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Meeting the Needs of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex (LGBTQI+) Individuals During Disasters and Emergencies

A male same-sex couple feeding their infant.

FEMA's 2020 annual National Preparedness Report identified communities of color, single parents, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people as being at the highest risk or more severely impacted during disasters.

There are a range of issues that may lead to increased vulnerability for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex  (LGBTQI+) people in the time leading up to and including emergency events.  For example, LGBTQI+ youth experience high rates of homelessness, making it more difficult to reach them during an emergency. LGBTQI+ seniors are more likely to be isolated and are less likely to have children or other family compared to other seniors; therefore, they may need additional assistance in receiving emergency messages and accessing resources. LGBTQI+ couples and families may not be recognized by some first responders. Transgender people may not be able to access shelter consistent with their gender identity or to receive culturally sensitive emergency health care. Some LGBTQI+ people have reported that they have experienced shelters refusing to allow them to enter and reside as a family with their partner and children.

These kinds of stressors may make LGBTQI+ individuals reluctant to seek emergency shelter or even disaster services and care.  Additionally, LGBTQI+ community members may not trust  emergency responders and health care systems based on prior discrimination or other negative experiences.

To ensure access to medical and disaster behavioral health services after a disaster, emergency planers should strive to provide safe access to, and experiences in, emergency shelters for LGBTQI+ individuals and families.  A lack of safe access to disaster health services for LGBTQI+ individuals can negatively impact their disaster health outcome, straining community recovery as a whole.  

  • Communicate with emergency providers in advance about establishing policies and practices concerning sheltering or assisting LGBTQI+ individuals and families.
  • Include LGBTQI+ community groups, stakeholders, and leaders in emergency preparedness planning and training.
  • Train emergency shelter staff on LGBTQI+ inclusive practices and policies.
  • Ensure that public facing documents are available in relevant languages for individuals with limited English proficiency and are accessible by individuals with disabilities.
  • Establish a LGBTQI+ community liaison or champion within the emergency management agency or planning group, who can help identify and promote inclusive services during emergency events and in hotwash processes. If essential post-disaster services are provided to the public through faith-based organizations, establish agreements that LGBTQI+ community members will not be denied services on any religious basis.
  • Consider establishing a nondiscrimination pledge for all disaster support agencies and organizations in your jurisdiction.
  • Share resources on serving LGBTQI+ community members with professional and volunteer staff.