This commentary is by Paul Dragon, executive director of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity. Read on Vtdigger.com.
We celebrate Pride Month in solidarity with our partner organizations who lead both the celebration and the continued effort to ensure visibility, access, equality and justice for all members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Our LGBTQ+ neighbors face many challenges due to structural oppression, but as an anti-poverty organization, the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity staff members are particularly concerned about the alarming high rates of poverty and homelessness among LGBTQ+ individuals.
Vermont’s 2023 Point-in-Time Count, an unduplicated count on a single night of the people in our community who are experiencing homelessness, was recently released and revealed that overall homelessness in Vermont increased by 18.5% and that child homelessness increased by 36% compared to 2022.
The report also notes that Black and Indigenous Vermonters disproportionately experienced homelessness in 2023. The number of people who identified as LGBTQ+ in the report, however, is remarkably low, due to the difficulty in data gathering, and does not accord with any national data, including the latest U.S. Transgender Survey for Vermont.
According to UCLA’s Williams Institute, 17% of LGBQ-identified adults report experiencing homelessness in their lifetime, which is more than twice the general population. In addition, LGBQT+ youth are estimated to comprise 20 % of the 1.6 million youth experiencing homelessness in the U.S. (National Alliance to End Homelessness). We know that homelessness is at a crisis level for transgender individuals, with one in five having experienced homelessness in their lives (National Center for Transgender Equality).
According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 45% of transgender respondents were living in poverty in Vermont, 24% experienced homelessness at some point in their lives, and 18% experienced housing discrimination. The 2022 U.S. Transgender Survey is complete and results will be released later this year.
The recent assault we see on LGBTQ+ rights around the country will only compound the tragedy of poverty and homelessness in the United States. In 2022, 13 states passed new laws restricting access to healthcare, public facilities, or discussion of gender issues in schools or workplaces. Twenty-three states have introduced anti-LGBTQ+ bills and the American Civil Liberties Union is currently tracking 491 anti-LGBTQ+ bills throughout the U.S.
When we pass laws that limit LGBTQ+ rights, we codify the community’s place on the margins of our social, economic and political structure. These laws endanger LGBTQ+ lives and futures, and our collective future as a strong, healthy and vibrant country. When we ban books that lift up and celebrate diverse experiences, we ensure that historically marginalized groups are not only out of sight, but also out of mind.
In Vermont, we can commit to understanding and highlighting, through data and personal stories, how poverty and homelessness affects the LGBTQ+ community in order to improve our policies and services. We can commit to sheltering every person experiencing homelessness and to a shelter system that provides private rooms for guests, including nonbinary and transgender guests. We can commit to reviewing all state and local services and programs to ensure they are accessible and inclusive, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, restrooms, policing, housing, antiviolence services, and legal and documentation services.
As a state and as individuals, we should find ways to speak out against and economically boycott states that have passed anti-LGBTQ+ laws.
Let’s celebrate and rejoice in Pride Month and let’s push for the end of political terror and economic marginalization this month, and all year long.