Celebrating Pride, Fighting for Change, and Imagining the Future

Pride Month 2024 is in full swing, and with it comes an opportunity to both take stock of the vast amount of change needed in our state (and beyond), as well as uplift the incredible work being done to get us there. 

Empower Missouri’s advocacy centers around three central policy areas: affordable housing, community justice, and food security. Each is connected to all facets of poverty. Each is inseparable from a person’s ability to lead a safe and comfortable life. This blog post will cover a variety of intersections between our work as an organization and specific barriers faced by LGBTQIA+ communities, with a particular emphasis on transgender Missourians. Earlier this year, the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) released their initial findings from the 2022 U.S. Transgender Survey (USTS). This study is the follow up to NCTE’s 2015 survey, which has been a vital source of data on the experiences of transgender people for advocates, policymakers, and the general public. The 2022 USTS is now the largest survey of this demographic in the U.S., with 92,329 respondents. 

Unfortunately, Missouri made the USTS list of the top 10 states from which respondents moved because of state laws targeting transgender people for unequal treatment. You can explore Missouri’s Equality Profile via the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) to get a better sense of the current status of our state’s laws and policies of particular relevance to LGBTQIA+ residents, including those concerning relationship and parental recognition, nondiscrimination, LGBTQIA+ youth, healthcare, the criminal legal system, identity documents, and more.

Key Demographic Statistics

  • 6% of adults in Missouri identify as LGBT, which is slightly higher than the 5.5% of adults nation-wide.
  • 37,000 youth in Missouri identify as LGBT.
  • 1.6 million people over the age of 13 specifically identify as transgender in the U.S., of which 38.5% are transgender women, 35.9% are trangender men, and 25.6% are gender nonconforming or nonbinary individuals.
  • 5.1% of adults younger than 30 are transgender and/or nonbinary.
  • 0.2% of adults in Missouri are transgender and/or nonbinary.
  • 1.4% of people ages 13 to 17 in the U.S. are transgender and/or nonbinary (including 2,900 youth in Missouri).
  • 40% of transgender youth ages 13-17 in the Midwest live in states with at least one anti-transgender law.

The Williams Institute’s research has found patterns in age groups; nearly 1 in 6 young adults ages 18 to 24 identifies as LGBT. It is important to note that the appearance of an age-based demographic shift is not a result of ‘trendiness’ but rather the relative proliferation of avenues through which individuals can reach a deeper understanding of themselves and feel safer expressing who they are. (For further context regarding the long history of gender diversity in particular, you might be interested in browsing this PBS interactive map of cultures that have “recognized, revered, and integrated more than two genders” when not suppressed by forces like colonialism.)

Key Poverty Statistics

  • 34% of USTS respondents were experiencing poverty when responding to the survey, with an unemployment rate of 18%. (For comparison, as of May 2024, the national unemployment rate is 4% for the general population.)
  • 42.5% of transgender people ages 35-44 live in poverty versus 15.2% of cisgender, heterosexual men in the same age bracket.
  • 48% of transgender adults have been fired or denied a job at least once.
  • 52.8% of LGBTQIA+ adults have reported that discrimination negatively affected their work environment, and 1 in 5 LGBTQIA+ people reported being discriminated against when applying for jobs because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Discrimination in places of employment and the labor market is one root cause of income inequities, compounded by higher rates of salud issues (likely due in part to minority stress and negative experiences in healthcare settings). As always, these serious problems can be further amplified when an individual experiences multiple forms of discrimination (e.g., both transphobia and racism).

Although personal legal documents are a requisite (and therefore a potential barrier) for most employment and the resultant financial stability, states vary widely on their policies around issuing new birth certificates and driver’s licenses. For example, 12 states (including Misuri) require proof of gender-affirming surgery to issue a new birth certificate, and 5 states refuse to change gender markers on birth certificates under any circumstances. Low-income transgender people in these states may hesitate to seek public assistance because of the fear of discrimination.


