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  • Writer's pictureThe Gender Security Project

LGBTI experiences of disasters in the Antipodes [1]

Andrew Gorman-Murray (Western Sydney University), Dale Dominey-Howes (University of Sydney), and Scott McKinnon (University of Wollongong) address LGBTI experiences of disasters in the Antipodes (Australia and New Zealand)


Whatever their cause, disasters devastate individuals, families and communities. As the Anthropocene[2]arrives, disasters are becoming more common and intense than before.[3]Disaster impacts vary across different social groups, spatially and temporally. Consequently, the United Nations Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) argues that social differences be acknowledged, and that the specific needs and capacities of all social groups, including minorities, be considered within disaster risk reduction policy, planning and responses. A recent and slowly expanding body of research has sought to explore, understand and ‘make visible’ the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people, among other sexual and gender.[4]

Our project sought to investigate the experiences of LGBTI individuals, families and communities in Australia and New Zealand who were affected by disasters. The objectives were:

  1. To interview and survey LGBTI people about their experiences of recent Antipodean[5]disasters caused by specific natural hazards, and examine their vulnerability and resilience;

  2. To determine any specific needs of LGBTI populations during and after disasters;

  3. To understand relations of social cohesion between LGBTI populations and their wider social settings in disasters, and determine how social, cultural, political, economic and familial linkages were affected; and

  4. To understand similarities and differences in the experiences and needs of LGBTI populations across different disasters, as differentiated by national, political, social and legal geographies, and intersections of gender identity, class, ethnicity, race, age and disability.


We adopted a case study approach, and generated data using qualitative and quantitative mixed methods. The case studies were:

  1. Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, following the January 2011 floods;

  2. Christchurch, New Zealand, following the February 2011 earthquake;

  3. The Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia, following the October 2013 bushfires;

  4. Regional Victoria, Australia, affected by several bushfires and floods during 2009-2013; and

  5. Far North Queensland, Queensland, Australia, affected by several tropical cyclones during 2005-2013.

These case studies were selected to understand the experiences of LGBTI people in diverse settings (urban/suburban to rural/regional) and disasters triggered by different types of hazards. 

Our data collection included:

  1. Online survey responses (n=200) from LGBTI people across all sites, collected 2013-2015 (n=73 from Australia, n=127 from New Zealand);

  2. An additional online survey data set (n=48) of LGBTI experiences of the 2011 Brisbane floods, collected in 2011 by the Queensland Association of Healthy Communities, a local LGBTI not-for-profit organisation with which we signed a data-sharing agreement;

  3. Semi-structured interviews (n=31) with LGBTI people in Brisbane (n=8), Christchurch (n=19) and the Blue Mountains (n=4), collected 2013-2015;

  4. Analysis of LGBTI and mainstream media coverage (n=68 articles) in Brisbane and Christchurch during 2011; and 

  5. Analysis of NSW legislation, policies and plans in relation to their inclusivity of LGBTI people.

To our knowledge, this represents the largest study of the experiences of LGBTI people undertaken anywhere in the world.

Key Messages

The following key messages emerge from our findings and reinforce extant literature. They summarise findings reported in our key publications.[6]

Message 1: Heteronormative policy settings marginalise and exclude LGBTI people from disaster risk reduction activity.

Government policy settings are either directly exclusionary/discriminatory or ‘accidentally blind’ by failing to make overt reference to the needs of LGBTI people in disaster planning, response and recovery. Faith-based organisations have been granted government funding to provide response and recovery services to local communities. Notably, some have sought dispensation to potentially withhold services from LGBTI people. Even if they do not, their position is well-know to LGBTI people and is troubling. However, others are explicitly LGBTI-affirming (e.g. the Uniting Church), and government preference and support for these response and recovery services should be encouraged.

Message 2: LGBTI people exhibit a range of vulnerabilities.

LGBTI people, their families of choice and communities are more vulnerable than the wider population due to a range of contextual reasons. For example, the mental and emotional wellbeing of LGBTI people may be at greater risk, as their otherwise private lives are made visible in spaces such as evacuation shelters. Emergency shelters are especially problematic for trans and intersex people with their tendency to provide only ‘female’ and ‘male’ facilities. Critically, LGBTI people should not be considered as a singular group – they are diverse and have many different challenges and needs. For example, trans people experience more vulnerability during disasters and have specific health and medical needs.

