Six reasons why I'm calling for a queer climate movement

Lewis Carr (he/they), a Campaigner at Friends of the Earth, reminds us that creating a fairer and greener world for everyone needs to include everyone, including the LGBTQIA+ community, and that doing so could help unlock the change we all so desperately need.
  Published:  28 Jun 2023    |      5 minute read

You might be wondering what on earth LGBTQIA+ liberation has to do with tackling the climate and nature crises. But look beneath the surface and it goes beyond allyship: we’re intimately connected by shared values and goals. Here are 6 reasons why we need a truly queer environmental movement.

Queer is a reclaimed word that many, but not all, LGBTQIA+ people use as an umbrella term for the community or to identify themselves. I use it because I love it, it covers sexuality and gender expression. Some LGBTQIA+ people still find it offensive. It’s generally a self-identifier, or used in reference to specific perspectives or schools of thought (like queer theory, art or ecology). If you don’t identify as queer, it’s probably best to use "LGBTQIA+" when talking about the community, or to be specific about the diverse range of identities within it.

1. LGBTQIA+ people are among the most impacted by the climate crisis

Did you know that the climate crisis will especially impact the LGBTQIA+ community?

We know that the disadvantages faced by the most vulnerable and marginalised are magnified in times of crisis. Gender-based violence increases after climate-related disasters, which leaves transgender and gender non-conforming people especially vulnerable. Hurricane Katrina is a prime example of the devastating impact of not considering marginalised people in climate crisis planning and support in the aftermath:

What’s more, LGBTQIA+ people are also more likely to be homeless and on lower incomes. 24% of all homeless young people are LGBTQIA+, putting them at greater risk of exposure to air pollution and extreme weather. LGBTQIA+ climate refugees face even greater barriers and risks crossing borders and seeking asylum, especially at a time when safe passage is under threat. If we don’t design solutions with LGBTQIA+ people’s needs in mind, and consider that people may hold other identities too, we risk forgetting about some of the most impacted by the climate crisis.

While often ignored by the environmental movement, queer people have a long history of resistance and unique perspectives... What if we embraced this instead?

2. We look differently at the problems, and the solutions

Growing up queer, I was forced to confront the reality that I was different. I wasn’t the same as my friends, and I wasn’t what my parents, my church and my society expected of me. For a long time, queer people like me have desperately tried to fit in and hide ourselves. It wasn’t until years after coming out that I embraced my queerness and truly started living.

Pride rainbow flag over a crowd of people
Pride flag
Credit: Raphael Renter

The experience left its mark on my mental health, but growing up queer also helped me look at the world differently. I realised it wasn’t designed for people like me, so I learned to question the status quo and create a world of my own. Anyone who’s felt on the fringes might be more conditioned to critique what’s around them and ask: is this really serving me, my community… or anyone?

Queer thinking helps us challenge the parts of our culture that are responsible for harming the LGBTQIA+ community. And that same critical thinking can also be helpful in challenging social and environmental injustice. If you’ve never really felt like an outsider, you might take things for granted. You might not see the interconnected problems and solutions, or even think change is possible. Queerness offers a much-needed fresh perspective.

3. We break down destructive ideas of gender that destroy our planet

A recent study revealed that men are less likely to recycle because they’re worried people will think they’re gay. They also tend to have higher carbon footprints. Basically, looking after the planet is still seen as a “feminine” thing to do. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Consider the values, beliefs and behaviours tied to “masculinity” that are destroying our planet or blocking change. Competition, independence and assertiveness can lead to exploitation of resources, corporate greed and unchecked political power.

But what if our societies openly valued what’s seen as “feminine”: compassion, care, co-operation? And not just at home but deeply embedded in public life, in politics, in business, in our work? What if we welcomed women, trans and non-binary people in decision-making and embraced what we call the “feminine” and “masculine” in us all?

