Report by
Siri Colom PhD & Virginia Thomas PhD

Photography by
Selene Means

“I started photographing because I wanted to understand how change happens and contribute as another human. This introduced me to the strategic, thoughtful, and joyful work behind the scenes and the people writing history through their actions. While this report focuses on LGBTQ issues and lives, what I know from organizing work is that we cannot separate housing issues from queer issues and that any truly intersectional social justice movement aims to protect and love everyone in our communities. Because of that, I include photographs from movements that are connected to and part of the queer struggle for dignity, but may not be labeled as LGBTQ+ organizations to challenge the idea that we can ever have single-issue movements. To be queer is to recognize the connections between us all.”

—Selene Means

A message from the President & CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation

The Rhode Island Foundation has a been a proud ally and supporter of the LGBTQ+ communities for more than 20 years—offering uninterrupted grant support to organizations on the front lines of advocacy, youth services, health and more.

As Rhode Island’s only community foundation, and one of the oldest and largest in the country, we are dedicated to mobilizing generosity, convening people to tackle community challenges,
and funding the work of nonprofit organizations that seek to ensure Rhode Island—and Rhode Islanders—are thriving. We have both the responsibility and privilege of raising up the voices
of marginalized people, as we do in this report LGBTQ+ Voices in Rhode Island.  

This report represents an update and a reexamining of the Rhode Island Foundation’s groundbreaking 2004 report Meet the Neighbors that gave us a broad demographic picture of Rhode Island’s LGBTQ+ community and its importance to the state. Meet the Neighbors provided important background information for our grantmaking and policy work. In recent years, with input from valued community partners, we recognized the need to revisit the report with an eye toward assessing progress and identifying new challenges and opportunities to address needs voiced by Rhode Island’s LGBTQ+ community—from the most urgent to the aspirational.

Research for LGBTQ+ Voices in Rhode Island was conducted in two phases beginning with an extensive review of existing quantitative and qualitative research on LGBTQ+ people in Rhode Island and nationally, interviews, and oral histories. This work laid the foundation for the second phase that allowed participation of more than 60 individuals through focus groups and additional interviews.

This publication provides an opportunity to hear from some of the many voices of the incredibly diverse LGBTQ+ community in Rhode Island. Their passion and resilience are evident in the themes and insights that are highlighted in the following pages. The qualitative nature of this report is complemented by policy research conducted by GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), and a set of potential action items informed by a community convening hosted at the Foundation in late 2023.

As you read you will notice that the issues identified impacting the LGBTQ+ community in Rhode Island—such as access to affordable housing and healthcare—strongly correlate with each other, and with challenges faced by the broader community. They are all community-wide priorities, which the Foundation aims to address on behalf of all Rhode Islanders through our discretionary grantmaking, by mobilizing generosity among donors and potential donors, and by using our convening and advocacy efforts.

Leading the Foundation provides me with a unique opportunity to celebrate the progress our communities have made. In reviewing the timeline that is part of the report, we are reminded of significant advancements towards LGBTQ+ equality and protections. In the past decade plus alone, Rhode Island’s passage of Marriage Equality preceded the Supreme Court decision by two years, we banned conversion therapy in 2017, provided protections for LGBTQ+ families and their children in 2020 with passage of the Uniform Parentage Act, expanded nondiscrimination protections in housing by removing exemptions for LGBTQ+ discrimination in small housing units in 2021, and last year’s confirmatory adoption law which is critical for LGBTQ+ families and others who need to confirm their parentage through an adoption decree.

My leadership role at the Foundation also requires that I help to shine a light on the challenges we still face. Over the past several years we have observed the advancement of a record number of pieces of legislation, working their way through legislative bodies across the country, that are reactionary and hateful, and that attack basic human rights and LGBTQ+ rights, especially the rights of transgender youth. In 2023, the American Civil Liberties Union tracked more than 500 such anti-LGBTQ+ bills in statehouses across the country. Here in
Rhode Island, there were five such bills introduced, and fortunately all were defeated.

We also know from other reports and data that LGBTQ+ individuals are suffering. The most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey data for Rhode Island (2021) confirms many of
the experiences of youth voices in this report. LGBTQ+ youth were more than three times as likely to consider or attempt suicide than their straight/CIS peers, and twice as likely to experience bullying (in school or online) and to miss school because they don’t feel safe.

