Pride Outside: Making Our Outdoor Spaces More Welcoming & Inclusive

Every June we celebrate Pride Month in the United States to honor the Stonewall Uprising in 1969, which was one of the sparks of an era of change for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) people in this country. Despite the rights that the LGBTQ+ community has fought for and won, there are fundamental needs that have yet to be secured in communities across the country. Now, more than ever, we need to work to make spaces safer for LGBTQ+ people, especially in the outdoors. 

One common concern surrounding LGBTQ+ protection is the right to feel safe from day-to day. According to a study by Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, LGBTQ+ people are nearly four times more likely than non-LGBTQ+ people to be victims of violent crime. 2020 saw a devastating rise in murder and hate crimes against Black and Latinx transwomen. This is unacceptable. For our most vulnerable communities, it is essential that we reimagine our spaces to ensure that they are accessible and safe for everyone, including LGBTQ+ people.  It has been shown that LGBTQ+ people showed concern for the environment and sustainability at a 20% higher rate than non- LGBTQ+ people. This highlights, one of many reasons, why we owe it to the community to create safe and inclusive spaces that many LGBTQ+ people are fighting to protect. 

For us to create safe spaces, one of the first things we must understand is that a sense of security is directly connected to one’s past and present experiences. For too many LGBTQ+ people these experiences have resulted in trauma that can make engaging with the outdoors more difficult and painful than others without those negative experiences. Therefore, it is important for us to create spaces with compassion and publicly state our support for LGBTQ+ individuals.  

It is worth noting that just as the environmental justice movement has historically struggled with issues relating to race and class, the Pride movement has as well. Advocacy efforts after the Stonewall Uprising were largely centered around the wellbeing of white, cis-gender individuals.  Gender non-conforming and trans people of color (QTPOC) were often overlooked as they faced higher rates of violence and were disproportionately affected by the HIV/AIDs epidemic. While progress has been made, there is still work to be done. Workplace discrimination greatly affects the jobs that LGBTQ+ people can hold, thus limiting the opportunities that are available for them to become and remain financially stable. As a result of this, many LGBTQ+ people also live-in environmental justice communities that are overburdened by environmental stressors and harm. Engaging with nature and the outdoors has many proven benefits related to mental health, physical health, and more. In this way, LGBTQ+ justice is Environmental Justice. 

The Pride that we now celebrate was made possible by the countless activists and allies who fought and organized for the rights that are now afforded to LGBTQ+ people in the United States. We invite you to check out and support the amazing LGBTQ+ environmental organizations listed below. 

  1. Delaware Pride 
  2. OUT for Sustainability 
  3. The Venture Out Project 
  4. The Trevor Project 

Marissa McClenton is the author of this blog and a student at University of Delaware as well as the Clean Water Campaign’s Grassroots Organizer. Stay tuned for more insights and resources from the DEIJ Corner and Marissa in the future!

Juneteenth and Environmental Justice

Emancipation Day Celebration Band c. 1900

In one of Frederick Douglass’ most memorable speeches he says, “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?” We celebrate Independence Day every July 4th to mark the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It is a day full of American pride and gives us an opportunity to pay our respects to those who fought for our independence from Britain. The reality that Douglass brought up is that the 4th of July did not hold the same meaning and pride for American slaves because they weren’t free themselves.

Freedom for slaves came in waves. One of the first waves came January 1, 1863 when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and freed the slaves in southern rebel states. Juneteenth (also known as Emancipation Day and African-American Freedom Day) marks the day over 2 years later on June 19, 1865 when word of the emancipation reached slaves in Galveston, Texas. Since then, the holiday has spread, from Texas, throughout the United States and serves as a time for African-Americans to come together and celebrate their independence and culture.

Juneteenth is often marked by festivals, parades, community service, cookouts, and many other forms of Black joy. The atmosphere of Juneteenth is amazing to witness and is a constant reminder of how Black people have used joy as a form of resistance even in the shadows of slavery. It marks emancipation and freedom and the beginnings of Reconstruction that helped move the community forward, even in the face of growing Jim Crow laws.

In addition to it being a time of celebration, Juneteenth is a time to reflect on the ways that the effects of slavery have continued since the Emancipation Proclamation and even the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Slavery was abolished without providing protection for the rights of newly freed slaves, meaning states were free to create their own systems to prevent African-Americans and their descendants from becoming truly liberated. Slavery was abolished, but racism led to Black Codes and Jim Crow laws that were aimed at preventing Black people from prospering and gaining equality. These were direct responses to the passages of the Reconstruction amendments (the 13th, 14th, and 15th) that together abolished slavery, granted citizenship and equal protection to everybody born or naturalized in the United States, and secured the right to vote for Black men. As a result, some of the Black Codes required Black people to get yearly work permits or risk punishments including arrest or forced labor. They also threatened the right to vote through poll taxes, intimidation tactics, and literacy tests that were intentionally made to bar Black men from being able to safely exercise their right to vote. The Codes varied by state and directly challenged the progress that African-Americans had made with home ownership, access to education, and reclaiming their right to pursue the lives that they wanted to live.

