Why queer voices matter in Jamaica’s climate governance

A Fulbright scholar, Ph.D. student at the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and a queer Jamaican themself, Emme Christie completed a pilot study on the effects of climate change on queer Jamaicans in 2021. They found that queer Jamaicans were less likely to be able to sufficiently cope with the effects of a natural disaster.

When Jamaican LGBTQIA+ activist Emme Christie completed a pilot study on the effects of climate change on queer Jamaicans in 2021, they found that queer Jamaicans were less likely to be able to sufficiently cope with the effects of a natural disaster. 

A Fulbright scholar and PhD student at the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Christie’s study was commissioned by human rights group Equality Jamaica to get a better understanding of how queer Jamaicans perceive climate change and respond to its effects. 

But as Christie spoke on the Global Yaadie Podcast, they said the results were not surprising and only confirmed the urgent need for Jamaica’s LGBTQIA+ community to be sufficiently represented in the country’s climate policies and the process to create them. 

Christie told podcast host Danielle Nembhard, “Why is it that LGBTQ+ Jamaicans are not able to respond to a climate event at a similar level as a non-LGBTQ+ person.”

“If we (in Jamaica) are talking about climate change in the context of inclusion, diversity, marginalised communities, and vulnerable groups, it’s time for us to start naming names.”

queer

“We have to start accepting the discomfort that comes with it until we get to a point where we are comfortable talking about queer people comfortably and freely.”

As a queer Jamaican themself, Christie lamented queer individuals are feeling the brunt of many socio-economic disparities in Jamaican society. For example, many queer Jamaicans become socially displaced when they are kicked out of their homes for being queer. Currently, there are socially displaced queer people that live in storm drains across the country. 

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In addition to social displacement, some of these people may not have been able to finish school because of their socio-economic realities. 

But even if a queer Jamaican isn’t socially displaced and does attain higher education, some may not find equal employment because of their gender identity or sexuality. 

So when these dynamics are placed in the context of climate change, Christie was also not surprised when their study found that queer Jamaicans are at a lower socioeconomic status which also affects their ability to cope with climate change and its resulting natural disasters.

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Christie added, “We tried to assess risk (to natural disasters) by looking at impact, likelihood, vulnerability and ability to respond. 

“While we can’t control the likelihood of a disaster or even its impact, what we can control is our ability to respond to a disaster event.” 

Given they understand the importance of building the capacity of people to respond to climate change, Christie said why the results should be an indicator for Jamaican authorities to include queer Jamaicans in creating climate policy. Christie said the findings were presented to officials of Jamaica’s Environment Ministry but no feedback has been given to date. 

“I have also participated in a workshop that was a part of developing the gender and climate change strategy for Jamaica. 

“As a gender inclusion advocate, my role in that meeting was to have them expand the definition of gender to include transgender identities and have them include people of different sexualities.”

While bringing up the topic at the workshop made some people uncomfortable, Christie said addressing the topic can save lives and livelihoods. Referencing studies done in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall in New Orleans in 2005, Christie points out queer people were among the most affected. 

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How does climate change affect the LGBTQIA+ community? Ending Pride Month, here we briefly explain why, when we talk about environmental justice, it is also connected to this community 🏳️‍🌈 Video and article made by our fellow Tyrell Gittens #pridemonth #pride2023🏳️‍🌈 #pridemonth2023🏳️‍🌈🏳️‍⚧️ #climatechange #climateaction #climatecrisis #climatejusticenow #climatejustice #climatejusticeactivist

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“In the US, they have documentation that identifies LGBTQ individuals as a vulnerable group in climate change. 

“When we get back to the Caribbean, there are varying laws and treatment of LGBTQ+ groups.” 

While Jamaica’s existing buggery laws aren’t enforced, Christie explained the country’s outdated legislation continues to shape Jamaican’s apathetic view towards queer people and the misconception that it is illegal to be gay in Jamaica. Such perceptions directly and indirectly affect queer individuals in times of natural disasters. 

For example, queer individuals, couples, and families may be dissuaded from seeking help at shelters in the event of a natural disaster due to their social exclusion. 

Christie points out that it was even difficult to get queer Jamaicans to participate in their study given the fear they live in. 

They pointed out that this dynamic only makes it more difficult to establish a proper consensus of the community and consequently, is a shortfall in making inclusive climate policies. 

“When you dig down deeper, you realise that it’s the laws and culture that cause those things (like queer people living in storm drains) to be a reality.

“Then we (queer people) still get no inclusion in disaster risk response.”

With some Caribbean countries repealing buggery laws, Christie said it does make it easier for queer people to access social services like education, healthcare and further economic opportunities.

“I definitely can’t speak to what it’s like living in those countries even with the buggery laws repealed. 

“But the socio-legal context within which we exist does have a significant effect on how we can respond to something like climate change and the queer community.” 

While some countries are moving forward in getting rid of these laws, Christie continues to lament the slow pace of progress in Jamaica. 

When many of these barriers are removed, Christie said it will be more possible to substantially include queer Jamaicans in climate governance and even expand the conversion to acknowledge the intersectionalities also contributing to the vulnerabilities of queer people to climate change. 

For example, if someone is queer, black and an immigrant, they face their own unique set of vulnerabilities and awareness is important to determine how they can be best assisted.

“Intersectionality is a big thing we need to look at when we attempt to address these issues.”


This story was produced through the collaborative efforts Climate Tracker and Young People for Action on Climate Change, both supported by Open Society Foundation.

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Tyrell Gittens

Tyrell Gittens

Tyrell is a conservationist, environmentalist, and geographer dedicated to exploring and protecting our big beautiful world through storytelling. A Trinbagonian with a deep love for nature, he enjoys hiking, listening to the waves crashing on the twin island’s scenic beaches and immersing himself in nature as he seek to become one with the world.

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