The challenge of intersectionality of identities is also evident in the voices included in this report. People who are low income, women, people of color, transgender and gender nonbinary
routinely face the greatest challenges of discrimination and are left to grapple with outdated systems that are not responsive to their unique experiences and needs.  

Equality is a profoundly American idea, and a founding principle of our great country—and of this state. We know that most Americans support equality. It is our responsibility to share that sentiment—and more importantly, the actions that align with it—in all our efforts.

My hope is the data in this report will help move us closer to that ideal.

David N. Cicilline
President and CEO, Rhode Island Foundation

Supporting a Thriving Rhode Island LGBTQ+ Community: Priorities and Opportunities

Following the completion of a multi-year research project on the experiences of the LGBTQ+ community in Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Foundation convened a community forum to present a preview of the report and request input about ongoing and current opportunities, challenges and actions that should be taken to address them. The discussion and suggestions made at this community forum form the basis of the following set of priorities. For additional context on the issues described here, read the full research report that follows.

Rhode Island has a strong and diverse LGBTQ+ population. The state is home to 54,800 LGBTQ+ adults, constituting 6.5 percent of the state’s population. Rhode Island has one of the largest populations of LGBTQ+ adults in the country, ranking 10th nationwide.1 In addition, 16.2 percent of youth in Rhode Island identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, and 3.5 percent identify as transgender.2  

This community has achieved substantial LGBTQ+ law and policy advances over the decades thanks to the collaborative work of many in the state. Rhode Island was the second state
to comprehensively protect transgender people in its nondiscrimination laws, in 2001, and there is much to be proud of in the more recent history of the LGBTQ+ movement in the Ocean State:

  • In 2015, the Insurance Commissioner issued guidance that denying transgender health care was unlawful discrimination, and Medicaid ended exclusions for transgender care.
  • In 2017, the General Assembly banned the dangerous practice of conversion
    therapy on LGBTQ+ youth.
  • In 2019, advocates worked with the Department of Health to include gender inclusive “X” markers on vital records along with self-attestation of gender, making it easier to obtain accurate vital records.
  • In 2020, at the height of the COVID pandemic, the State passed the Rhode Island Uniform Parentage Act, ensuring equal protections for children no matter how their families form.
  • In 2021, the General Assembly removed LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination exemptions for small housing units and ensured that single use restrooms in public accommodations were gender inclusive.
  • In 2023, Rhode Island passed a confirmatory adoption law to allow parents a more straightforward way to confirm their parentage and to protect their children from discrimination in other states, as well as a law to expand access to Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent HIV transmission and to expand access to abortion for people on Medicaid and state employees.3
  • In 2024, Rhode Island passed The Health Care Provider Shield Act to protects access to reproductive and transgender health care in Rhode Island and shields the dedicated medical professionals who provide it from the overreach of hostile laws in states that have banned essential care.

Even with these important advances, unmet needs persist in the community, including in the areas of housing, mental health and substance use services, and supports for LGBTQ+ youth and elders. Investments also need to reflect the needs and interests of BIPOC LGBTQ+ individuals and ensure that advances benefit the entire community equitably.  

Rhode Island also feels the impacts of a national climate that is increasingly hostile to LGBTQ+ people. In the past two years, bills targeting LGBTQ+ people, particularly transgender young people, have passed rapidly in certain states. In a short span, 25 states have banned best practice medical care for transgender adolescents,4 25 states have banned transgender students from playing sports alongside their peers,5 and 17 states have censored or required advanced parental notification to even discuss LGBTQ+ people and issues in schools.6 In a recent poll, 71 percent of LGBTQ+ youth, including 86 percent of trans and nonbinary youth, say that this rise in anti-LGBTQ+ laws has negatively impacted their mental health.7  

Rhode Island’s history demonstrates a deep and strong commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusion and equality. Especially given the national context and the impact it is having on LGBTQ+ youth, it is more important than ever for there to be investments in the LGBTQ+ community in Rhode Island to continue to support our state’s values and to support a secure and thriving diverse LGBTQ+ community at all life stages now and in the future.

