Respect Equality

USDA launches initiative to combat discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in accessing nutrition programs

“A key step in advancing these principles is rooting out discrimination in any form – including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Thursday.
Customers shop at a grocery store in Mount Prospect, Ill., Friday, April 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Story at a glance

  • The Agriculture Department on Thursday announced it would recognize sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected class to prevent discrimination, and promote nutrition and food security among LGBTQ+ people in the U.S.

  • The department said Thursday that organizations that receive funding from the Food and Nutrition Service must update their nondiscrimination policies to include explicit protections for LGBTQ+ individuals.

  • Research has suggested that LGBTQ+ people face higher levels of poverty and food insecurity.

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Thursday announced it would be interpreting clauses like Title IX, which prohibit sex-based discrimination, to also include discrimination that is based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It’s part of a larger push to prevent discrimination and promote food and nutrition security within the LGBTQ+ community, the department said.

“USDA is committed to administering all its programs with equity and fairness, and serving those in need with the highest dignity. A key step in advancing these principles is rooting out discrimination in any form – including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Thursday in a news release.

“At the same time, we must recognize the vulnerability of the LGBTQI+ communities and provide them with an avenue to grieve any discrimination they face,” Vilsack said. “We hope that by standing firm against these inequities we will help bring about much-needed change.”

The department said Thursday that state and local agencies and operators of programs that receive funding from USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) “must investigate allegations of discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.”


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Organizations receiving FNS funding must also update their individual nondiscrimination policies to include explicit protections for LGBTQ+ people, the department said.

“Whether you are grocery shopping, standing in line at the school cafeteria, or picking up food from a food bank, you should be able to do so without fear of discrimination,” Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Deputy Under Secretary Stacy Dean said Thursday. “No one should be denied access to nutritious food simply because of who they are or how they identify.”

LGBTQ+ people in the U.S. have historically faced social and economic disparities like higher rates of poverty, unemployment and food and nutrition insecurity. In a recent survey released by the Census Bureau, more than 13 percent of LGBTQ+ adults reported living in households experiencing food insecurity, compared with just over 7 percent of non-LGBTQ+ respondents.

The same survey also found that reports of food insufficiency, or generally not having enough to eat, were roughly three times more common among transgender respondents than among cisgender respondents.

Rates of food insufficiency are highest among LGBTQ+ people of color, who during the pandemic have been up to three times more likely than white non-LGBTQ+ adults to experience a consistent lack of food, according to a Williams Institute report that uses Census Bureau data.

Most LGBTQ+ adults have said the food insufficiency they face stems mostly from an inability to afford food.

Another Williams Institute report published last month found that, despite more than 25 percent of all LGBTQ+ adults earning less than 130 percent of the federal poverty level – the minimum amount required to qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – only 37 percent of income-eligible LGBTQ+ adults were enrolled in the program. Researchers said “tailored outreach” efforts were likely necessary to address low levels of program uptake.