Juneteenth marks the shift from fighting for the freedom of slaves to fighting for the liberation of all Black people. The fight for Black liberation, access to a healthy outdoors and environmental justice have always been connected. The placement of hazardous waste sites and pollution in Black neighborhoods is a direct result of structural racism and historical housing discrimination. The same systems that allowed Jim Crow laws in the south also allowed the redlining practices that pushed Black families into industrial, urban centers by denying mortgages in the growing, and predominately white, suburbs. The after effects of these redlining practices can be found at the core of many environmental justice issues relating to access to important resources and proximity to harmful facilities. Liberation for environmental justice communities would mean updated and greener infrastructure to make neighborhoods safer. It would mean investments in schools and community centers to ensure the success of underserved communities. Most importantly, it would mean a more aggressive strategy to address legacy toxins and to provide neighborhoods a say in what industries are located near their homes.

Every year Juneteenth reminds us that there is always work to be done to ensure the liberation of Black folks in the USA. It allows us to celebrate those who have fought for our right to live and experience love and joy and motivates us to continue to demand liberation for the communities still struggling with the legacies of slavery.

Here in Delaware, the holiday has been recognized in several ways throughout the state. Governor Carney has closed state offices and both Delaware State University and University of Delaware have as well. There are also plenty of opportunities to get engaged this weekend! Looking for ways to celebrate in Delaware? Check out these Juneteenth events below and look around your community for more! 

Juneteenth Celebration in the Park – 10:30 a.m. at Christina Park 

Delaware Freedom Ride with Urban Bike Project and Delaware Greenways 

Juneteenth Block Party– 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Walnut Street YMCA 

For more events and information visit https://delawarejuneteenth.org/  

Marissa McClenton is the author of this blog and a student at University of Delaware as well as the Clean Water Campaign’s Grassroots Organizer. Stay tuned for more insights and resources from the DEIJ Corner and Marissa in the future!

Clean Water Maps for Delaware Legislative Districts

Over the past few months we have been working on developing a series of maps which illustrate Delawareans’ unique relationship to clean water and clean water infrastructure.

We created these maps in conjunction with Bright Fields Inc. as well as the University of Delaware’s Water Resource Center. The poverty concentrations are based on federal census data. Water and sewer data are from state and county databases. These maps are organized by legislative district, and tell a story about how areas served by sewers and public water systems intersect with poverty concentrations. These maps show that the lack of access to sewer and public water is often correlated to areas with high poverty concentrations in our state.

Descriptions and links to the maps are included below. 

Delaware Legislative Districts Showing Public Sewer Service Areas and Poverty Rates

House Version | Senate Version

The black, forward-slashing on this map shows Sewer Service Areas. Residents of these areas are served by sewage treatment plants. Residents outside of these areas flush their wastes into septic tanks and drain fields that, in Delaware’s sandy soils, can be a major source of groundwater contamination.

Delaware Legislative Districts Showing Public Water Service Areas and Poverty Rates

House Version | Senate Version

The black, backslashing on this map shows the extent of Water Service Areas. Residents inside these areas receive their drinking water from regulated wells or surface water systems that are tested routinely and treated to remove EPA-regulated contaminants. Residents outside of these areas receive their drinking water from a single or community wells, many of which may or may not be tested or treated for contaminants.

Delaware Legislative Districts Showing Impaired Surface Waters and Poverty Rates

House Version | Senate Version

The red segments on this map show dreams that have poor water quality. Delaware’s list of impaired waters includes 377 bodies of water that suffer from excess nutrients, low-dissolved oxygen, toxins, and/or bacteria that negatively impact human and aquatic life. Approximately 90% of Delaware’s waterways are considered impaired. [It is important to note that many Delaware streams have not yet been tested.]

We are happy to answer questions and further discuss the thought process behind these visuals at any time at Emily.Knearl@DelNature.org.

Reflecting on Climate Justice, COVID-19, and Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. As we celebrate their contributions to this country and continue vital conversations about how to address climate change, we must first come to terms with the complex history of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) people here in the United States. We are currently experiencing a devastating increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans that have, in part, been fueled by racist rhetoric around the COVID-19 pandemic. This violence is not new and is also an extension of the mistreatment and discrimination that AAPI have suffered since immigrating to America; as well as the racist rhetoric used to blame Asian and Southeast Asian countries for climate change. The only way we will achieve true climate justice is by acknowledging and working through this ugly part of our history.

Climate justice frames climate change not only as an environmental issue but also as a political and ethical one. Political and ethical climate justice conversations must include countries throughout the world and include environmental justice considerations. For this to happen, we must become more comfortable taking responsibility for our environmental shortcomings without immediately focusing on what other countries can do better instead. For example, conversations about waste management systems around the globe often focus on the challenges that Asian and Southeast Asian countries like India and Indonesia face and how they can do better. These conversations fail to mention those same waste management struggles happening here in the United States This is not to say that we should never critique other countries when it comes to environmental issues with global impacts, but too often the blame is placed on Asian countries while the American responsibility is rarely fully addressed.