From the report commissioned by the Rhode Island Foundation, input from the community convening, and the state, regional, and national legal context, action steps emerge to support the LGBTQ+ community in this moment:

Law & Policy

Continue to establish legal equality in Rhode Island on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and HIV status so that LGBTQ+ Rhode Islanders and their families can thrive alongside their neighbors by:

  • Ensuring that transgender and nonbinary young people can easily secure legal name changes in the courts through updates to the name change statutes
  • Working to eradicate HIV by promoting access to PrEP
  • Comprehensively shielding providers of transgender health care from overreach by states that ban essential medical care
  • Ensuring state government data collection and reporting that is intersectional with race and ethnicity and includes sexual orientation and gender identity or transgender status so that community needs are better understood and tracked over time
  • Providing support for a state LGBTQ+ equality group to lead locally on law and policy work, with support from regional and national partners, as well as support community building
  • Funding the training and provision of legal services for the LGBTQ+ community so that legal services (with a focus on employment, housing, family issues, and access to healthcare) for community members are performed in a culturally effective way by practitioners who are experts in current law as it pertains to LGBTQ+ Rhode Islanders.
  • Building infrastructure to defeat efforts to undermine existing protections for LGBTQ+ community in law and policy, including in the legislature and among school committees
  • Supplying adequate resources for training state agencies and state courts to promote respect and unbiased interactions with the LGBTQ+ community


To further lived equality across the full LGBTQ+ community in Rhode Island, deep investments should be made in services and supports to address the needs of those who are most marginalized, vulnerable, and economically insecure. This includes investing in community based services that take an intersectional approach attentive to both LGBTQ+ and BIPOC identity.

Basic needs

  • Provide basic needs funding such as assistance with rent, utilities, and food to prevent homelessness across all populations


  • Support sober living and recovery housing
  • Aid in the building of housing dedicated to LGBTQ+ elders to promote their well-being and avoid discrimination, isolation, and re-entry into the closet
  • Invest in housing for LGBTQ+ youth, including resources for youth aging out of the foster care system

Education & Training

  • Provide support and education for families to keep LGBTQ+ youth in their homes and communities
  • Build up support and training for educators to ensure schools remain safe and inclusive spaces for LGBTQ+ youth and all youth
  • Invest in training for and new ways to prepare health care providers to provide care to LGBTQ+ people free of bias, discrimination, and unnecessary barriers
  • Ensure health and behavioral health frameworks include LGBTQ+ experiences and wellness needs

Supportive Spaces

  • Aggregate existing resources into an information hub that spans multiple sectors
  • Establish a community center with sustainable funding and staff support, providing a safe space for the LGBTQ community of all ages and a diverse calendar of community events
  • Create an ambassador program to provide peer-level support

Rhode Island’s state motto of “Hope” is a fitting word for these times. Hope signifies an enduring commitment to working together toward a brighter future. The LGBTQ+ community in Rhode Island embraces these shared values. Addressing the priorities outlined here will pave the way for a brighter collective future for LGBTQ+ Rhode Islanders and all Rhode Islanders.

1 Andrew R. Flores and Kerith J. Conron, Adult LGBT Population in the United States, The Williams Institute (December 2023),
2 Rhode Island Department of Health, Rhode Island Data Brief: Health and Safety of Transgender High School Students in Rhode Island (April 2024),
3 In the 2024 session to date, the Legislature has passed a law to improve the name change process for all Rhode Islanders, including transgender and nonbinary people and survivors of domestic violence. The law will remove the publication requirement, allow for the records to be confidential, and allow for fees to be waived for people who cannot afford them. It is anticipated that the Governor will sign this law, making name change more accessible to the LGBTQ community. 4 Movement Advancement Project, Bans on Best Practice Medical Care for Transgender Youth, (last visited April 23, 2024).
5 Movement Advancement Project, Bans on Transgender Youth Participation in Sports, (last visited April 23, 2024).
6 Movement Advancement Project, LGBTQ Curricular Laws, (last visited April 26, 2024).
7 Press Release, The Trevor Project, New Poll Emphasizes Negative Impacts of Anti-LGBTQ Policies on LGBTQ Youth (Jan. 19, 2023),