One cause of the high rates of homelessness in the U.S. is the drastic shortages of affordable housing. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, “these shortfalls disproportionately impact gender-expansive people due to the heightened social, economic, and legal barriers they face when trying to access emergency housing from the homelessness response system as well as independent housing on the private market.” One particular obstacle is that of credit files not properly reflecting name changes, resulting in enormous amounts of red tape. 

The NCTE found that 1 in 5 transgender people in the U.S. have experienced discrimination when seeking a home, and more than 1 in 10 have been evicted due to their gender identity. As a result of these factors—and experiences like family rejection, employment discrimination, and violence—nearly 30% of USTS respondents had experienced being unhoused in their lifetime. Up to 40% of the more than 4.2 million unhoused youth in the U.S. are LGBTQIA-identified, and many face extreme racial disparities as well. 

The NCTE notes that, in spite of federal protections, social services and emergency shelters often fail to appropriately serve unhoused transgender people, including denying them shelter based on their gender identity or housing them in an incorrect gendered space, which can put them at further risk of violence and mistreatment. Although entities that receive funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are legally required not to discriminate in this way, documenting these experiences and filing a complaint or lawsuit is not always within reach.

For decades now, the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act (MONA) has been filed in the Missouri House and Senate without passing; MONA would add sexual orientation and gender identity to our state’s Human Rights Act, which currently prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations for other protected categories (such as race, sex, and national origin). The ACLU of Missouri has asserted that passage in the future would set a precedent in areas like housing.

In our advocacy work, Empower Missouri supports evidence-based approaches like permanent supportive housing and the principle of Housing First, both of which are supported by research and predicated on the idea that housing is a human right. We also support policies like land bank agency authorization that can increase our state’s supply of affordable housing for all. Organizations like the Trans Housing Coalition in Atlanta are using the Housing First approach as well as they specifically support chronically homeless transgender and gender non-conforming people in moving into long-term housing. And closer to home, the Trans Housing Initiative St. Louis (THISTL) provides opportunities for mutual aid assistance, advocacy, innovative homebuyer education workshops, and more.

You can get involved with the Empower Missouri Affordable Housing Coalition, as an individual or as an organization, aquí.

Criminal Legal System

According to the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI), LGBTQIA+ people are “overrepresented at every stage of the criminal justice system, starting with juvenile justice system involvement.” This overrepresentation consists of significantly higher rates of arrest, incarceration, and community supervision, as well as unequal treatment in terms of sentencing compared to other demographics. In fact, 1 in 6 transgender people have spent time incarcerated (with that number reaching 47% for Black transgender people due to intersectional racial inequities.) These patterns represent a vicious cycle of incarceration, consequent lack of stable housing and employment, and difficulty in escaping the system. This cycle often begins due to the issues faced by LGBTQIA+ youth, many of whom flee adverse conditions at home and are then “pushed towards criminalized behaviors” while doing their best to survive.

While ideally the above conditions (including the overall school-to-prison pipeline for marginalized youth) could be addressed enough to keep LGBTQIA+ people from becoming trapped in the criminal legal system in the first place, policies to ensure individuals’ safety while incarcerated are also severely lacking at present. Progress is urgently needed to prevent and address harassment and sexual assault, provide access to wraparound services (like housing and healthcare), enact and enforce additional non-discrimination policies for staff, and address the ways in which incarcerated transgender individuals are housed (which as of now is almost always according to sex assigned at birth).

Empower Missouri supports key policy changes such as Clean Slate legislation, which would automate the expungement process for everyone eligible. We also advocate for alternatives to mass incarceration, including diversion programs and prioritizing mental-health-centered rehabilitation over punishment.

If you would like to learn more about current LGBTQIA-specific legal cases, you can explore examples from Lambda Legal’s list aquí. Lambda Legal is a national LGBTQIA-focused civil rights organization that has represented plaintiffs like Jessica Hicklin; in 2018 a federal district court’s order required the Missouri Department of Corrections and its contracted healthcare provider to provide Hicklin with doctor-recommended, gender-affirming healthcare. The judge ruled that denying Hicklin this healthcare and other transition-related needs constituted cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment

Hicklin has since been released and in 2022 co-founded Unlocked Labs with Chris Santillian. Unlocked Labs is building “an education platform that enables corrections departments to expand educational offerings, track outcomes, and provide learning experiences for incarcerated students.”

