Dr. Keisha Farmer-Smith and Jessica Kadish-Hernández discuss the needs assessment at the project kick-off event in October 2018. Credit: Timmy Samuel, Starbelly Studios Photography

Members of Chicago’s LGBTQ community have until Thursday, January 31 to participate in an online needs assessment survey, the results of which will be used to make grant-making decisions for organizations that support some of the city’s most vulnerable populations.

People of color, seniors, trans and gender nonconforming folks, youth, and people with disabilities are encouraged to participate in the survey that’s being conducted by Morton Group, a Chicago-based consulting firm, on behalf of the LGBT Community Fund of the Chicago Community Trust.

The fund will use the results from the survey to inform its grant-making decisions to organizations that serve the 146,000 Chicagoans who have self-identified to the Chicago Department of Public Health as LGBT. Dr. Keisha Farmer-Smith, PhD, who is leading the assessment, says one of the goals of the project is to capture the voices and personal experiences of LGBTQ people in the city.

“The LGBTQ community is not a monolithic group. It’s incredibly diverse and robust. We want to make sure that we are as inclusive as possible,” Smith says.

While her team will be looking at data from the entire community, she says researchers are curious about what issues are prioritized when they control for race, orientation, and gender identity. “We need to drill down and look at the experiences of people with intersectional differences who are a part of the LGBTQ community,” says Smith.

The survey seeks personal demographic information, including education, income level, and marital status, and asks participants to rate their access to health care and legal services, and their proximity to grocery stores and entertainment amenities. The survey also asks respondents to rate the quality of services in their neighborhoods and how safe they feel accessing them.

The last assessment survey was conducted in 2011, and the LGBT Community Fund allocated nearly $1 million in grants to local agencies from 2015 to 2017 based on the results, which identified the top issues as access to affordable health care, housing, and safety.

Dr. Smith says the 2011 survey of the community uncovered that elders (age 64 and above) and youth (25 and under) were the two age groups of people of color who presented as most vulnerable.

“One of the shared experiences of elders and youth we found in the 2011 survey was being re-closeted, not being able to live their authentic selves, which is a huge quality of life issue,” Smith says. Older people also reported feeling ostracized.

Affinity Community Services, a social justice organization serving the needs of black LGBTQ people with a focus on women, was a grant recipient in 2015. Executive director Imani Rupert-Gordon says “one of the initiatives we were able to offer was hosting an amazing workshop series with Jacqueline Boyd of the Care Plan. This series provided skills and considerations to help our community plan for aging and caretaking.”

After the 2019 survey is completed, a report will be made available to the public online and released to the media.

“We will go back to various communities and share our findings through town hall discussions. We’ll also present the report at national and local conferences,” says Mary Morten, president of Morten Group.

Morten is encouraging LGBTQ people of color to take the survey.

“If we want resources in traditionally underserved communities, we must have representation from those communities. We need to hear from you,” says Morten. “We [LGBTQ people of color] are in many spaces and networks. We want a diverse group of voices. You can’t win if you don’t play.”  v