During the last several years the country and the globe have faced an incredible set of events as to warrant a quick description: global pandemic shuts down countries, a deeply troubling political landscape with increasing violence, the broad recognition of systemic racism as evidenced in policing, a deteriorating global political climate raised the fears of a third world war, the resurgence of relentless political attacks and maneuvering focused on delegitimizing and disenfranchising the LGBTQ+ community, and continuing violence that targets minoritized communities (Latinx, Black, and LGBTQ+ in particular).1 The shifting political, economic, and cultural terrain that has defined the past several years made this project both challenging and necessary.

Contextualizing the data

Placing the findings of this research project in a longer historical, political context of systemic oppression of LGBTQ+ people and struggles for justice is vital in order to fully understand them. The long history of LGBTQ+ experiences in the U.S. is deeply entwined with the treatment of our community by medical institutions, religious institutions, mainstream media, and particularly federal and state governments. Only recently have some states and administrations begun to address decades-long forms of discrimination and oppression wrought by the state through measures such as outlawing conversion therapy, enabling gender non-binary options for driver’s licenses, and allocating resources to LGBTQ+-serving organizations. While the matter of the right to marry has gained substantial attention in popular understandings of LGBTQ+ issues, concerns such as police brutality, discrimination in housing and employment, and the need for establishing cultures of affirmation and support in publicly funded educational institutions are all long-standing concerns and remain pressing.

The LGBTQ+ movement that gained steam from the 1970s onward was inspired by and in response to exclusion from the mainstream program of the Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Movement which fought against state-based and state-sanctioned forms of oppression against people of color and women.2 Despite people of color’s roles in driving much of the strategy and being much of the labor behind what became the LGBTQ+ movement, their voices and bodies were repeatedly excluded and re-marginalized by LGB people with more privilege.3 This resulted in the enshrining of policies and cultural shifts that excluded trans people and people of color from the very legal and political protections that trans and of color members of the community fought diligently to achieve. This is exemplified in a quote from Sylvia Rivera, renowned activist and transgender woman of color, who fought to pass the Gay Rights Bill in New York City.

Pride flag pictured at the vigil held at the Rhode Island State House for the deadly attacks in Charlottesville, Virginia against peaceful protests of white supremacist monuments in August of 2017.

And a point of history, you know that it took the Gay Rights Bill here in New York seventeen years to pass. [It was approved in 1986.] But I’ll go through the beginning. When we were petitioning for the Gay Rights Bill, there was only one person that was arrested. That was me. Because I had the guts to go into the Times Square area on 42nd Street and petition the people to sign that petition. And the only reason I did it was because that bill did include the transgender community. Two or three years into the movement and the bill is being presented and we’re going back and forth to City Hall. They have a little backroom deal without inviting Miss Sylvia and some of the other trans activists to this backroom deal with these politicians. The deal was, “You take them out, we’ll pass the bill.” So, what did nice conservative gay white men do? They sell a community that liberated them down the river, and it still took them seventeen years to get the damn bill passed! 4

Gem and Julio, founders of Haus of Codec, at one of the Art Markets that Haus of Codec organizes. Haus of Codec is an inclusive shelter for youth. In addition to providing these direct services, Haus of Codec also runs LGBTQQIA+ Resource Fair & ART Marketplace at Dexter Park in Providence, RI for Queer and Black Indigenous and People of Color artists and local community organizations at free or low cost for vendors.

This was a pattern that went beyond the historic gay neighborhoods. In 1995 in Rhode Island LGB activists in Providence bent to the pressure to exclude trans people to “speed up” the years-long fight to pass the antidiscrimination bill.5

The result has not, however, been speeding up, but rather a slowing down for the majority of LGBTQ+ people. Many of the efforts to transform cultural, legal, and economic frameworks that privileged heterosexual and cisgender people became watered down to a limited “inclusion” as long as it didn’t change the existing systems or undermine the traditional structures of power and privilege. But this was at the expense of historically marginalized people. This history continues to inform the present in which LGBTQ+ folks of color, with disabilities, working class and poor folks, women, and non-binary and trans folks have not had nearly as much access, as a group, to the material security and resource that these policies made possible for those LGBTQ+ people who have more identity-based similarities to those that hold the most power.

The impacts of this reality are painfully clear in this report; while many white, middle to upper class LGB people in the state live safe and healthy lives at higher rates, the data demonstrates that people of color, low-income people, women, transgender and gender non-binary people routinely suffer the most in systems that ignore the intersection of their identities and needs. This is not a result of lack within the community, it is a result of systemic exclusion from movements that played central roles in shaping our contemporary support systems.

While many individual organizations and institutions in Providence do exceptional work to support the needs of all of their clients, the data in this report reflect how existing legal frameworks, care systems, and funding mechanisms and structures generally favor white, middle and upper class LGBTQ+ people. The manifestations of inequity in care and support in the lives of people of color, low-income, transgender and gender non-binary folks is consistent in every area of this report.


