What It Means To Be A Greenpeace LGBTQ Activist

June 27, 2018

At heart, the LGBTQ+ movement and the environmental movement are involved in the same struggle to upend unjust power relations and secure the dignity and equality of every individual.

Every movement for justice borrows from past struggles to right wrongs. Many of the strategies adopted by the LGBTQ+ movement, for example, in the wake of the 1969 Stonewall Riots were inspired by the victories of the Civil Rights Movement in the earlier part of the decade. Greenpeace’s non-violent direct action is similarly inspired by the pioneering activism of all kinds of movements for social justice. While at the surface it may appear that the, say, women’s rights movement, the queer movement, the racial justice movement, the environmental movement, and so on, are all discrete campaigns, at heart they’re all involved in the struggle to upend unjust power relations and secure the dignity and equality of every individual.

This Pride Month, Greenpeace USA’s Ryan Schleeter and Ivy Schlegel share their stories on what it means to be a queer environmentalist.

Ryan Schleeter, Content Editor, Americas Communications Hub

There are two reasons I think being queer and being an environmentalist have everything to do with one another. The first is that we share adversaries. The systems of power that perpetuate intolerance and prevent equal access to things like housing and healthcare for LGBTQ+ people are the same as those propping up the fossil fuel economy in its dying days. The second is that we get to celebrate each others’ wins. As I wrote in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in favor of marriage equality, many young people…

now see that dedicated activists can actually effect change through our institutions. And that could inspire them to join campaigns to do things like stop Shell from drilling in the Arctic or push colleges and other organizations to divest from fossil fuels.

These environmental campaigns are uphill battles, but so were the progressive campaigns that achieved [marriage equality] last week. A decade ago, only one state, Massachusetts, permitted same-sex marriage, and until Friday, 12 states still banned it. […]  There’s a new energy permeating the country, and environmentalists, like other progressive activists, should ride that wave as long as we can. The climate movement, which is engaged in epic battles against entrenched interests, could particularly benefit from an energizing boost.

As movements fighting common forces, we need to learn from and support each on the road to a world that’s more just — and green — for everyone.

Ivy Schlegel, Research Specialist, Indonesian Forests

It’s 1991, you’re 14, and you don’t yet know you’re queer. Who really does when you’re growing up in a small town sandwiched between a nuclear power plant and a military base? You’ve never even met anybody who’s queer and you don’t know what’s going on inside of you, but you know queers are bad because everyone says so. It’s on restroom walls and spray-painted on the asphalt of parking lots: “Fags go home.”

And then you see this photograph in the morning newspaper and everything in your stomach coils for a moment. People storming the headquarters of a government agency that isn’t working hard enough to keep Americans from dying. And when you understand the “action logic”, it’s so clear to you that you drop your toast on the kitchen table. This wasn’t how I learned about AIDS in school: AIDS was punishment for queers and whores, and death was inevitable. Now you see the other side: the human impact and the politicians who turned their backs. This is a crisis. And those you were told to pity (if not hate) are now their own heroes. Queers will have to fight for their own lives and will do so by disrupting business as usual.

You’re 23, you lock arms and chain yourself together with fellow activists at your first protest, and you remember those who came before you. When you’re defending California redwoods with your body as police advance with pepper spray, when you’re blocking an intersection outside a WTO meeting where trade ministers prioritize profits over people, when you pop open an anti-war banner behind Condoleezza Rice’s speech at commencement; you will remember your own value and know that your liberation is tied to everyone else’s. You’ll know that activism is born of intolerable losses and grief, and you’ll seek every day to use the power you have to transform unjust power structures.


Greenpeace continues to be inspired by the LGBTQ+ movement for equal rights and we stand in absolute solidarity with our LGBTQ+ colleagues and allies. Happy Pride Month!

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