The LGBT Health & Development Program

Youth Blog – Don’t Be a Drag, Just Keep It Green

Posted on April 2nd, 2018 by IMPACT in Featured, Youth Blog. No Comments

Written by Shawna Davis, B.A., Program Assistant

In June of 2017, my partner and I went to our first Pride Parade in the City of Chicago, after having moved here the year before. This was the largest Pride Parade I had ever been to, and it made me so glad to be a part of the Chicago LGBTQ community.

As we were leaving the parade and the crowd was dispersing, our walk home became more of a hopscotch of trying to avoid all of the garbage on the ground.

There was a sea of litter – not just the beads and items that were thrown during the parade, but mostly discarded food wrappers, beer and soda cans, bottles, and all of the litter imaginable. I know this is hard to avoid during large events, but I couldn’t help feeling disheartened when picturing all of that litter being added to the top of a giant landfill somewhere.

Image of Halsted Street after the Pride Parade. Litter is lining the street.

tanukiko, “Aftermath,” June 24, 2007.

For many people, waste is viewed as “out of sight, out of mind.” At IMPACT, which is part of the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing (ISGMH) at Northwestern University, we know that’s not the case and that what we do has a definite impact on the environment.

 “In ISGMH we try to make the world a better place for LGBTQ people, but we should try not to destroy the planet in the meantime, or there won’t be a world for us to enjoy.”


–  Dr. Francesca Gaiba, associate director of the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health at Northwestern University (ISGMH).

At ISGMH, we are doing our part to be earth-friendly and we continue to find ways to improve. We are a Northwestern University “Certified Green Office.” Using Northwestern’s (sustainNU) guidelines as well as our own ideas, we’ve taken steps to save energy and water, reduce waste, and increase awareness of environmental sustainability in our space. To read more about what we’ve done, check out this sustainNU article where our office was featured, “A Campus Institute Goes Green for People and the Planet.” You can read more about Northwestern’s commitment to sustainability here.

Photo of ISGMH's Green Office team.

Members of ISGMH’s Green Team. From left to right: Chika Ike, Kai Korpak, Shawna Davis, Beth Ann Hamilton, Peter Lindeman, Dr. Kathryn Macapagal, Dr. Ricky Hill, and Kate Banner. Not pictured: Christina Hayford, Arielle Zimmerman, Kitty Buehler, Ro Truong, Erin Dominici, and Dr. Francesca Gaiba.

Tips for Being Green

Want to help? Here are some tips for reducing waste and helping the environment:

1. Start small – you don’t have to be perfect.

No one is, and everyone slips up. Start by making small changes in your lifestyle, like committing to bringing a reusable water bottle or reusable coffee/tea mug with you. If you’re going to shop, remember to bring reusable bags. Zero Waste Chicago has lots of additional ideas for reducing waste. Can you bike (with a helmet) or walk instead of taking public transit or driving? Try to recycle more. See a plastic bottle on the ground? Pick it up and take it to a recycling bin if you can.  If you want to take it to the next level, there are many local environmental organizations that could use volunteers, allowing you connect to other members of the community and learn new skills.

2. Take a moment to read information.

Check out this City of Chicago recycling guide, if recycling is an option for you. Try to recycle more, and educate others on recycling rules.  Follow green resources on social media, such as sustainNU. All landlords in Chicago should be offering recycling, but if for some reason the building you live in doesn’t offer recycling, here are some steps you can take. For people outside of city limits, the Illinois Recycling Association lists places where you can take recyclables.

3. Remember the Rs.

You probably learned the three Rs a long time ago: reduce, reuse, and recycle. Bea Johhnson, author of “Zero Waste Home”, expanded this idea and instead came up with five Rs:

  • Refuse what you don’t need.
  • Reduce what you do need.
  • Reuse by using reusables.
  • Recycle what you can’t refuse, reduce, or reuse.
  • Rot (compost) the rest.

Read more about Johnson and the five Rs here [1].

4. Think about the big picture.

Where does waste ultimately end up? A lot of litter also ends up in our water supplies, like Lake Michigan. According to the Alliance for the Great Lakes, the most common trash found during beach cleanups are:

  • tiny trash (made up of broken down pieces of plastic and glass,)
  • smoking-related litter (cigarette butts), and
  • food-related litter [2].

There isn’t an exact answer for how long plastic items like plastic bottles or bags take to decompose. Answers range from hundreds to thousands of years on land, but it will certainly take well beyond one person’s lifetime. In oceans, plastics do not tend to go away, but instead break down into smaller and smaller pieces [3], creating a sort of plastic soup, as Edward Humes describes in his book, “Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash[4].” One of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) tips is to remember that our land and sea are connected. