Disasters Don’t Discriminate (But Sometimes People Do)
By Lt. Allen Applegate, Program Analyst, Office of Human Services Emergency Preparedness Response
Imagine your town has just been struck by a tornado. You and your family emerge from your basement as the storm passes to find your home has been destroyed. Everything in your home is gone – clothes, furniture, family photos – all gone. You are left stunned, overcome by emotions happy that you and your family is safe but wondering what you will do next and where your family will go for help. Now imagine experiencing this challenging moment while being afraid to seek help. It's a fear because your family may not look like other families in your neighborhood - in your family, there happens to be two dads.
When disaster strikes, it affects an entire community, and causes hardships for Americans of all ages, genders, religions, cultures and sexual orientations. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans live and work in virtually every community in the United States. LGBT Americans contend with discrimination and prejudice and when a disaster strikes, LGBT individuals and families often face additional stress or heightened challenges, due in part to fears of being underserved in emergency services. Emergency responders can take steps to reduce the stress and fear by creating a more welcoming environment for the LGBT community which include:
- Learn more – a good first step is to learn more about the LGBT community and understand the challenges the LGBT community faces.
- Be inclusive – if possible, involve the community in developing plans, including representatives from the LGBT community.
- Show respect for families – when an LGBT family seeks assistance, treat them like any other family.
- Create a safe environment – ensure shelters and service providers are open to the entire community and that they are safe environments for LGBT individuals and families.
If you would like to learn more about serving the LGBT community during disasters, join the Office of Human Services Emergency Preparedness and Response, the Human Rights Campaign and the National Center for Transgender Equality for a webinar on Thursday, June 13, at 2 p.m. (EST). The webinar will provide information on what it means to be a LGBT individual or family, how to interact with LGBT individual and families, and steps to meet the specific needs of LGBT individuals and families in emergency response. There will be an interactive Twitter chat moderated by @OHSEPR immediately after at 3 p.m. (EST).
The Office of Human Services Emergency Preparedness and Response provides leadership in human services preparedness, response, and recovery promoting resilience of individuals, families, and communities prior to, during, and after nationally declared disasters and public health emergencies.