Unveiling a report suggesting LGBT people of color face many disproportionate challenges in Colorado, statewide LGBT advocacy organization One Colorado is calling for better data collection and education along with relationships between communities to understand and address what’s driving the disparities.
The One Colorado report, Facing Barriers: Experiences of LGBT People of Color in Colorado, released in October, assessed data collected from needs assessments and health surveys of approximately 5,900 LGBT respondents in 2010 and 2011, with almost 13 percent identifying themselves as LGBT people of color. The report revealed that among respondents, LGBT people of color come out younger, are more often religious or spiritual, more frequently single, more likely to work full time but have lower annual average incomes, and report higher rates of a broad range of challenges known to impact the LGBT community as a whole.
“The idea here is that we know for LGBT people of color there are unique challenges,” said Jon Monteith, Communications Director at One Colorado. “We wanted to highlight those struggles. I think the obvious question is, what are we going to do about this? What can we do as a community to take action?”
One Colorado has already gathered a coalition of organizations including the Two Spirit National Cultural Exchange, Inc., the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLORR), the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy & Research Organization (CLARO), and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Part of the coalition’s plan includes education and training programs for the LGBT community itself.
“One of the things that’s missing is awareness about the way racism plays out within the LGBT community,” said Daniel Ramos, One Colorado’s director of organizing and alliance building. He said the next steps will entail “talking about these disparities and the way that they impact the lived experiences of LGBT people of color, and engaging LGBT white folk in becoming allies to increase the community in the work that we’re doing all across the state.”
One Colorado’s report called for identifying and combating “microaggresions,” a term for subtle and often subconscious forms
of discrimination played out in daily interactions.
“Some of that subtlety plays out in healthcare,” Monteith said. “It affects both LGBT people of color and white LGBT people. It would be as simple as having a medical form that you’re filling out where there’s no option to reflect your relationship status.”
Ramos said microaggressions occur within the LGBT community itself — in “the jokes and comments that we make that are stereotypes about specific groups, whether it’s people of color, people with disabilities, or people based on their sexual orientation.”
An example of a microagression that affects the LGBT community as a whole, Ramos said, “would be when people say ‘that’s so gay,’ when they really don’t mean gay in its most literal sense. That’s a subtle form of discrimination.”
Of those surveyed, 1 out of 20 LGBT people of color reported experiencing harassment on the street daily or multiple times per day — four times the rate of white LGBT people facing the same frequency of harassment. Additionally, 9.3 percent of LGBT students of color have endured anti-LGBT harassment daily or multiple times per day in the year before they took the survey, compared to 5.1 percent of white LGBT people.
Monteith said one of the most striking findings of the survey was difficulty in the heath care system.
“You have similar numbers of LGBT people of color and white LGBT people reporting they fear being treated differently by their provider,” Monteith said, “but there is a significantly higher number of LGBT people of color (6 percent) who report they have been refused treatment on account of being LGBT.”
Disparities are also found in schools, Ramos noted.
“LGBT students of color are more harshly disciplined when both race and sexual orientation play a factor in the disciplinary procedure of
a student,” he said. “They tend to
be suspended and expelled at higher rates.”
Continuing into adulthood, challenges appear to include financial stability for some LGBT people of color raising families — University of California Law School think tank The Williams Institute reported that 32 percent of children raised by African-American or Latino same-sex couples across the nation live in poverty.
However, according to the One Colorado report, more LGBT people of color work full-time — 72 percent compared to 64 percent of white LGBT survey respondents, placing emphasis on disparities in paychecks.
“Looking at people in Colorado,” Ramos said, “I think it’s in line with some of the national data looking at how race, sexual orientation, and gender play into wage discrimination and pay gaps.”
A likely factor in those disparities is that 43 percent of Colorado LGBT people of color reported employment discrimination or harassment, and 20 percent reported facing housing discrimination, as opposed to only 9 percent of white LGBT people. While 56 percent of white LGBT people surveyed were homeowners, only 34 percent of LGBT people of color were, another potential risk factor for financial hardship over time.
Other disparities include an increased number of incidents of harassment from police officers or other civil servants, higher rates of experiencing physical abuse, and higher rates of homophobia in places of worship.
In addition to educating the LGBT community at large about the issues, the coalition will begin working to gather more detailed statistics on the community’s experiences. One of the shortfalls of the previous surveys, One Colorado admitted, was the lack detailed and specific breakdowns of the data, resulting in the some ethnic groups being lumped together into combined categories in the report.
“One of our goals for the next year is doing another needs assessment of our community to really delve into gathering better data that represents how diverse the LGBT community is here,” Monteith said.
Future surveys will also include comprehensive non-English translations so that those who write or speak more easily in other languages are fully represented in the findings.
“We want to identify and engage more folks so that there are better samples sizes,” said Ramos, “so that we’re really learning what some of those unique challenges and experiences are as we continue to develop our work in improving the lives of LGBT people in Colorado.”