Despite marriage equality becoming the law of the land in 2015, LGBTQ+ Americans, especially those who are persons of color, are transgender, or live in rural areas, are still vulnerable. Americans in 30 states can be denied employment just for being transgender. Twenty-eight states allow employers to deny employment to anyone for being lesbian, gay, or bisexual. In addition, LGBTQ+ people face discrimination when accessing healthcare, housing (especially as they age), as well as many other services.
Given this, it’s no real surprise that the LGBT community also faces hunger at rates higher than the population as a whole; as many as 27% may have trouble affording enough food, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA.
It doesn’t take an economist to do the math; lack of access to employment and other social protections makes LGBTQ+ Americans hungrier than nearly any other demographic group. The consequences are dire—food insecurity exacerbates many chronic illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension, worsens depression, and even leads to poorer health outcomes for individuals living with HIV.
More than 1 in 4 LGBT adults (27%), approximately 2.2 million people, experienced a time in the last year when they did not have enough money to feed themselves or their families, compared to 17% of non-LGBT adults.
18% of LGBT adults reported that they or someone in their family went without food for an entire day in the past 30 days.
14% of LGBT adults reported running out of food for their families and not having money for more in the past 30 days.
9% of LGBT adults reported that they ate less than they believed they should in the past 30 days.
6% of LGBT adults reported going hungry in the past 30 days.
One of the hardest-hit groups of LGBTQ+ individuals experiencing hunger are teenagers. For at least 320,000 to 400,000 teens each year, hunger and homelessness are most often tied to family rejection.
LGBT YOUTH AND HUNGER
Stigma based on sexual orientation and gender identity affects lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people across the life course—bringing rejection, victimization, and a higher proportion of health and mental health problems. But teenagers are the most vulnerable.
In the past, few adolescents came out publicly as LGBT. Today’s growing legal and social acceptance of the LGBT community, while welcome and overdue, carries an “unintended consequence” — young people are coming out earlier, and many families, schools and communities are not as accepting as media coverage suggests.
It’s a recipe for large numbers of young people who have either been kicked out of their homes by parents or have run away in the face of family rejection and abuse.
Paul grew up in rural small-town America - the youngest of three children, he had the typical life of a middle-income American family, two loving parents, dozens of friends, and the foundation of a conservative upbringing.
That all changed at 16 when Paul came out to his family and friends as a gay man.
" When I told my parents, they really didn't say much. I knew they were going to be concerned - but I really believed they loved me, and we'd figure out where to go from here. What I didn't expect was coming home from school one day, finding the locks on my parent's house had been changed, all of my belongings packed up and on the front porch with a letter telling me I was no longer their son.”
What came next for Paul was two years of couch surfing with a dwindling group of friends, with some nights spent on the streets. He was at the mercy of those who knew him to make sure he had somewhere to sleep and food to eat outside of school meals. But he managed to finish high school.
" For two years, I didn't know where my next meal was coming from. On the days I couldn't stay with a friend - I just didn't get to eat. I was a teenager, I didn't know where to look for help. Sometimes that was several days in a row. I really don't remember much from those two years - other than the headaches and wanting to die.”
Three years after Paul was forced to leave home, he joined a homeless program for LGBTQ+ persons that provided job placement opportunities through a partnership with a national chain of coffee shops. It was here that he met his now-husband. Paul excelled in the job-training program, landing a full-time position as a shift supervisor, then manager. In 2004, through the company’s associate college fund, Paul moved to Charlotte, NC, and attended Johnson & Wales University, receiving his bachelor’s degree in Food & Beverage Management in 2008. Today, Paul and his husband live in Concord, North Carolina and are franchise partners of three licensed Coffee shops.
*For the privacy of contributing sources, some names have been changed.
There is little hard data available on homelessness among LGBT youth, but estimates suggest that as many as 40 percent of all homeless youth identify as LGBT. In one study in New York, the average age that homeless lesbian and gay teenagers had become homeless was just under 14 years old. For transgender youth, it was even younger — 13 years old.
At Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest NC, we care deeply about all people experiencing hunger. Our efforts aim to build a society where everyone can thrive – celebrating our differences and working together to overcome injustices that might divide us -- because EVERYONE DESERVES TO EAT.
June is Pride month; we hope you stand with us in affirming and celebrating the diversity of Northwest North Carolinians that strengthens our communities.