Next Pride month, we need to talk about LGBTQ food insecurity (The Forward’s Scribe)

Abby J. Leibman
July 6, 2021

This article first appeared in The Forward’s Scribe on July 6, 2021.

While Pride Month recently gave us the opportunity to reflect on all of the contributions and successes of the LGBTQ community, it also demanded an awareness of the many challenges the community continues to confront. At MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, we know that among those challenges is food insecurity — a challenge too often unseen and unaddressed.

Even before the pandemic, many in the LGBTQ community faced unique barriers to food security. In part due to employment discrimination and lack of family support, queer people experience higher rates of poverty and food insecurity.

The data are staggering — the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law estimates that 27 percent of LGBTQ individuals face food insecurity. For LGBTQ seniors, the numbers are even more sobering — LGBTQ people 60 and older are 60 percent more likely to face food insecurity than their cisgender and straight peers.

LGBTQ seniors have often endured a lifetime of discrimination and heightened isolation. While there is no precise data yet, it’s also clear that the pandemic exacerbated those challenges, especially the isolation. According to Aaron Tax, director of advocacy for SAGE, the data that is available already “paints a challenging picture for LGBTQ older people.”

The Williams Institute, in partnership with MAZON, last year released a report that investigated the barriers that prevent LGBTQ individuals and particularly LGBTQ seniors, from seeking help from the charitable food network and federal assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Many of the study participants reported experiencing shame and stigma in seeking help from charitable food pantries and 14 percent said they were afraid of going to faith-based charitable food banks because of anti-LGBTQ bias. As charitable food networks are often also entry points to accessing nutrition assistance like SNAP, the consequences can be devastating.

Inspired by these troubling data, MAZON partnered with the National Center for Lesbian Rights and other Jewish and interfaith organizations, to spearhead the “We Serve With Love” campaign to raise awareness of the faith-based charitable service providers that are welcoming to LGBTQ people.

Stable access to nutritious food is fundamental to our humanity. Jewish tradition compels us to recognize the inherent dignity of all people while working to repair the world. As the only Jewish anti-hunger organization in America, our contention is simple: accessing healthy food should be a dignified and straightforward process, regardless of a person’s age or background.

The scale of the hunger crisis in the United States is much too vast and complex to solve with charity alone — ending hunger is a question of political will. Across the country, the pandemic has doubled the number of people experiencing hunger from 40 million to 80 million.

Congress has an opportunity to increase food security for LGBTQ individuals. First, Congress must pass the American Families Plan and extend the temporary SNAP benefit boosts that are set to expire soon. Second, Congress can further reduce barriers to nutrition assistance by designating LGBTQ seniors as a population of “greatest social need” when reauthorizing the Older Americans Act. Most importantly, Congress must pass the Equality Act to extend our civil rights laws to protect sexual orientation and gender identity.

We must remember that this work must continue long after Pride month ends. While we celebrate the gains that the LGBTQ movement has made over recent decades, we must change the conditions in our society that contribute to food insecurity for far too many LGBTQ people and especially LGBTQ seniors . Pride is about accepting and celebrating the whole selves of LGBTQ people — including their fundamental right to access nutritious food.