Do Queer People Suffer Disproportionately From Pollution?

Photo: AP
Photo: AP

Wednesday is National Coming Out Day, which celebrates the anniversary of the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights where 200,000 people marched through Washington, D.C. demanding equal rights. Coming out can be scary, especially when surrounded by an unsupportive community, and in response to such hostile surroundings many queer people have historically congregated together. Literally. That’s how neighborhoods like New York City’s West Village or Philadelphia’s suitably titled Gayborhood sprung up.

This move might have translated into negative health impacts for same-sex couples, according to a recent study. Published in the Social Science & Medicine journal this month, the study found that mean cancer and respiratory risks from hazardous air pollutants for same-sex partners in the U.S. are 12.3 percent and 23.8 percent greater, respectively, than for straight couples. These numbers increase even further for same-sex male partners.

The study states:

It is notable that the effect of the same-sex partner enclave variable on health risks from [hazardous air pollutants] is substantially stronger than the effect of either the proportion black or Hispanic variables, which have received primary focus in environmental justice research.


These researchers from the University of Texas at El Paso aren’t entirely sure why or how this is the case, but they believe these health risks are linked to the clustering of the LGBTQ community post-World War II “due to social marginalization and the pursuit of community support and empowerment.” Studies have shown that communities of color—be they Black, Latino, Native American, Asian, or all of the above—are subject to increased health risks due to pollution.

The researchers suggest this pattern among queer couples might be similar in that stigmatization has kept them out of more affluent communities but different in that structural processes, like redlining, didn’t intentionally make their neighborhoods toxic.

Per the study:

We believe that there are instructive similarities and important distinctions between the formations of environmental injustice experienced by sexual minorities and by racial minorities in the US. Historical-geographical studies have revealed the contextual dynamics of oppression that have subjected racialized groups in the US to persistent environmental injustices.


This area needs further examination, though. The only other study to draw a link between pollution and LGBTQ environmental health impacts looked at Houston last year. The same team behind this new study conducted that one, and they found similar results.

In Houston, hazardous air pollutants were inequitably distributed throughout the city. The study determined that parts of the city with high concentrations of same-sex partner households also showed greater cancer risk due to air pollution. Houston is known for its toxic facilities, and now the research shows that same-sex couples are bearing some of the burden.


Other reserarch suggests that LGBTQ people see higher rates of certain illnesses related to the environment—like asthma. In D.C., the community reported having asthma seven percent more than their straight neighbors. This has largely been attributed to risk behaviors like smoking.

The AIDS epidemic received more attention in part thanks to the 1987 march to which National Coming Out Day pays homage. There, protesters demanded more federal funding for research and treatment. Maybe the next gay rights march on D.C. will demand better environmental protections. With the way the current administration is rolling back environmental policy, at-risk populations need them.


Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.

Share This Story

Get our `newsletter`



Queer people are more likely to live in cities. Cities are more likely to have shittier air quality. Ergo queer people are more likely to breathe shitty air and have health issues based on this.

I’d be game for a good conspiracy tho. Koch brothers pumping bad air into gay hotbeds? More at 11!