You can get involved with the Empower Missouri Community Justice Coalition, as an individual or as an organization, aquí.

Seguridad alimentaria

The LGBTQIA+ community is twice as likely to face hunger given the other poverty-related factors discussed. The COVID-19 pandemic led to the notable disparity that transgender people were almost 2.5 times more likely than cisgender people to be food insecure (19.9% versus 8.3%), with that disparity rising to nearly 5 times for transgender people of color compared to white cisgender people (28% versus 6%). In addition, fewer transgender people who met Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (QUEBRAR)’s income requirement were enrolled compared to cisgender people (29% versus 39%).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) updated their policies in 2022, with the aim of improving equitable access to SNAP by including discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the prohibition against sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (This parallels the landmark Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County in 2020, which was a case focused on employment discrimination but with far-reaching implications.)

The Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) recommends that anti-hunger advocates help to promote best practices like inclusive language in SNAP applications and program information, training for personnel, and identity verification for SNAP eligibility that makes space for forms that do not match someone’s gender identity. 

As we continue the fight against food insecurity more broadly, Empower Missouri supports policies that decrease food deserts, protect and expand food benefits, and end sales taxes on groceries, as well as generally boost access to basic needs through raising minimum wage. In other hopeful nutrition access news, the Food Revolution Network article “Farming with Pride: LGBTQ-Led Farms and Organizations to Support” includes an infographic from the Queer Farmer Network showing that the Midwest is the U.S. region that boasts the highest percentage of queer-run farms, at 26.8%. And organizations like the Queer Food Foundation, which is working to “promote, protect, and fund queer food spaces,” serve as examples of what it can look like to forge more equitable food systems.

You can get involved with the Empower Missouri Food Security Coalition, as an individual or as an organization, aquí.

Looking Ahead

The challenges that exist in this moment require many things of us: creativity, solidarity between movements, community organizing, advocacy, steadfast allyship, time for rest, and unabashed joy. Indeed, while much of the information above paints a bleak picture, it is vital to remember that queer communities are not defined by these experiences of discrimination or hardship. As with any identity, queerness is expansive, beautifully varied, and powerful. We can look to a wide array of LGBTQIA+ activists—past y present—for examples of resistance and celebration. We can fortify ourselves with meaningful media. We can envision a liberated future, one in which collective care and systems change have paved the way for everyone to thrive.      

That future is underway. 

Other Examples of Missouri Organizations to Follow:

  • Kansas City Anti-Violence Project (KCAVP) is a nonprofit committed to providing domestic violence, sexual assault, and hate violence advocacy and education to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.
  • Lion House is a nonprofit LGBTQ-specific transitional and rapid rehousing program that seeks to come from a community first and housing plus approach in the Kansas City metropolitan area.
  • St. Louis Queer Support and Healing (SQSH) is a grassroots, community-based collective dedicated to facilitating healing spaces and building community capacity for queer St. Louisans to thrive.
  • Metro Trans Umbrella Group (MTUG) brings together the community of trans, genderqueer, androgynous, and intersex people and our allies in the St. Louis Metro Area through community visibility, advocacy, and education.
  • The Center Project provides community resources like a curated library, a gender affirming healthcare provider list, a closet with free clothing for LGBTQIA+ folks in need, and supportive programming and activities for LGBTQIA+ youth, parents, and transgender and non-binary adults in Columbia and Mid-Missouri.
  • The GLO Center is a nonprofit that serves the LGBTQIA community in the Ozarks through support, resources, education, and advocacy, to create a more inclusive and welcoming community where all can thrive.
  • PROMO is a state-wide advocacy organization that confronts systemic inequities to liberate the full spectrum of the LGBTQ+ community from discrimination and oppression.

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