Lived experiences of food insecurity among LGBTQ people in California

A new report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law provides an analysis of food insecurity experiences among a diverse population of low-income LGBTQ people in California.

An analysis of interviews with 93 low-income LGBTQ people, in Los Angeles County and Kern County, revealed challenges accessing and using programs designed to alleviate hunger, such as food banks and food stamps. In addition, findings showed differences in experiences among demographic groups, including older adults and those living in rural areas.

“This study demonstrates that barriers to using food insecurity-related programs encompass a wider range of issues, including having the means to transport the food home, having adequate housing to cook and store the food, and having ways to manage the emotional toll of using the services,” said lead study author Bianca D.M. Wilson, Senior Scholar of Public Policy at the Williams Institute. “For LGBTQ people, fear of rejection by charitable food services creates another significant obstacle to accessing services.”

Key Findings

  • Many participants discussed feeling hunger, and most reported not having enough food to eat.
  • Respondents used various strategies to find food, including locating discarded food, asking people for food, identifying events with free food, getting help from friends and family, applying for food stamps, and visiting charitable food services.
  • Most (65%) participants had received food at a food bank, food pantry, or other charitable food services, such as free meals offered at churches or secular programs.
  • Respondents with children were more likely to discuss the use of food bank services.
  • A lack of transportation and housing with a kitchen and place to store food were key barriers to being able to use charitable food services.
  • Older adults (50 years or older) were particularly concerned with the quality of food available from charitable food services and the dynamics among clients in the programs.
  • Respondents from Kern County were limited to mostly religious-affiliated charitable food services.
  • Several participants in both counties discussed concerns about potential LGBTQ-related rejection from services offered by religiously-affiliated entities.

“The challenges we saw in charitable food services settings may indicate larger limitations in this response to food insecurity,” said study author M.V. Lee Badgett, Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the Williams Institute. “It is possible that the greatest promise for addressing food insecurity among low-income LGBTQ people may be in expanding programs like SNAP, which provide benefits that can be used to purchase food.”

This report is part of a larger study called the Pathways to Justice Project, which aims to understand the experiences of LGBTQ adults living in poverty and the community and policy actions needed to improve their lives.

Read the report

June 30, 2020

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