Message 3: The media fails to include the impacts of disaster on LGBTI people.

The mainstream media broadly reports disasters as ‘heterosexual events’ impacting heterosexual couples and nuclear families. It is generally silent on LGB experiences and certainly non-inclusionary of trans and intersex experiences. Even the LGBTI media tends to preference the experiences of white gay men and is quieter on LBTI experiences.

Message 4: LGBTI people, their families and communities demonstrate a wide range of resilient capacities and adaptive strategies.

There is remarkable resilience, social capital, and adaptive capacity within LGBTI communities, and these might act as ‘models’ that can be employed and deployed by other groups in society. Some LGBTI individuals, couples and families build and then rely upon families of choice and networks (their social capital) to provide practical, material and emotional support in times of disaster, rather than relying on wider government and community support. Moreover, LGBTI people (have to) find ways of successfully navigating an environment that is hostile or at least seen as less supportive of their lives.

Message 5: Emergency service organisations and individuals demonstrate sensitive and inclusive behaviour.

At a broad level, organisations, agencies, and others providing emergency management planning, response, and recovery services are not overtly discriminatory in their approaches. In fact, they seek to treat everyone equally, but often indicate they feel overwhelmed by the expectation to provide ‘special services’ to an ever-increasing number of minority groups (e.g. LGBTI people). Additionally, they claim they lack specialised training on the needs of such minorities, guidelines on what to do and resources to act.


Based on our findings, we offer recommendations for better engagement between governments and their emergency services and LGBTI people and their representative organisations:

  1. The endogenous capacity within LGBTI communities could be leveraged by emergency services and better supported by government provisions, including funding, to enhance the efficiency of disaster response and recovery;

  2. Paid and volunteer staff of emergency management agencies and organisations tasked with assisting response and recovery activity could receive training to increase their understanding of and sensitivity to LGBTI issues;

  3. Emergency service organisations could seek to identify, empower and champion their own LGBTI staff and volunteers (where they are happy to be visible) to showcase their own LGBTI talent – helping to foster a greater sense of inclusion;

  4. Governments and post-disaster service providers should consider how to better include non-traditional households (e.g. group, multi-family and single households) in disaster response and recovery services and arrangements;

  5. Thought should be given to providing sensitive, specific health/medical needs of LGBTI people (e.g. trans medical requirements, HIV support and LGBTI mental health);

  6. Gender-neutral toilets and washroom facilities could be provided in emergency shelters;

  7. Registration documentation at emergency shelters could be revised to be more inclusive and sensitive around gender identities; and

  8. Whilst the Sendai Framework 2015-2030 is attentive to gender as an issue to be considered and addressed, it conceives of gender as a binary female/male issue. We recommend the Sendai Framework go further, and more explicitly advocate on behalf of gender diversity. Furthermore, the Sendai Framework is entirely silent on sexual diversity and this must change.


In relation to the occurrence of disasters, the experiences and needs of sexual and gender minority communities, including LGBTI people, have generally not been researched. This is a significant omission because members of these communities, globally, experience ongoing forms of social and political marginality that influence their vulnerability and resilience in disasters. LGBTI people and their families and support organisations are embedded within our communities. Great opportunity exists for collaborative partnership to facilitate more inclusive policy and practice. In an effort to support more inclusive disaster risk reduction planning and practice, we have highlighted a series of recommendations to assist LGBTI people and support organisations to engage in preparedness planning and response. We make similar recommendations for governments and emergency management organisations. Our project has had some positive impacts, as organisations have sought our insight to advance understanding of LGBTI needs in disasters.


Many thanks to Emilie Baganz for editorial assistance. We are grateful to Western Sydney University (P00020570) and the Australian Research Council for (DP130102658) for funding, and thank the Queensland Association of Healthy Communities for their partnership.