What are the chances that violence against AAPI and the blame for climate change is related? We certainly know that the sharp increase in violence against the AAPI community is related to COVID but placing unfair blame on non-white communities is not new. There are years of painful history between the United States and Asian and Pacific Island countries that have translated into the feeling that AAPI are a threat to our way of life here in the United States. The term “Yellow Peril” has been around since the 19th century and represents how these feelings have manifested in American culture. Yellow Peril is the fear that Asian people are going to invade the country, take jobs, and threaten our safety and way of life. While the term “Yellow Peril” has not been used in years, the ideas behind it have been used to push anti-Asian rhetoric and to justify, discrimination, imprisonment of entire families during World War II, and the most recent spate of violence. This continues to result in many people holding implicit biases against Asian American and Pacific Islanders that make it easier to blame them for many issues in the world. It has also helped lead to a paralysis in dealing more aggressively with climate change and feeds misinformation campaigns about the pandemic, threatening the very lives of AAPI friends and families in this country.

We need to do better. Large scale problems like climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be solved if countries place blame instead of collaborating on a solution. There is room for the nuances of responsibility for climate change, but not if the United States refuses to own our part that we have played in the past and present. True climate and environmental justice addresses the full, not sanitized, histories of countries around the globe, including the United States. It also means that we have a responsibility to address our country’s role in damaging the environment and the structural racism that means communities of color are much more likely to live near heavy pollution. No longer can we play the blame game with our sister countries when there are people and our planet at risk if we want to build a more just and sustainable future. Nor should we let racism go unchallenged among ourserlves, the world, and our fellow Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent.

For more information about the Stop AAPI hate movement click here.

Marissa McClenton is the author of this blog and a student at University of Delaware as well as the Clean Water Team’s Grassroots Organizer. Stay tuned for more insights and resources from the DEIJ Corner and Marissa in the future!

A Conversation on Clean Water Legislation with House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst

In 2019 and 2020 House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst led the charge to secure clean water funding as the prime sponsor of the Clean Water for Delaware Act (House Bill 200, or HB200). We’re honored to have her support once again as our Clean Water Warriors begin organizing to fight for clean water in the upcoming General Assembly. The Clean Water Campaign recently had a chance to connect with Representative Longhurst to hear her thoughts about clean water – and what we can expect in the coming legislative session.

What inspired you to become a champion on clean water issues?

I’ve always had an interest in the environment and protecting our natural resources, but I really became involved in the clean water effort once it clicked for me just how connected the issue of clean water is to so many other issues across the state.

Whether it’s water and wastewater infrastructure to support smart development in New Castle County, the needs of our agricultural industry downstate, the challenges our coastal communities face with flooding and sea level rise, or the inequities in our underserved communities statewide, so much falls under the banner of clean water in Delaware.

House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst speaking to Water Warriors at 2019 Clean Water Rally. Photo by Christi Leeson.

When will the Clean Water Legislation (successor to HB200) be introduced?

We’re planning to file the latest version of our legislation this spring.

What do you see as the biggest roadblocks to success?

The biggest challenge is and always has been funding. We need a meaningful sum to jumpstart the plan and a sustainable source of funding for the future.

We also know there are other interest groups out there who don’t necessarily share our vision for clean water in Delaware, and we’re going to keep confronting them on this issue, having those discussions and educating them.

How has the pandemic affected access to clean water/funding opportunities for clean water?

We don’t yet know how great a toll the pandemic has taken on state and local revenues, but that is certainly a big concern. With so many people working from home, I think there’s also an impact on residential water and wastewater infrastructure that we don’t know the full scope of yet.

On the other hand, I think outdoor recreation has become a bigger part of many Delawareans’ lives during the pandemic, and hopefully that has led to a greater awareness and appreciation of our natural landscapes and the need to safeguard them.

What can the Water Warriors do to support the new legislation and funding proposal?

Keep in contact with legislators from both sides of the aisle and make sure they hear you, especially the ones who represent you and your community. Share your personal stories about how water quality impacts your family. Stay engaged, spread the message to as many of your friends and neighbors as you can. You’ve made great strides in bringing the issue of clean water to the forefront — keep up the good work!

Are you ready to join House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, the Clean Water Campaign, and our coalition partners? Take action today by clicking here!

House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst’s Legislative Service

Valerie J. Longhurst was first elected to the Delaware House of Representatives in November 2004 to represent the 15th District. The district consists of 20,000 people living in Bear, Delaware City and St. Georges. In 2008, she was elected as the House Majority Whip and served for four years. After the 2012 election, her caucus elected her House Majority Leader. Representative Longhurst is currently chair of the House Administration, Ethics and Rules committees. She also serves on the Telecommunications Internet and Technology committee and is the former chair of the Manufactured Housing Committee.