The Intersection of LGBTQ+ Rights and Environmental Justice: Q&A with Representative Sean Patrick Maloney

In this issue of Relearning Highlands History, we explored the intersectional relationship between LGBTQ+ rights and the environmental justice movement through a Q&A with Representative Sean Patrick Maloney (D NY-18). Rep. Maloney has served New York’s 18th congressional district since 2013 and is the first openly gay person elected to Congress from New York. He lives in Cold Spring with his husband and three children

Representative Sean Patrick Maloney (D NY-18) and his husband, Randy Florke, Photo courtesy of Rep. Maloney’s Office

Q1. The Equality Act, which would amend the Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity, was first developed by New York representatives back in 1974. But despite widespread public and political support—including high-profile support in President Biden’s March 2022 State of the Union address—it still has not been passed. What would the protections outlined in this legislation mean for the LGBTQ+ community and do you think it’s likely to be passed in the near future?

Rep. Maloney: We’ve made enormous strides as a nation in advancing LGBTQ+ rights. The next step in that fight is to pass the Equality Act, which will ensure no American can be discriminated against in housing, medical care, or other critical services just because of who they are or who they love. While every Democrat supported the Equality Act when it passed the House, most Republicans opposed it and Senate Republicans continue to prevent its passage. We will continue doing everything in our power to pass it, but GOP obstruction is the current roadblock. 

Q2. The LGBTQ+ community’s access to outdoor recreation and open space, like parks and hiking trails, has historically been impeded or outrightly discouraged in certain areas. How can environmental organizations foster an inclusive, welcoming approach to access to the outdoors and ensure all people have equal opportunity to enjoy nature?

Rep. Maloney: Everyone should be able to enjoy nature’s beauty without restrictions. It’s vital that environmental organizations advocate for those who have often been excluded from the outdoors by focusing on accessibility. Whether by working to create more green spaces in urban communities, working to make our public lands and parks more accessible, or simply ensuring diverse voices are prioritized and heard in environmental advocacy, there’s a lot environmental organizations do and can expand upon to help lead the charge.  

Q3. How does your personal experience impact the way you fight for environmental justice and do you think greater diversity in government can help advance work in this area more quickly?

Rep. Maloney: As a gay man with an interracial family, I ran for office to fight for all families, including ones like mine, and to ensure that there are voices in Congress advocating for a better, more equitable future. It is vital that we have diverse perspectives involved in advocacy and governing to ensure the communities most affected by environmental problems have a seat at the table when we work on solutions. In my district, we’ve seen how communities of color are more often affected by issues like pollution and outdated infrastructure, which is why I’ve fought to invest in lead pipe removal, clean water infrastructure, and other environmental clean-up efforts throughout my time in Congress.

Q4. Given the increased rates of poverty and housing insecurity experienced in the LGBTQ+ community compared to the general population, what needs to be done to protect people from the effects of climate change, including severe weather, housing scarcity, and climate refugee migration?

Rep. Maloney: To protect those most vulnerable to the harms of climate change, we must invest in affordable housing, mental health resources, and storm resilient infrastructure to help get folks out of the most dangerous situations that accompany extreme weather events. Beyond those critical steps needed to get more people experiencing housing insecurity into secure housing, and the best way to protect people from the effects of climate change is to simply fight climate change. Fighting the climate crisis proactively, by investing in clean energy and mitigating pollution, must be our top priority. 

Q5. How can those fighting for LGBTQ+ rights and environmental/climate issues work intersectionally to advance both causes?

Rep. Maloney: Issues of equality and sustainability go hand in hand. Addressing the climate crisis is a fight for every person on this planet, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, but we can and should lead those efforts in ways that promote equity and accessibility. Whether through investing in affordable housing and building that housing in sustainable, resilient ways or by expanding and protecting public lands while ensuring those lands are accessible to disabled and diverse communities, there are many ways we can champion equality and climate efforts simultaneously. Throughout my time in Congress, I’ve tried to lead by example on this front by working to expand and protect our lands in the Hudson Valley while delivering the resources needed to make them more accessible, inclusive spaces.

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