Queer people’s existence already disrupts the gender binary and the restrictive roles it imposes on us. Being a queer environmental movement means standing alongside feminism, and any efforts to dismantle the patriarchy and redefine these roles. Just imagine the doors that could unlock for us all.

A patriarchy is a culture or society where an elite class of men hold the majority of the power and influence, often at the expense of all others.

4. We’re re-imagining our relationship with nature

For years, queer people like me have been told we go “against nature”. But this story reveals far more than just bigotry: it’s also a fundamental misunderstanding of nature.

The natural world is wildly diverse, defying labels and expectations. Countless animals have been observed in homosexual or homosocial behaviour, and many organisms don’t fit neatly into our ideas of male and female.

“Queer ecology” is about seeing with new eyes, challenging the biases we bring to nature and redefining what we see as “natural”. It’s about allowing nature to reveal itself to us as it is, rather than how we want it to be.

It seeks kinship and an equal footing with other beings, instead of separating people from the rest of nature. Imagine a world where diversity is valued, and we don’t seek to constantly categorise, control and exploit nature.

Alongside eco-feminist, Indigenous and many other perspectives, this queer future is being reimagined.

5. There’s no environmental justice without social justice

Today’s global issues, whether it’s climate change, poverty or racism, lie in the systems and stories created by the powerful. Governments, corporate and economic globalisation, science and technology – are all shaped by the cultural norms of the white, wealthy, western, non-disabled, male, cisgender and heterosexual. Hidden within these stories is a deep-rooted tendency to see one group as superior and others as “objects” that can be blamed, used and cast aside.

Cisgender means someone whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their sex assigned at birth. Also known as non-transgender.

It shows up in the way elites may think about the working class, white people may think about people of colour, men may think about women, non-disabled people may think about disabled people, straight people may think about LGBTQIA+ people. And also the way people may think about nature.

Marginalised voices, such as women, people of colour, LGBTQIA+ people and others, have at best been side-lined, and at worst have been oppressed, exploited and killed. The problem isn’t necessarily about being white, male or heterosexual, it’s about the destructive ideals of whiteness, nationality, disablism, masculinity and sexuality that live in us all.

White, heterosexual, cisgender men may enjoy many privileges, but do most truly thrive in this status quo? One look at suicide rates among men might reveal a heart-breaking answer to that question. The forces responsible for destroying our planet can only be tackled by taking away their power and putting justice at the heart of the environmental movement. As Audre Lorde famously wrote: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

6. We know how to influence change

LGBTQIA+ rights have been hard-won by relentless activism, protest and direct action.

A protester holding a placard that reads "There is no Pride on a dead planet"
Protester at Fridays for Future
Credit: Mika Baumeister

Many queer people have forged strong connections with our own communities and networks. We have the experience of mobilising people as we fight for justice, standing in solidarity with others. Queer spaces are often alive with radical ideas, creativity and expression, from trans activism and lesbian ecofeminism to queer cabaret and drag. It’s not all roses of course. The same inequity that exists in wider society can bleed into queer spaces, making some of them feel unwelcoming. But at our best, we know how to organise and show up for each other.

A US study in 2018 found that lesbian, bisexual and gay people “were more than twice as likely as heterosexuals to join anti-war, environmental, and anti-corporate movements.” This could reflect being “more aware, and less accepting, of social inequalities than heterosexuals.”

This June, queer activists led by Fossil Free Pride staged a protest against the LGBT Awards’ fossil fuel sponsorship, centring communities devastated by fossil fuel companies and their funders. It triggered a mass exodus of nominees and judges, eventually forcing the awards to drop Shell and BP as sponsors. This is just the latest in a long history of resistance and solidarity.

This piece was written by Lewis Carr, a Campaigner at Friends of the Earth, and was originally published on The Understories. Lewis’s powerful personal perspective shows us how our world is enriched thanks to queer perspectives, and if we learn to embrace this and stand in solidarity with LGBTQIA+ justice, we’ll all be better off for it. If we hope to build a better world, the environmental movement must include everyone.