s facilities. This was also a concern for the LGBTQIA+ community after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March 2011.

After the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, the Aravanis – now recognized as a third gender in India – were not included in relief efforts in Tamil Nadu. Similarly, a transgender teen who fled the military regime in Myanmar in 2017 found that her oppression and assaults continued in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh.

The Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute at the University of Manchester says, “Consideration for … LGBTQIA+ people is often absent in disaster and humanitarian strategies, yet they experience unique vulnerabilities linked to inequality and marginalisation. Where LGBTQIA+ people are considered, it is often as one uniform group, but LGBTQIA+ populations are not homogeneous, with diversity of experiences both between and within subgroups.”

There are many factors that increase vulnerabilities for LGBTQIA+ communities during or after a disaster:

  • Isolation: High rates of isolation for LGBTQIA+ older adults mean they are more likely to be alone and less likely to have familial resources that can support receiving emergency messages and accessing assistance.
  • Distrust: The LGBTQIA+ population also has a significant lack of trust in emergency responders and health care systems that have discriminated against them before.
  • Disrespect: Non-traditional structures of families can frequently be disrespected by emergency or recovery services resulting in families that become separated or unable to access appropriate resources (this can include government assistance, emergency services, humanitarian aid and grant assistance).
  • Lack of medications: Access to HIV medication or gender-affirming hormones can be limited or nonexistent as providers are unavailable or they undervalue the importance of maintaining these regimens.
  • No affirmation of gender or gender identity: Evacuation shelter accommodations often do not appropriately affirm gender identity. Access to bathrooms or safe sleeping places is a problem as these are usually divided along a gender binary of male-female. Congregate showers can reveal a trans person’s biological sex, even if their outer appearance is more reflective of their gender identity. Even within the U.S., bathroom laws can require trans people to use the bathroom that matches their birth sex. People may be forced to stay in shelter areas that match their ID even if it does not match their gender presentation. This can often lead to violence and harassment but can also be emotionally taxing for individuals.
  • Harassment and violence: Harassment of LGBTQIA+ people often occurs in congregate living environments, including shelters (homeless or post-disaster), jails, juvenile detention centers, etc. This includes Intimate Partner Violence, physical violence and sexual assault. Gender-based violence is common after disasters, particularly among trans women.
  • Survival sex: Because of poverty and stigma, many LGBTQIA+ people will engage in survival sex during a disaster in exchange for rent or a place to stay. They may also be forced to have sex or into sex work.

Key Facts

  • Homosexuality is illegal in many countries around the world. According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association report State-Sponsored Homophobia, as of December 2020, “there are currently 67 UN Member States with provisions criminalising consensual same-sex conduct, with two additional UN Member States having de facto criminalisation. Additionally, there is one nonindependent jurisdiction that criminalises same-sex sexual activity (Cook Islands).  Among those countries which criminalise, we have full legal certainty that the death penalty is the legally prescribed punishment for consensual same-sex sexual acts in six UN Member States, namely: Brunei, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria (12 Northern states only), Saudi Arabia and Yemen.”
  • At least 25-40% of homeless youth are members of the LGBTQIA+ community. This means that their access to preparedness and emergency information is reduced. They may lack the means to evacuate and find it difficult to obtain housing after a disaster as prices typically increase. A significant percentage of adults experiencing homelessness are also LGBTQIA+.
  • LGBTQIA+ people are everywhere. Within the U.S., nearly every county (99.3%) is home to a partnered, same-gender couple, and 97% are home to a same-gender senior couple. More than 250,000 children are being raised by LGBTQIA+ parents.
  • Only six countries in 2021 included LGBTQIA+ people in their official policies related to disaster preparedness, response or recovery. This means that thinking about LGBTQIA+ people is either an afterthought or inconsequential to officials. When these populations are not included in the full range of planning activities, it is unlikely that their needs will be met before, during or after a disaster.
  • As of 2021, LGBTQIA+ people make up 8% of the global population or almost 640 million people. According to the Williams Institute, LGBTQIA+ people comprise about 4.5% (or nearly 5 million people) of the U.S. population. However, this number is highly underreported due to a lack of inclusion in census data and fear of admitting sexual orientation or gender in surveys (often due to legislation banning homosexuality).
  • Poverty and hunger are significant issues in the LGBTQIA+ community. As of 2021, within the U.S., 13% percent of LGBTQIA+ adults are food insecure (compared to 7.2% of non-LGBTQIA+ people). Over one-third (36.6%) of LGBTQIA+ adults indicated they had issues paying expenses, compared to only one-quarter of non-LGBTQIA+ adults.

