Leo Goldsmith focuses on the work that needs to be done to ensure climate resilience in the LGBTQ+ community.
We are a group of people who are passionate about our work and its impact on the world. And for some of us, this passion started early—often before we even established our careers. Climate and health specialist Leo Goldsmith draws a direct line between his high school involvement in food justice projects and his current work supporting the U.S. Global Change Research Program.
As a teenager, Leo understood that the environment impacts everything and everyone—but not necessarily in the same ways. Growing increasingly interested in the impact of climate change on communities, he decided to pursue the topic academically.
While attending the Yale School of the Environment, Leo focused on climate and health topics. But he also started exploring how to incorporate the principles and ideas around environmental justice into that work. And a new research topic was born.
“Within the climate and health literature, there's a lot written on race and impoverished communities. What I noticed was missing was a closer look at how climate impacts communities based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Leo is the lead author of a paper recently accepted for publication in the Disasters journal. It looks at the disproportionate risk faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community after disasters like hurricanes and wildfires—events that are on the rise due to the increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events as a result of climate change.
This peer-reviewed paper describes how the lack of state, local, and federal protections often leaves LGBTQ+ communities discriminated against or facing violence in the aftermath of such disasters. Since these communities are highly diverse, the authors note that it is critical to focus on LGBTQ+ individuals with intersecting marginalized identities based on race, socioeconomic status, ability, etc.
As someone who is queer and transgender himself, this topic goes beyond academic interest for Leo. He explains, “Coming out of school, I didn't think I would be able to find a career in climate and health. But people within ICF are interested in my research and learning more about it. Plus, everyone who I work with is completely accepting and welcoming.”
Leo serves as a technical contributor for the human health chapter of the National Climate Assessment, which summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States—now and in the future. The Fifth National Climate Assessment (NCA5), with anticipated delivery in 2023, will be the first time that the LGBTQ+ community will be named within the report. This watershed moment will highlight vulnerabilities to climate impacts as well as institutional barriers making it more difficult for community members to adapt to climate change.
Leo’s passion for climate equity and resilience continues to guide him. He’s now a board member for OUT for Sustainability, an organization focusing on climate resilience and environmental justice for LGBTQ+ communities.