When Kendra Johnson walks into a room or interacts with other people, the discrimination she might face could stem from multiple sources – her status as a woman, as a Black person or as a lesbian living in the South.
For her, “there’s no way to separate those,” said Johnson, executive director of Equality North Carolina, the state’s oldest LGBTQ rights organization.
Many LGBTQ people of color experience the same discrimination, and the effects multiply as a person's identities are targeted, research shows. A comprehensive summary of recent studies released this week found that LGBTQ people of color not only experience more discrimination in the workplace, the housing market and other sectors than white LGBTQ people but suffer “profoundly greater harm” as a result.
The damage shows up in varying ways, including disproportionate rates of poor mental and physical health, economic insecurity and psychological distress, the report concludes based on five years’ worth of peer-reviewed LGBTQ population research, an effort by Cornell University’s What We Know Project.
“Many people have asserted and assumed these disparities existed but hadn’t seen anyone compile them this way,” said historian Nathaniel Frank, director of the project. “This is about understanding that this is about people’s lives and that there are real harms.”
The What We Know Project, part of Cornell’s Center for the Study of Inequality in New York, aggregates scholarly research on public policy and shares consensus findings for policymakers, journalists and others.
The briefing indicates that LGBTQ people are more likely than non-LGBTQ people to be people of color: LGBTQ people of color comprise 42% of the LGBTQ population, compared with 32% of non-LGBTQ people, according to the report.
LGBTQ people of color face higher odds of either racial and anti-LGBTQ discrimination than LGBTQ white people, which in turn leads to a greater risk of psychological and economic harm. Black LGBTQ Americans in particular are disproportionately likely to live in the South, where most states lack protections against LBGTQ discrimination. They also are more likely to face economic insecurity.
"This research highlights why federal non-discrimination protections are overdue and vital to protecting some of the most underrepresented and vulnerable members of our community," said Imani Rupert-Gordon, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. "Federal anti-discrimination protections are absolutely necessary in protecting and supporting all LGBTQ people, and this is especially true for LGBTQ people of color.”
Anti-LGBTQ bias worsens effects of racial discrimination
For Johnson of Equality North Carolina, the findings were no surprise, she said, “just based on my lived experience and the work that I do every day.”
What Johnson appreciated about the report, however, was its broad analysis of the intersecting identities of LGBTQ people.
“The reality is that I can’t separate my identities,” she said. “I knew I could not work for an LGBT equality and equity organization without working for racial and social justice.”
According to the brief, 36% of all LGBTQ Americans surveyed had experienced discrimination in their public, work or personal lives over the previous year.
The frequency and harm of such discrimination were significantly greater for LGBTQ people of color: 43% reported discrimination over the past year, compared with 31% of white LGBTQ respondents.
For example, the project found that LGBTQ people of color were 2½ times as likely as white LGBTQ people (32%-13%) to experience anti-LGBTQ discrimination, from slurs to verbal abuse, when applying for jobs. Similarly, those people were more than twice as likely (24%-11%) to experience such abuse during interactions with law enforcement.
Meanwhile, more than three-quarters (77%) of Black respondents who reported discrimination over the past year said the incidents had damaged their psychological well-being, compared with just over half of the overall group.
Such incidents of bias exacerbate already troubling circumstances for many LGBTQ people of color. Compared with non-LGBTQ Black Americans, for instance, Black LGBTQ people were more likely to report economic insecurity (56%-49%) and food insecurity (37%-27%).
More than half (51%) of Black LGBTQ people felt anti-LGBTQ discrimination harmed their ability to be hired, and 41% felt it limited their ability to stay employed, compared with about a third of white respondents in each instance.
“There’s a multiplier effect if you’re facing discrimination based on multiple identities,” said project director Frank. “Once you view the world from the perspective of a marginalized identity, you’re primed for the damage that can come from discrimination – and so if you experience it on yet another basis, it shouldn’t be surprising that the harm is compounded.”
Identity-affirming support plays a major role
Such bias can disproportionately affect young LGBTQ people of color, who already experience stark differences in suicidality rates compared with white LGBTQ youth, the briefing said. While a quarter of all LGBTQ youth reported suicide attempts in the year prior, the rate among white LGBTQ youth was 12%, compared with 31% of Native American/indigenous LGBTQ youth, 21% of Black LGBTQ youth and 18% of Latino LGBTQ youth.
For Black LGBTQ youth who experienced anti-LGBTQ discrimination, those rates rose to 27%, compared with 12% for those who did not.
"Once you have depression and suicidality, that can lead to chronic issues and create fear as a lens through which you experience your life and the world,” Frank said.
Support plays a major role in alleviating the problem, the report found, whether it comes from lawmakers, family or peers. For example, suicide rates among LGBTQ youth were 7% lower in states that had legalized same-sex marriage before the 2015 Supreme Court that made it the law of the land, “so it’s also about what messages that laws send to people about who they are and how they’re valued,” Frank said.
For Black LGBTQ youth who reported at least one significantly supportive person in their lives or who had access to an identity-affirming space such as an LGBTQ community center or welcoming church congregation, the rates dropped to 16%, versus 24% for those who did not.
“We as a society can do something about this by creating safe spaces and having laws that are supportive,” Frank said. “This research lays at our feet as a society the question of whether we want to make communities of marginalized kids safer or less safe, healthier or less healthy.”
Some religious organizations have made efforts in recent years to show love to LGBTQ members of color.
In Detroit, Metropolitan Community Church has altered its mission to focus on intersectional equality. The multicultural church, part of a worldwide denomination with outreach to LGBTQ communities, is involved in an effort called Colors of Pride, a movement aiming to get several hundred congregations nationwide to commit to participating in activities supporting LGBTQ and racial equality during Pride Month this June.
“If you look at the LGBTQ community as the umbrella, you recognize that Blacks are disproportionately impacted in all the areas that the report highlights,” said the Rev. Roland Stringfellow, the church's senior pastor. That’s on his mind as the congregation prepares for its Juneteenth celebration Saturday, which will symbolically connect the emancipation of enslaved people with the liberation of LGBTQ Americans today.
Stringfellow said the impact of racism is often neglected within the LGBTQ movement.
“To have this information be outlined, leaders in the movement really now do have a choice,” he said. “Is it solidarity in name only, or do we start moving toward policy changes and trainings to make people more sensitive to things that are really baked into our society?”
Stringfellow said there’s growing recognition of the need to confront religious convictions or silence as obstacles in the fight for LGBTQ equality, particularly among legislators who are people of faith.
“While I don’t want to get into a Bible battle, or shaming, you can get into how all faiths and religions really do point to the equality of all people," he said. "So if we’re talking about real change, it’s one thing to protest in the street, but it’s even better to meet with legislators and bring about change.”
Johnson, of Equality North Carolina, said states need to better track data on race, gender identity and sexual orientation to tell the full stories of groups that are most vulnerable. For instance, without tracking gender identity or sexual orientation in school, it’s difficult to discern graduation rates for LGBTQ students.
And while policies and hard-held biases can cause lasting harm that can take years to overcome, Frank, director of the report, said replacing discriminatory laws and practices with more inclusive ones “can lead to greater health for a greater number of people. Laws and policies make a real difference.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: For LGBTQ people of color, discrimination more common, harmful