How to Help

  • Work internally at your foundation, nonprofit or company first. Actions must be taken internally so that members of the LGBTQIA+ community know that you are a trustworthy organization. You can show your support for LGBTQIA+ communities by including pronouns in your signature block, adding sexual orientation, gender identity and expression in your non-discrimination clause/harassment policies, and ensuring your forms are LGBTQIA+ inclusive. This includes having options for non-binary gender and using ‘partner’ instead of ‘husband’ or ‘wife.’
  • Build a network of LGBTQIA+ experts and organizations. Ask other funders about LGBTQIA+ organizations they are supporting. Fund organizations without a direct LGBTQIA+ focus to do outreach to LGBTQIA+ communities and support organizations led by LGBTQIA+ individuals who work directly with these communities. Ensure that they have the support needed to provide disaster assistance.
  • Fund LGBTQIA+ organizations directly when providing response and recovery funds after a disaster. LGBTQIA+ organizations are not always the most visible disaster responders, but those they serve are extremely vulnerable post-disaster. The high needs after a disaster and during recovery can strain the capacities of LGBTQIA+ organizations which are often underfunded.
  • Track LGBTQIA+ populations served in grants to humanitarian or disaster response/recovery organizations. Many funders ask grantees to track a variety of populations served by their grants (children, women, people of color, older adults etc.). Similarly, you can ask grantees to track whether they explicitly or indirectly serve LGBTQIA+ people with your grants. Since these populations are present in all communities and experience disproportionate harm after disasters and in humanitarian crises, services must be directed to them.
  • Develop metrics for LGBTQIA+ people on your board, staff and among grantees. Diversity metrics are an important part of ensuring your organization is representative of the population you serve. In 2014, Candid (formerly Guidestar) began tracking diversity data as part of its profiles on nongovernmental organizations.
  • Support the development of LGBTQIA+ inclusive infrastructure within potential shelters. This includes installing single-stall bathrooms and shower facilities to enable trans individuals to use facilities safely. These have the added benefit of being helpful for families, people with disabilities or others who may need assistance in tasks for daily living.

What Funders Are Doing

CDP has made several grants through its funds, including:

  • Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration (ORAM) received three grants.
    • In June 2023, ORAM received $485,000 from the Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis Recovery Fund to build the capacity of nongovernmental organizations working with LGBTQIA+ refugees and displaced persons to provide them with the tools to meet the unique needs of LGBTQIA+ refugees in Europe and Kenya.
    • ORAM also received a $370,010 grant from the CDP’s Global Recovery Fund in November 2022 to fund recovery, resilience building and emergency food response for LGBTIQ refugees and asylum seekers in Kenya.
    • In June 2021, ORAM received a $65,000 grant from CDP’s Global Recovery Fund to fund economic empowerment and capacity building of vulnerable LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers and refugees. Training was provided for refugees, and some got certifications and job opportunities. This grant helped support ORAM’s first full-time livelihood officer to work with local organizations, resulting in higher quality, more grassroots inclusion and community-led programming.
  • Alliance.Global received a two-year grant of $230,000 in January 2023 from the Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis Recovery Fund to support sustainable recovery and rehabilitation, increasing the organizational capacity of Alliance.Global and LGBTIQ+ communities during and after the war in Ukraine.
  • Kyiv Pride received a $250,000 grant from the Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis Recovery Fund in December 2022 to provide a safe and supportive rehabilitation environment for the LGBTQI community recovering from the trauma of the war in Ukraine.
  • OutRight Action International received two grants from CDP.
    • In November 2022, OutRight received a two-year grant of $491,000 from the Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis Recovery Fund to support LGBTQIA+ inclusion in humanitarian assessment, recovery and advocacy plans in the context of war in Ukraine.
    • In July 2021, OutRight received a $500,000 grant from the COVID-19 Response Fund to support LGBTQIA+ people who had been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and containment measures, and who have too often been excluded from relief efforts due to binary gendered approaches, non-inclusive definitions of “family,” or homophobic or transphobic relief workers. The grant reached 33 organizations, impacting food security, health, economic opportunity and protection. OutRight collected data to demonstrate the disproportionate effect on the community to advocate for better response plans.
  • The OUT Foundation was given a $250,000 grant through the COVID-19 Response Fund in June 2022 to expand its OUT Health program, which addressed the negative impact of the pandemic on the LGBTQIA+ community by removing barriers to participation in health, fitness and well-being activities.
  • Transgender Law Center received a $150,000 grant from CDP’s Disaster Recovery Fund in January 2022 to fund the Border Butterflies Project. This strategic response program seeks to provide holistic and comprehensive support to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender migrants at the U.S./Mexico border and within the U.S. in response to the specific and often extreme vulnerabilities of this community.

Other philanthropic support includes:

  • In 2022, the outbreak of Mpox (formerly monkeypox) saw some funding to LGBTQIA+ communities, including two grants from pharmaceutical companies.
  • Yorkshire Mesmac received a $3,060 grant in 2022 from the Leeds Community Foundation to reduce loneliness and isolation among older adults in the LGBTQIA+ community in Leeds. The project “Unreached equals Unmet needs: Opening up new referral pathways for the LGBTQ+ community” was designed as a post-COVID-19 networking project.
  • The Northwest Area Foundation provided a $250,000 grant in 2021 to PFund to develop a new coalition of LGBTQ+ nonprofit and community groups from across rural Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Known as PRISM – Promoting Rural Interconnections for Sexual Minorities – the program includes capacity-building grants and the creation of the PRISM Alliance (a roundtable of two to five LGBTQIA+ organizations per state. The Alliance is focused on creating digital networks for better public health messaging to rural LGBTQIAA+ populations (post-COVID-19) and conducting primary research to better understand the scope and needs of the rural LGBTQIA+ population across the upper Midwest.
  • In 2021, the Somerset Community Foundation provided a grant of $3,188 to 2BU Somerset CIC to provide remote support for LGBTQIA+ young people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learn More

  • Asexual: An asexual person is someone who experiences little or no sexual attraction toward anyone of any gender. The opposite is allosexual.
  • Bisexual: Attraction (physical, romantic and emotional) to more than one gender. Levels and amounts of attraction to different genders may change over time. While “bi” connotates the gender binary, bisexual (or pansexual) is increasingly used to refer to any gender on the gender spectrum.
  • Gay: Can be used as an umbrella term to describe any person with same-gender attraction. It is more often used by men who are emotionally, romantically and physically attracted to other men.
  • Intersex: According to the Intersex Society of North America, “Intersex is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male … Intersex is a socially constructed category that reflects real biological variation.” The word endosex has been newly created to reflect the alignment of physical, sexual characteristics, as would be expected.
  • Lesbian: A woman attracted to other women emotionally, romantically and physically.
  • Queer: Queer can be both a descriptor of attraction and a political statement. Because the word has been used as a slur, some people are reclaiming the term to represent the complexities of gender and sexuality. It represents sexual and gender identities that are not the majority – heterosexual and cisgender – and can encompass people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
  • Questioning: A person may question their sexual orientation at any age and may have changes in identity, behavior and attraction throughout their life. Increasingly, the word is also used for people questioning their gender and gender identity.
  • Transgender: Transgender refers to individuals whose gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth, while cisgender means a person’s gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth.

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Photo: The OUT Foundation