Hurricane season, floods and wildfires have all dominated the news headlines this season. But for the LGBT community, disaster relief can be complex. “Many LGBT individuals and families fear discrimination in shelters or when seeking other emergency services during natural disasters or other forced evacuations,” says HRC President Chad Griffin. That’s why the HRC has created a new guide that helps emergency responders understand some of the issues the community faces.
The guide outlines best practices for local, state, federal and community organizations during emergency situations and disasters that can sometimes make vulnerable populations like the LGBT community more at a heightened risk for trauma.
“Emergency responders and volunteers need to be aware of the needs many in our community have, and should be sympathetic to the fact that families come in all shapes and sizes,” says Griffin. “Our families deserve to be treated with respect and should never be separated due to a lack of legal recognition.”
HRC has long advocated for protections for LGBT people and their families in accessing disaster relief services. As part of the Blueprint for Positive Change – a list of LGBT-specific non-legislative policy recommendations made to then President-elect Obama during his transition to the White House – HRC urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to take steps to ensure that same-sex couples and their families are eligible for, and do not face discrimination in obtaining, federal disaster assistance. In fact, HRC continues to urge FEMA and other federal agencies involved in disaster relief to make their programs as welcoming and inclusive of LGBT people as possible.
“LGBT families seeking assistance may experience unnecessary, intrusive questions from shelter volunteers and workers,” says HRC Legislative Counsel Robin Maril. “After a disaster or evacuation, many people enter a shelter with very little personal identification or documentation. For LGBT families, who often rely on a number of documents to prove their relationships to each other, or their children, this increases their vulnerability to discrimination.”
Housing and access to proper medical care can be especially challenging for transgender people after a disaster. “Transgender people are often denied access to gender appropriate restroom and housing facilities,” says Griffin. “This denial is not only humiliating, but can also be dangerous.”