Feeding the Community: Hunger and Access in the LGBT Community

By Vaidehi Kudhyadi

In 2021, for the first time ever, the Household Pulse Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau asked respondents about their sexual orientation and gender identity. While previous versions of the survey only asked respondents for their assigned sex at birth, the 2021 survey attempted to expand the ways in which researchers interpreted the results of the survey by drawing focus to marginalized communities, such as the LGBTQ+ community, especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Using data collected by the 2021 Household Pulse Survey, the Williams Institute of UCLA's School of Law found that food insufficiency - defined as sometimes or often not having enough to eat in the last 7 days - was more common among LGBT than non-LGBT people between July 21 to October 21, 2021. The researchers connected this prevalence of food insufficiency in the LGBT community to economic conditions (21.7% of LGBT adults reported incomes below federal poverty levels) and respondents’ safety concerns about going out to access food. The intersection of respondents' sexual orientation, gender identity, and race also played a part in instances of food insufficiency, with LGBT people of color being three times more likely than white non-LGBT adults to face food insufficiency during the pandemic. The Willams study and the Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey solidified what organizers such as LaSaia Wade (She/They), the CEO and Founder of Brave Space Alliance in Chicago, had feared at the start of the pandemic. 

LaSaia recognized the need for a welcoming space where members of her community can access food. And she set out to set up a community food pantry at Brave Space Alliance. BSA is an organization run solely by Black and brown trans people who are committed to improving the lives of the LGBTQ+ community in Chicago. Inspired by other mutual aid-run programs, BSA’s food pantry operates primarily on donations from the community and on financial support from foundations. 

I spoke with LaSaia to find out what she was doing to improve access to food in her community of Chicago. 
 
The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Vaidehi Kudhyadi (VK): How have you seen food insecurity manifest in your own community?

LaSaia Wade (LW): I think people forget that queer people and LGBT people are people that are in need as well. It's not just cis-het people that are in need. We need resources for ourselves. I think that was an important piece at the beginning of the pandemic. And what we were wondering was, who is going to feed our people?

Most food banks or most food places are run by cis-het people or churches or other religious-based spaces where most of our LGBT community members do not feel comfortable in, or are turned away or have to silence their queerness or who they are to get the resources that they need.

VK: How did the food pantry at BSA begin?

LW:  The food pantry went out like wildfire. People were helping help people. 75% of our pantry is run by mutual aid from people themselves. We started with one community pantry, and now we have five pantries throughout Chicago. And, we also have delivery services every week on Wednesdays. On average, we serve close to 2,000 people, but it fluctuates from 2,000 to 3,000 people every week. And it’s a beautiful thing to see, to see it continue to grow and continue to serve. 

VK: It’s clear that the community pantry at BSA has improved access to food for the LGBT community in Chicago. What broader impact have you seen?

LW: The impact is that it has challenged people to reimagine how food disparities can be addressed. The pantry is actually working and people are wanting to help other people. Right now, and at this particular time, in this particular climate that we're living in, people have to be able to help people. And if we don't, we won't survive.

You can listen to my conversation with LaSaia on Episode 156 of Meat and Three: Queer Food: From Mutual Aid to Fine Dining.