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This afternoon I had the opportunity to participate in a webinar hosted by the Office of Human Serves Emergency Preparedness and Response at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) focused on serving the LGBT community during a disaster.  I was joined by Mara Keisling, the Executive Director  of the National Center for Transgender Equality and Sarah Hunter, of the Administration of Children and Families within HHS.  Today’s webinar reached over 200 participants including FEMA employees, American Red Cross volunteers, and other emergency response personnel across the country.  In an emergency or disaster situation, vulnerable populations like LGBT people are at a heightened risk for trauma and may be less likely to have access to emergency services.  LGBT families seeking assistance may experience unnecessary, intrusive questions from shelter volunteers and workers. After a disaster or evacuation, many people enter a shelter with very little personal identification or documentation.  For LGBT families, who often rely on a number of documents to prove their relationships to each other, or their children, this increases their vulnerability to discrimination.

Today’s webinar and HRC’s continued advocacy with the federal government and disaster preparedness organizations is a crucial step towards ending this harmful discrimination by reaching the workers who will have the first contact with LGBT individuals and families immediately following an event.  Last fall, HRC also released a guide for local, state, federal and community organizations, as to how best work with LGBT people and families during disasters or forced evacuations.  This guide has been circulated by the American Red Cross and is currently in use across the country.  For more information about how to get involved with disaster preparedness in your city visit your local American Red Cross chapter or

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