There were two major phases of this project. The first phase consisted of an extensive review of existing quantitative and qualitative research on LGBTQ+ folks in Rhode Island and nationally, as well as key informant interviews and oral histories with various stakeholders of the LGBTQ+ community in Rhode Island. Led by Virginia Thomas, PhD and research assistants Madeline Montgomery and Selene Means, it laid the foundation for the second phase, led by Siri Colom, PhD and research assistant, Volta Tran. The second phase gathered additional qualitative data through seven focus groups with 48 individuals and thirteen additional interviews with individuals who could provide a unique perspective from people who worked supporting LGBTQ+. These interviews helped to fill in gaps in data from phase one and two as well as honored the expertise of those on the ground meeting the needs of LGBTQ+ community members.

The research from the first phase led by Dr. Thomas resulted in the development of five key areas that informed the conversations in the second phase led by Dr. Colom. This report is the synthesis of these two phases of data from each phase and topic area. You will see the following themes woven throughout the report through a combination of quantitative data, oral history excerpts, focus group data, and stories from interviews so as to give a rich tapestry of our findings. The original five areas were:

  1. Homelessness and housing insecurity among LGBTQ+ youth and their experiences of where and how the system that exists fall short, fail them, and what they need in order to live in a safe, healthy environment.
  2. Behavioral healthcare for LGBTQ+ people, particularly transgender and gender non-binary people of color.
  3. State violence and LGBTQ+ folks, particularly policing and incarceration.
  4. Older LGBTQ+ people and access to services, especially complications with HIV/AIDS.
  5. Social isolation and connection among LGBTQ+ people, especially women, transgender, and gender non-conforming people, and people of color.

Who participated?

Participants whose experiences and analysis informed this report came from all over Rhode Island, with the largest number from within and around Providence.

This included people actively engaged in movement building within organizations, older people navigating care and life after 65, youth and college students, sex educators, artists, musicians, lawyers, business owners, sex workers, teachers, healthcare workers, folks in government, veterans, folks in tourism, public health researchers, people who have been working for LGBTQ+ rights since the 1970s and others who were just beginning their journey.

Dyke and Trans People of Color March on Juneteenth in 2020. That year, organizers honored the lives of 28 Black trans women who were murdered in the 18 months prior to the event.

In short we had an extraordinary group of people who contributed to these conversations. We thank all of them for their honesty and thoughtfulness.

These conversations yielded an immense amount of data, much of which we are unable to fit into this report. However, we hope that the framework of the report attends to the range and depth of the most pressing and salient issues among LGBTQ+ in Rhode Island today.

To compile this report, we drew upon a large and expanding literature review, key informant interviews, oral histories, focus group interviews, and any data that local organizations that serve LGBTQ+ people were able to provide. In order to capture both national trends and local textures of Rhode Island, this report combines qualitative and quantitative data to create the fullest picture of the challenges and joys of LGBTQ+ life in the state. The report is organized by 1) exploring the structural barriers that differentially impact the people that make up the rich diversity of our LGBTQ+ community in the state and 2) the art of building community and kinship as a powerful tool of survival and resource-sharing among LGBTQ+ folks in the face of challenging economic and political forces.


  1. While there are different beliefs and opinions about the use of “Latinx” we decided to use this term knowing that while terminology will continue to evolve, at the present moment it is the most widely accepted term acknowledging trans and non-binary folx with cultural and ethnic heritage from the Spanish-speaking Caribbean and Central and South America.
  2. In addition to moral arguments about basic human dignity, a key pragmatic logic of these movements was that as taxpayers, people of color and women should not face discrimination by the state.
  3. LGB activists with more cultural capital–who tended to be white, middle to upper class cisgender–often made political deals with heterosexual, socially conservative politicians with the hope for faster progress.
  4. Excerpt from a speech by Sylvia Rivera, “Bitch on Wheels” published in Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries: Survival, Revolt, and Queer Antagonist Struggle ed. Ehn Nothing, (Untorelli Press).
  5. One example of this was in the exclusion of gender identity and expression from the antidiscrimination bill first passed in 1995—last minute deal-making lead LGB activists to accept removing gender identity and expression from the bill. The bill was revised in 2001 to include gender identity and expression. This kind of deal-making has had deleterious effects on Black, Brown, and trans members of the LGBTQ+ community and ruptured trust and solidarity within the movement. Kate Monteiro, “Queer History of RI Panel,” Channing Memorial Church in Newport, January 22, 2020; As Dr. Rev. Gwendolyn Howard described it in her oral history, “[the Civil Rights Bill] was [originally] labeled as people regardless of gender identity or expression shall not be denied rights to etc., etc. And we got taken out of it at the last minute. That was just before I got here so…I won’t speak to the politics of that. Only that there were for decades hard feelings about that. I think it was the end of ‘99 or beginning of 2000 in the Alliance we started talking about adding it.” Oral history interview with Dr. Rev. Gwendolyn Howard March 30, 2020.

Housing, housing, housing

In 2018 the Rhode Island Youth Count survey, a point-in-time study incubated in the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, aimed to capture a picture of housing instability in the youth of Rhode Island.

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