Supporting LBGTQ resilience in disaster and emergency management: a literature review

By: Marcilyn Cianfarani

Picture1Individuals and communities marginalized by social, economic, and political processes are often further marginalized during and in the aftermath of disasters (Enarson & Walsh, 2007). International disaster research shows that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer (LGBTQ) people are discriminated against during disaster response and recovery based on their sexual orientation or gender identity and that their specific vulnerabilities and capacities are often overlooked (Gaillard, 2011).  This research also shows that little is being done to sensitize policies and practices for this particular population.

Vulnerability is the interaction of social, political, cultural, and physical processes that put people in harm’s way (Enarson & Walsh, 2007).  Inequalities and differences based on sex and gender may lead to the denial of the fundamental human rights for certain individuals. (Enarson, Fothergill, & Peek, 2007).  While social vulnerability, capacity, and resilience in Canadian disasters have not been well-documented, evidence from previous incidents in Canada such as SARS, and the 1998 Ice Storm reinforce the need to recognize marginalized populations in order to create better mitigation, response, and recovery capabilities and to lessen the economic and social impact of disasters (Enarson & Walsh, 2007).

The social determinants of health are the primary factors that shape the health and well-being of Canadians and are indicators of social vulnerability (Enarson & Walsh, 2007). Examples of determinants include income, education, housing, gender, race, and disability and enable people to resist and recover from the shocks of everyday life (Mulé et al., 2009).  These factors relate closely to those that promote disaster resilience. Challenges in emergency management, then, pose the same challenges as promoting health equity in sustainable communities (Enarson & Walsh, 2007). Canadian action on improving health equity by addressing the social determinants of health has been profoundly lacking and evidence suggests Canadian public policy in recent years has served to increase social inequities among Canadians (Raphael, 2010).

Health policy literature indicates a greater emphasis needs to be placed on including gender and sexually diverse populations in policy development. Minority communities invisible to policymakers are not included or considered in policy or planning processes, and are over-looked during critical incidents and other emergency situations (Colvin, 2010).  Health policy challenges faced by same sex couples in the United States include the refusal to recognize same sex partners as next of kin, and the denial of rights for hospital visitation and end of life decisions (Labella & Singh, 2008). “Despite the changing legal landscapes in Canada over the past decade LGBTQ people continue to face discrimination and abuse, and improving safety continues to be a key touchstone for policy makers and practitioners engaging with LGBTQ lives” (Browne, Bakshi, & Lim, 2011, p. 739).

The unique health and social needs of LGBTQ people are not recognized and often ignored by mainstream disaster relief and recovery efforts. Following 9/11, LGBT organizations in New York worked to fill gaps left from mainstream efforts demonstrating the importance of these groups and agencies to engage local leadership and build on community capacity (Eads, 2002).

In the aftermath of the 2004 South Asian tsunami, the Aravanis, a sexual minority, were denied access to shelters, housing, and livelihood support, often eating leftovers thrown away by others living in the temporary shelters (Pincha & Krishna, 2008). Although shelter and disaster relief providers are subject to universal declarations and principles that prohibit discrimination based on gender stereotypes and gender identity, LGBTQ people remain unsafe in emergency shelters (NTCE, 2009).  Following Hurricane Katrina, Sharlie, a transgendered woman, was arrested, detained in jail, and separated from her family for using the women’s shower in an emergency shelter (Carter, 2007).

Research findings on the safety needs of LGBTQ people in the city of Toronto illustrate experiences of harassment, vandalism, damage to private property, and assault that have occurred in neighborhoods, and workplaces (Cameron, 2009).  Although crime rates have been shown to decrease in disasters, those at risk of violence remain so during and after a disaster (Philips, Jenkins, & Enarson, 2010).  Following the 2010 Earthquake in Haiti, lesbian and bisexually-identified women reported that sexual violence and corrective rape were problems in the internally displaced person (IDP) camps (IGLHRC & SEROVie, 2011). Violence often remains unreported by LGBTQ people for fear of further victimization and it remains one of the least examined behaviours in disaster contexts (Philips, Jenkins, & Enarson, 2009).