  1. Dominey-Howes, D. 2018. Natural hazards and disasters in The Anthropocene: some critical reflections for the future. Geoscience Letters 5(7),

  2. Dominey-Howes, D., Gorman-Murray, A. & McKinnon, S. 2014. Queering disasters: on the need to account for LGBTI experiences in natural disaster contexts. Gender, Place and Culture 21(7):905-918.

  3. Dominey-Howes, D., Gorman-Murray, A. & McKinnon, S. 2016. Emergency management response and recovery plans in relation to sexual and gender minorities in New South Wales, Australia. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction 16:1-11.

  4. Gorman-Murray, A., McKinnon, S. & Dominey-Howes, D. 2014. Queer domicide: LGBT displacement and home loss in natural disaster impact, response and recovery. Home Cultures 11(2):237-262.

  5. Gorman-Murray, A., McKinnon, S. & Dominey-Howes, D. 2016. Masculinity, sexuality and disaster: unpacking gendered LGBT experiences in the 2011 Brisbane floods in Queensland, Australia. In Enarson, E. & Pease, B. (eds), Men, Masculinities and Disaster, 128-139. Oxford: Routledge.

  6. Gorman-Murray, A., McKinnon, S. & Dominey-Howes, D., Nash, C. & Bolton, R. 2018. Listening and learning: giving voice to trans experiences of disasters. Gender, Place and Culture 25(2):166-187.

  7. Gorman-Murray, A., Morris, S., Keppel, J., McKinnon, S. & Dominey- Howes, D. 2017. Problems and possibilities on the margins: LGBT experiences in the 2011 Queensland floods. Gender, Place and Culture 24(1):37-51.

  8. McKinnon, S., Gorman-Murray, A. & Dominey-Howes, D. 2016. The greatest loss was a loss of our history: natural disasters, marginalised identities and sites of memory. Social and Cultural Geography17(8):1120-1139.

  9. McKinnon, S., Gorman-Murray, A. & Dominey-Howes, D. 2017a. Remembering an epidemic during a disaster: Memories of HIV/AIDS, gay identities and experiences of disaster. Gender, Place and Culture 24(1):52-63.

  10. McKinnon, S., Gorman-Murray, A. & Dominey-Howes, D. 2017b. Disasters, queer narratives and the news: how are LGBTI disaster experiences reported by the mainstream and LGBTI media? The Journal of Homosexuality 64(1):122-144.


[1] Relating to Australia or New Zealand

[2] The Anthropocene defines Earth’s most recent geologic time period as being human-influenced, or anthropogenic, based on overwhelming global evidence that atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic, biospheric and other earth system processes are now altered by humans. (

[3] Dominey-Howes 2018

[4] For overviews of this literature, see Dominey-Howes et al 2014; Gorman-Murray et al 2014

[6] Dominey-Howes et al 2016; Gorman-Murray et al 2016, 2017, 2018; McKinnon et al 2016, 2017a, 2017b

Author Bios

Andrew-Gorman-Murray is a Professor of Geography at Western Sydney University. He is a social, cultural and political geographer whose interests include gender, sexuality and space; household dynamics and home/work interchange; mobilities and place-making; emotional geographies and wellbeing; and inclusive disaster planning and emergency management. He has led three Australian Research Council Discovery Projects. He co-edited: Material Geographies of Household Sustainability (2011), Sexuality, Rurality, and Geography (2013), Masculinities and Place (2014), Queering the Interior (2018) and Digital Geographies of Sexuality (2019). 

Dale Dominey-Howes is Professor of Hazard and Disaster Risk Sciences at the University of Sydney. His interests and expertise are in natural hazards, hazard, risk and vulnerability assessment, disaster and emergency management and has completed research and consultancies for organisations including the United Nations and The World Bank. He has either led, or been a member of, multiple post-disaster assessment teams, is Chairman of the UNESCO Post-Disaster Policy and Protocols Working Group (2010–present) and Advisor to various Australian State and Territory emergency management bodies and agencies.

Scott McKinnon is a Vice-Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research (AUSCCER) at the University of Wollongong. His research interests include LGBT histories; sexuality and space; geographies of memory; and the social and cultural dimensions of disaster. Scott’s current research investigates collective memory of disaster in Australia. He is the author of Gay Men at the Movies: cinema, memory and the history of a gay male community (2016). 


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