“You don’t have to be gay, you don’t have to be good, you just have to be 18,” is the unofficial slogan of the 2014 Gay Games. Perhaps what goes without saying is that it’s best to be eco-friendly as well. Personal commitment to environmentalism is more pronounced in the US LGBTQ community than in the heterosexual population, according to a 2010 Harris poll.
The 2014 Gay Games, taking place this week in Ohio, are working hard to represent this core value of environmental sustainability among the LGBTQ community. Expected to host between 20,000 to 30,000 participants and spectators, the games have a sustainability plan (pdf) that includes everything from water refill stations and bike-sharing, to the greening of internal operations. So what is it that makes the LGBTQ crowd so environmentally friendly in the first place?
There are various theories about why someone’s LGBTQ sexual identity can be linked to greater environmental values. One is that fighting marginalisation and having progressive viewpoints means LGBTQ members come in contact with other fringe movements, such as environmental causes.
“Coming out and claiming your identity is revolutionary for each of us,” says Gerod Rody, the founder of OUT for Sustainability, which mobilises the LGBTQ community for social and environmental action. “With this [coming out] comes great responsibility because our eyes are opened to what is possible in the world around us.”
This vision of a better world inspires environmental activism – which has yet another parallel to the LGBTQ movement. Beau Daane, director of sustainability at Fairmount Minerals and active in the LGBTQ community in Cleveland, says: “The overlap between the two is in the sense that you work now for something you may not see happen in your lifetime.”
The LGBTQ rights movement can take decades to achieve change (think of the long campaign to make same-sex marriage legal in Britain) in a similar way to the long-term effort needed to restore a damaged environment.
Daane further explains that urbanisation contributes to environmentalism within the LGBTQ community. Often relocating into urban centres and faced with tangible social and environmental issues, LGBTQ members tend to get involved in the revitalisation of their adopted cities.
Several struggling US cities have tried to attract LGBT populations with the hope they will help regentrify areas in decline. For example, developers and city leaders in Detroit attempted to attract LGBT residents to downtown areas by granting benefits to same-sex partners of city employees and advertising vacant properties in gay publications.
The power of pride
Pride is one of the strongest human emotions, whether it relates to where you live or who you are. Academic research suggests that pride is a powerful motivator for behaviour change. Rare, an environmental conservation organisation, has long understood this and calls pride its secret ingredient to success. Rare taps into the pride of local communities to mobilise them to protect the environment.
“The reality is that people are motivated even by subconscious emotional impulses which can be extraordinarily powerful – and pride can be among the most powerful of these,” says Kevin Green, senior manager of conservation research and monitoring at Rare.
Rare’s environmental Pride Campaigns often operate in areas of the world where LGBTQ pride is not yet publicly discussed, recognised or even legal. But in more liberal countries, it seems LGBTQ pride could be harnessed to exploit and foster the environmental values held by many in this community.
Rody taps into LGBTQ pride and rallies LGBTQ community members to be leaders in the environmental movement. “Let’s show how the LGBTQ community cares for the environment” is the call to action on OUT for Sustainability’s website.
Rody, who holds an MBA degree in sustainable business, recognised early on that the two worlds he was circulating in – the environmental and LGBTQ crowds – were not making any effort to honour the values held by the other group, let alone trying to work together. At environmental gatherings, there was no organised presence of the LGBTQ community or discussion about what this particular demographic group could bring to the table for sustainability. Likewise, when attending LGBTQ events, Rody found no discussion about the importance of environmentalism or the potential of the LGBTQ crowd to have an impact on sustainability.
“When I went to environmental events, I felt like my [sexual] identity was invisible. But I also didn’t want to have my [environmental] values invisible among my gay community.”
Bridging the environmental and LGBTQ movements
What does Rody think of the sustainability plan for the 2014 Gay Games?
“The opportunity is huge – to bridge these two movements and to align values is incredibly important,” says Rody. As all interviewees comment, this opportunity on a global scale would alter the face of sustainability. With the LGBTQ community cutting across all political, cultural and economic lines, it would mean lots of different people, doing a lot of good for the environment.
For now, the 2014 Gay Games will be a test run of a large scale attempt to align sexual identity with environmental values. Participants and spectators in Ohio for the games have a huge torch to carry for environmentalism. The US may be ranked highly for LGBTQ equality, but it ranks 33 out of 178 countries on the Environmental Performance Index. (With France ranked 27, organisers for the 2018 Gay Games in Paris also have the opportunity to create a roadmap for how the European LGBTQ community can shine as leaders of environmental sustainability in Europe.)
Whether it be at a badminton match or cheerleading face-off, the 2014 Gay Games provides the LGBTQ crowd a chance to align their identity with their values, with pride. Or as Rody puts it, the games are “an opportunity for the LGBTQ community and allies to come out for sustainability as part of who we are, not as another separate thing.”