LGBTs are riding the green wave

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Dean Baigent-Mercer lives an alternative lifestyle.

It’s a life far from the major urban communities that cradle the LGBT culture. It’s a life on an organic farm in Otangoroa, New Zealand. “WWOOFers – Willing Workers On Organic Food Farms, it’s a global network – come stay, help out, enjoy the local area and contribute to positive environmental projects as part of their travels,” says Baigent-Mercer.

Baigent-Mercer, who describes himself as an “eco-queer,” is an environmental activist who has worked on campaigns in New Zealand and on an international level for more than a decade.

He’s campaigned to end logging in ancient New Zealand rainforests, to block China-bound shipments of stolen rainforest timber in Papua New Guinea, to ban destructive deep-sea bottom trawling fishing, to promote marine protection zones, to stop construction of a coal-fired power station and against international overfishing of tuna.

“Every day is Earth Day for me,” Baigent-Mercer says when asked about the holiday observed worldwide April 22. “Maybe I’ll plant another sub-tropical fruit tree to add to my growing sub-tropical fruit forest. Or trap some of the animals that were introduced to New Zealand that are threatening our national flightless bird, the kiwi, with extinction.”

Baigent-Mercer says what drives his work is “common sense” and “caring about other people and this great planet we share.”

Shared planet, shared agenda

Many U.S. conservative groups have long lumped together LGBT equality and environmentalism as part of a liberal or left-wing agenda that threatens the traditional American way of life.

Most currently, Tea Party activists have shared this view at demonstrations and in the blogosphere. “The Gay Agenda is far-reaching and encompasses every other liberal agenda there is, simply because of the ‘if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ trade-off,” writes one blogger on Tea Party Patriots. “Gays are far more likely to support Obama-care, cap-and-trade, government takeovers of the banking, automotive and other industries, global warming threats, environmentalism … and even Marxism. … Gays will vote for any other liberal agenda they can.”

Darby Hoover laughs when she reads, “Gay Agenda.”

“I can’t help but think of that as something along the lines of ‘8:30 a.m.: Wake up. 9 a.m.: Go to gym. 10 a.m.: Be fabulous. Noon: Light lunch, then take over the world,’” says Hoover, a senior resource specialist with the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco.

LGBT people, Hoover says, “are everywhere.”

But, she adds, there are a lot of LGBT people working for positive change in many different arenas, including the environmental arena.

Hoover is working for change through the NRDC’s urban program, focusing on waste and recycling issues and “comprehensive greening initiatives” with Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the Oscars and the Grammys.

“For me, working toward creating a healthy and livable planet is a necessary foundation to any kind of social improvement or anything else, for that matter,” she says.

Gerod Rody also is an out West Coast environmental activist. He’s the executive director of Seattle’s OUT for Sustainability, which is believed to be the first LGBT organization dedicated to environmental issues.

Rody thinks the Tea Party blogger has it right in one respect – gays are more likely to be green in their politics. But he says, “We do not support other agendas because they service our needs. We support them because they are right. … A society that values every member is what we fight for.”

A Harris Interactive poll conducted last October shows that LGBT people tend to think, act and vote greener than heterosexuals:

  • 66 percent of LGBT adults surveyed said it is important to support environmental causes compared with 56 percent of non-LGBT adults.
  • 48 percent of LGBT adults said it is important to consider environmental issues when voting for a candidate compared with 35 percent of non-LGBT adults.
  • 51 percent of LGBT adults said they were concerned about the planet for future generations, compared with 42 percent of non-LGBT adults.

“It makes sense,” says out Florida environmentalist Charmane Combs. “A lot of my green friends aren’t gay, but most of my gay friends are green.”

“We have two distinct movements – the gay rights movement and the environmental rights movement. Both came of age at the same time,” Combs says. “The same year I went to my first Earth Day event, I attended my first Pride parade. It’s more than a mutual admiration for Birkenstocks. There’s a parallel, and there’s a connection.”

And yet, Combs and other activists ask, why isn’t there more coalition-building to strengthen alliances between LGBT and green groups?

“I would love the LGBT community to use its political power to send a resounding message to our Congress and president that they must pass bold, comprehensive climate and energy legislation this year,” says Brianna Cayo-Cotter, a self-described “proud queer woman” who works for the Rainforest Action Network in San Francisco. “Climate change is arguably one of the greatest threats facing humanity, and we cannot wait another minute to seriously address it.”

Cayo-Cotter knows a lot of LGBT people working in the environmental movement, but she’s not seen formal relationships between the movements’ organizations, with the exception of the Courage Campaign that has led the fight against the Prop 8 anti-gay marriage amendment.

Courage Campaign “is now doing some great work to force California oil corporations to pay an extraction tax to fund public education,” Cayo-Cotter says. “That’s some pretty great alliance-building that I would love to see more of.”

Washington, D.C.-based activist Michael Eichler has another vision: “The Human Rights Campaign should hold a five-star, four-course fundraising dinner where the entire menu is vegan, hopefully raising the awareness of the leaders of the queer community to the amazingly delicious options that become available when a hunk of flesh no longer has center stage on the plate.”

Living green, getting greener

Eichler lives every day as Earth Day.

“Every choice I make in my life has my concern for the environment factored into it,” he says.

That includes his chosen profession as an urban planner.

“I wanted to work toward a world where we could live fulfilling lives without relying on fossil fuels and personal automobiles,” says Eichler, who works for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority doing long-range transit planning.

Recent surveys have shown LGBTs trending to suburban, small-town and country living, but population statistics still show LGBT communities are heavily urban, which should make it easier to go green or become greener, says Eichler.

“We tend to live in denser urban spaces that provide the opportunity to live car-free,” he says. “I’d love it if our community started putting more emphasis on consciousness of their surroundings and less on blatant consumerism.

“Urban living is a step in that direction, but we need to go further.”

That’s the direction Rody is headed.

OUT for Sustainability is “the first nonprofit that I’m aware of to integrate sustainability and the LGBTQ community,” he says.

“We work in several environmental arenas, including our Earth Gay event of service projects ranging from urban farming to habitat restoration. We have a youth environmental leadership program and are developing advisory groups around our 12 policy areas.” OUT’s policy areas include energy, food systems, transportation, natural resources, water and building.

In the Earth Gay program, an urban farm produces food for local organizations, including AIDS Housing of Washington. Neighbors join in clean-up campaigns and partnerships include LGBT groups, business groups and environmental organizations.

Rody envisions OUT for Sustainability “branching nationally.”

But, he emphasizes an old grassroots principle – going green starts at home.

Rody says, “It starts small, with actions like composting, flying less, biking more, creating communities that support each other and changing the whole conversation from what do we sacrifice into what can we innovate to make our lives richer and more responsible.”

Baigent-Mercer innovated, settling on a solar-powered farm.

The wireless reception is poor, but the trade-off is a New Zealand rainforest for a backyard.

“It’s great. We all laugh a lot,” he says of the no-tech perks.

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