Despite documents such as the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Yogyakarta Principles: An Application of International Human Rights Law in Relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the Canadian Human Rights Act, LGBTQ people in Canada continue to face discrimination.  While international research suggests LGBTQ people face further discrimination in the wake and aftermath of disasters, little is known about LGBTQ people, their needs, vulnerabilities, and capacities and disaster and emergency management in Canada.  An inclusive disaster risk reduction should include disaster preparedness initiatives that contribute to the resilience of LGBTQ people, households, and communities.


Browne, K., Bakshi, L., & Lim, J. (2011). ‘It’s something you just have to ignore’: Understanding and addressing contemporary lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans safety beyond hate crime paradigms. Journal of Social Policy, 40, 739-756. doi:10.1017/S0047279411000250

Cameron, R. (2009). Pushed “back” in the closet: Research findings on the safety needs of LGBTTIQQ2S women and trans communities of Toronto. A Joint Project of the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence against Women and Children (METRAC) Community Safety Program and the 519 Church Street Community Centre Anti-Violence Program. Retrieved from http://www.rainbowhealth

Carter, M. (2007). Southerners on new ground: Our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. In South End Press Collective (Ed.), What lies beneath: Katrina, race and the state of the nation (p. 54-64). Cambridge, MA: South End Press

Colvin, R. (2010). Critical incidents, invisible populations, and public policy: A case of the LGBT community. Journal of Critical Incident Analysis, 30-40. Retrieved from

Eads, M. (2002). Marginalized groups in times of crisis: Identity, needs, and response (Natural Hazards Quick Response #152). Retrieved from University of Colorado, Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Centre website:

Enarson, E., & Walsh, S. (2007). Integrating emergency management with high-risk populations: A survey report and action recommendations. Canadian Red Cross. Retrieved from

Enarson, E., Fothergill, A., & Peek, L. (2007). Gender and disaster. In H. Rodriguez, E.L.

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York, U.S.A: Springer Science + Business Media. doi:10.1007/978-0-387-32353-4_8

Gaillard, JC. (2011). Box Proof 35.1. Integrating non-heterosexual groups into disaster risk reduction in the Philippines. In B. Wisner, JC Gaillard, & I. Kelman (Eds.), Handbook of Hazards and Disaster Risk Reduction. UK: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group

International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) & SEROVie. (2011). The impact of the earthquake, and relief and recovery programs on Haitian LGBT people.

Labella, A., & Singh, D. (2008). Turning loss into legislation. American Journal of Public Health, 98(6), 971-973. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2007.123745

Mertens, D. M. (2007). Transformative paradigm: Mixed methods and social justice. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 1(3), 212-225. Retrieved from

Mulé, N. J., Ross, L. E., Deeprose, B., Jackson, B. E., Daley, A., Travers, A., & Moore, D. (2009). Promoting LGBT health and wellbeing through inclusive policy development. International Journal for Equity in Health, 8(1), 8-18. doi:10.1186/1475-9276-8-18

National Centre for Transgender Equality. (May, 2009).  Hurricane preparedness: Information for transgender people on preparing for a storm. Retrieved from /resources.html

Phillips, B.D., Jenkins, P., Enarson, E. (2010). Violence and disaster vulnerability. In B.D. Phillips,  D.S.K. Thomas, A. Fothergill & L. Blinn-Pike (Eds.), Social vulnerability to disasters. (p. 279-303). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press

Pincha, C., & Krishna, H. (2008). Aravanis: Voiceless victims of the tsunami. Humanitarian Exchange, 41, 41-43. (Retrieved from

Raphael, D. (2010). Health equity in Canada. Social Alternatives, 29(2), 41-49. Retrieved from

 Marcilyn Cianfarani works as a Paramedic in the City of Toronto and is completing a graduate degree at Royal Roads University. She is currently conducting a research study with participants from the LGBTQ community in the City of Toronto in partial fulfillment of the Master of Arts in Disaster and Emergency Management. She hopes this research study will promote awareness to the emergency management community while contributing to the health and well-being of LGBTQ people, households, and communities during or in the aftermath of a disaster or mass emergency