Survey Shows Life for Austin’s LGBT+ is Not Staightforward

Ava Spurgeon, Staff Writer

In October of 2021, Austin City Council decided to fund the LGBT+ Quality of Life survey, surveying well over 2,000 identifying members of LGBT+ living in Travis and surrounding counties, 89% of which were people of color. 

According to the survey, respondents said they felt safe with family and friends, but public spaces still felt generally unsafe. In addition, 4% of respondents reported consistently negative experiences with law enforcement, and discrimination against LGBT+ citizens seeking employment and housing was also a major issue, with housing being clearly ranked as the number one issue for LGBT+ Austinites, according to the survey results. 

The Austin LGBT+ Quality of Life Commission began in 2017 as a commission with a  purpose to inform and assist in advising the City Council on LGBT+ issues in Austin. Commission member Victor Martinez was originally appointed for a first term in 2017, and is now serving a second term until 2023. Martinez worked on creating this survey and will continue to work with the City Council to draft solutions.

“From our very first meeting of our commission four years ago, I believed that we needed data in order to understand what the needs of the LGBTQ community are,” Martinez said. “Austin has never had a formal census or study on our community, so we needed to get data in order to be able to make informed recommendations to Council.”

As for the issues themselves, City Council has not yet begun formally looking at solutions. Despite that, many possible courses of action are being considered by the commission. 

“We need to provide better training to our police officers, that’s for sure,” Martinez said. “In terms of housing and medical and mental healthcare, we know more funding is needed and we have made some progress already. Last year we secured funding to increase mental health services for the LGBTQ community in Austin, but we still have a ways to go.” 

Members of LASA Pride Alliance (LPA), like senior Eli Clark, agree that there is still a lot of work to be done. LASA Pride Alliance is a club for students who are both members of the LGBT+ community and allies to meet others and learn about the community. 

“While Austin is definitely better than a lot of places, there’s still a lot of work that can be done,” Clark said. “We’re still in Texas. As much as we love to talk about the blue bubble, the fact is we’re still in Texas, so when things apply statewide, they’re statewide. I think it’s really important for people to understand it goes beyond what’s happening in Austin, and we have to work on creating a better climate statewide as well.”

LASA Principal’s secretary Jo Koerth was surprised by the survey results because to Koerth,  Austin feels so separate from Texas sometimes that she forgets about the depth of these issues in the city. Despite that, Koerth still agrees with Clark in the sense that although Austin feels separate from Texas, the city still experiences these issues.

“I’m a white, cisgendered woman who passes because my wife looks like my sister, so I don’t encounter a lot of difficulties, so for me it’s easy to forget that it’s even a thing because I don’t face that oppression,” Koerth said. “But I know my wife works for a different school district, and for the longest time, and still, she’s nervous when she’s putting up wedding pictures and so on. But I do know there are pockets of homophobia everywhere. And to some extent, it makes sense that they’re still in places that can be pretty bureaucratic and involved with things like housing and law enforcement, which is terrible, but here we are.”

As for determining the course of action for the issues brought up in the survey, the City Council has not begun drafting solutions, but both members of the LGBT+ Quality of Life Commission and citizens of Austin have ideas for what should come next. Austinites including Koerth hope the City of Austin will look into solutions and begin to take action soon. 

“I would hope that they would look into the issues, especially with law enforcement, and are trying to determine where this is coming from and if there further education they could be providing to police officers or housing agents, if there are laws that can be made, or anything that could be done to address these issues,” Koerth said.

Besides just action from the city, there are actions citizens can take as well to improve the current status of LGBT+ quality of life in Austin. Even students have ways they can get involved and make a difference, according to Martinez. 

“Get educated on the issues and then get involved,” Martinez said. “Call or email your City Council member and ask them to support the LGBTQ community and the recommendations from our commission. Make your voices heard, you are the future of our community and we need you.”