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'Queers for the Climate' Are Trying to Save Fire Island from Rising Seas

"Let's be honest, straight people probably can't get us out of this mess on their own."

by Brian Merchant
Sep 5 2014, 9:30am

Image: Queers for the Climate/Facebook

When it comes to climate change, everyone has something to lose. Californians are losing their water supply, hikers are losing vast swaths of forest, farmers are losing crops. The gay community is losing Fire Island. 

That's the subject of a new tongue-in-cheek documentary produced by members of Queers for the Climate, which is pretty much the best new environmental group I've seen emerge in ages.

See, picture an 'environmentalist', and you'll likely whip up a caricature that looks something like this: A middle-aged straight white man, sporting either a rumpled safari hat and birding binocs or a tie-dyed tee and a tangled beard. That's a problem, since there's a whiff of truth to every stereotype, and while the American green movement is diversifying, it's still a pretty homogenous lot.

So when I got an email from a member of Queers for the Climate, my cynical brain perked right up. Joseph Huff-Hannon told me that the group is a newly formed coalition of LGBT activists who care about climate change, and who want to make environmental protests look more like Pride parades.

Huff-Hannon teamed up with the Yes Men's Andy Bichlbaum to make a documentary short about their trip to Fire Island, on which they tried to recruit gay men to the climate cause. Fire Island, they point out, is one of the East Coast's most endangered beaches—a recent report found it had a high likelihood of being swallowed by sea level rise. Queers for Climate members have also launched an #ItGetsWetter parody campaign, and are raising interest in the upcoming People's Climate March in New York City.

I asked Huff-Hannon why more LGBT folks are joining the climate cause, how they're uniquely primed to succeed where traditional environmentalists have stalled out, and why the straight people who made this mess need all the help they can get to patch it up.

LET'S BE HONEST, STRAIGHT PEOPLE PROBABLY CAN'T GET US OUT OF THIS MESS ON THEIR OWN.

MOTHERBOARD: How did Queers for the Climate get started?
Joseph Huff-Hannon: Queers for the Climate came together earlier this summer, and right now is a group of people who are freaked out about climate change, and are interested in helping to build buzz for the upcoming People's Climate March on the 21st, and who also happen to be LGBT.

We launched it at NYC Pride with a tongue-in-cheek "Save the Straights" campaign, which was basically a fun way to march in the pride parade through a satirical, but I also think empowering lens, saying, "climate change isn't just about sad polar bears and melting glaciers, it's about our survival, and let's be honest, straight people (who mostly caused the climate crisis, due to simple math, as the majority) probably can't get us out of this mess on their own." 

We handed out thousands of fliers, and people were cracking up the whole time. Humor really is a powerful way to cut through on an issue, and it also happens to be really fun.

What drew you to the movement?
Well I happen to be gay, and I am definitely worried about the climate going bananas. And professionally, I'm helping to organize the People's Climate March, and generally think it could be both politically powerful, and a whole lot of fun, if it feels more like a Pride parade, and less like a ho hum political rally. And I think getting a bunch of queers on the street for that is a good place to start.

How is the LGBT community uniquely positioned to help fight climate change?
In the US at least, the LGBT community has mobilized one of the most successful civil rights movements in the last few decades. Obviously there's still plenty of work to do on that front, but I think it's a community that has shown it knows how to organize, and that also, generally speaking, has a creative sensibility that we urgently need to help tell the stories, make the art, craft the messaging, that could move people to action on this issue.

Climate change will primarily screw the poor and people in the developing world first, but even if you wanted to be more self interested about it, global warming and sea level rise will also, in the medium term, doom some of the cities that LGBT people have historically moved to, created robust communities in, or traveled to for leisure and partying: Amsterdam, New York, New Orleans, London, Miami, Rio, Shanghai, etc.

What else is on the agenda?
It's a really new group, very informal, but already there's a lot of creativity coming out of it. One of the members threw a dance party last week called the "Queen / House Effect" with a bunch of great singers, performers, stand up comedians etc, riffing on climate change a bit. And Earl Dax, a pretty well known producer around town, is organizing a "Queer Climate Chautauqua" the weekend of the climate march, with art, performance, prop making etc.

The video is funny, but would you say it's reflective of the truth? Would you say people were more likely to care about climate change when they heard Fire Island was in trouble?
To be fair parts of this video were a bit staged, with friends or random people we ran into and gave a bit of a clue as to what we were up to. I mean most people, myself included, probably don't want to hear about the horrors of climate change when they're chilling on the beach. 

But I do think in general, even with Hurricane Sandy in NYC, even with major American cities like Miami literally already starting to slowly drown, most of us are conditioned to think about climate change as something happening "over there" or "out there." But actually Fire Island homeowners (and visitors) have just as much stake as somebody living on the Maldives to try to help get ourselves out of this mess.