Southwest Florida is home to over a million adults, including an estimated one in thirty who self identify as LGBT (total 36,000 adults, range: 30,000 to 42,000). Using representative data from the Gallup Daily Tracking Survey, this report presents, for the first time, demographic, socioeconomic, and health characteristics of LGBT adults in Southwest Florida. This snapshot is designed to provide a first look at the local LGBT community and to assist in planning for future research and programming.
LGBT adults in Southwest Florida, while somewhat younger, on average, than non-LGBT adults, are similar in many ways to their heterosexual, cisgender (nontransgender) peers. After taking age into consideration, LGBT and non-LGBT adults are similar in socioeconomic status, military service, health insurance coverage, self-rated health, and other indicators of health. The majority (66.1%) of LGBT adults are in the labor force. One in three (35.2%) LGBT adults is poor or near-poor— earning less than about $32,000 per year for a family of two. Nearly one in five (19.7%) LGBT adults did not have enough money to buy food that they or their family needed in the prior year. Almost one in five (17.3%) LGBT adults lack health insurance.
Differences between LGBT and non-LGBT adults include: being less likely to be raising a child (16.5% versus 28.2%, respectively; parenting rates are similar for LGBT and non-LGBT women and Latino/as), more likely to be Latino/a (30.9% versus 19.2%, respectively), more likely to report a lifetime diagnosis of high cholesterol (33.1% versus 29.5%, respectively) and/or depression (24.9% versus 13.5%, respectively), and more likely to be a current smoker (28.4% versus 16.6%, respectively; results were marginally significant after taking age into consideration). In prior research, poor mental health, including depression and smoking, have been associated with greater exposure to specific stressors (e.g., stigma, discrimination, violence, rejection) (Flores, Hatzenbuehler, & Gates, 2018; Hatzenbuehler, 2016; Hatzenbuehler, Flores, & Gates, 2017; Hatzenbuehler, Jun, Corliss, & Austin, 2014; Hatzenbuehler, Keyes, & Hasin, 2009; Hatzenbuehler, McLaughlin, Keyes, & Hasin, 2010; PerezBrumer, Hatzenbuehler, Oldenburg, & Bockting, 2015; Ryan, Huebner, Diaz, & Sanchez, 2009; Simons, Schrager, Clark, Belzer, & Olson, 2013).
Despite the large population of LGBT individuals who call Southwest Florida home, LGBT people in Florida lack important legal protections. As detailed in a 2017 study by the Williams Institute, The Impact of Stigma and Discrimination against LGBT People in Florida, statewide laws offer no protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in areas such as employment, housing, and public accommodations (Mallory et al., 2017). However, 12 out of 67 Florida counties and several cities have passed LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies (Movement Advancement Project, 2019). At the time of this writing, Cape Coral, the largest city in Southwest Florida, has passed sexual orientation and gender identity protections for city employees (§ 2-26.1), but Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Glades, and Hendry counties, as well as the city of Fort Myers, had yet to pass local ordinances protecting their residents.
Given the large proportion of LGBT adults that experience poverty and food insecurity, as well health risks and poor health (e.g., overweight and obesity, daily activity limitations, smoking, high cholesterol, lifetime depression), the following actions are recommended:
- Work to ensure that LGBT adults are accessing poverty reduction and food security programs.
- Investigate causes of high rates of depression as well as high rates of smoking.
- Work to ensure access to competent health care, including behavioral health services, for Southwest Florida’s diverse LGBT community. Given the large number of people of a minority heritage in the area, competent care should also reflect adversity and opportunities to promote health along the lines of ethnicity and ensure access to linguistically appropriate services as needed.
- Support health promotion, including prevention and intervention efforts, that incorporate LGBT people starting in adolescence. This includes mental health promotion and smoking prevention and cessation.
- Conduct research with youth and conduct further research with adults to explore topics not assessed in the Gallup Daily Tracking Survey (e.g., housing stability, discrimination experiences, acceptance, violence victimization, current mental health status, community priorities) in a larger sample that will support examination of results separately by sex and gender identity and sexual orientation, race-ethnicity, and age.
- Support non-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in the city of Fort Myers and surrounding counties.
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