Why Climate Change Is an LGBT Issue

Published in: September-October 2017 issue.


IN MAY of this year, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication reported a startling poll finding: 39 percent of Americans believe there’s at least a fifty percent chance that climate change will kill off the human race. A sense that we’re doomed seems to be creeping in. Perhaps it’s not a surprise, given President Trump’s energy policies. He is, after all, cramming CO2 into the sky like a James Bond supervillain. No wonder the public feels on edge.

So far, though, we haven’t seen much protest. Indeed, there’s a growing sense of resignation. Friends of mine almost casually mention the appearance of bizarre craters all over Siberia. It seems that the decaying permafrost is leaking CO2 and methane into underground pockets. They explode, popping out giant chunks of tundra. The entire Arctic, apparently, is fizzing with thawed greenhouse gases. Clearly, the situation is hopeless.

But what if it isn’t? Surely we must fight this doomsday trend. There’s so much at stake. For example, future generations. Readers of this magazine tend not to have children at the heterosexual rate, but lots of us are raising kids, and we have nieces and nephews. Of course we care about children. We’re not just sybarites living for “the now,” are we?

But for the sake of argument, let’s say that many of us live for the present and avoid having children. Why should we care about the future?

Let’s start with the question of art. Isn’t civilization worth saving for the beauty it produces? An informed love of art requires an eye for developing trends. In fact, it’s a truism that lesbians and gay men exert disproportionate influence on the avant-garde. We care about what is to come. The essence of hip is knowing what’s next.

That forward-looking knack also has a flipside, in the realm of art history, which is something of a gay specialty. There’s some validity to the notion of a “gay sensibility” that imparts an appreciation for art and how it developed. Perhaps this has to do with a talent for empathy. The ability to understand other points of view—to see as others see—is central to homosexuality’s penchant for crossing boundaries. To be able to see the world from other people’s perspective is a crucial element of art and of art appreciation, and it extends to art preservation: curatorship, connoisseurship, and the collection of art objects.

How do these observations bear on the end of the world? I should think it’s obvious. LGBT people must defy the larger culture’s malaise. We must fight the dismal slide to climate ruin. Our very nature demands that we save civilization! We need to think of ourselves as hard-wired to protect beauty. Harry Hay said as much all those years ago: natural selection placed us here for a reason. It is our responsibility to take the lead in showing humanity how to protect the planet and preserve civilization.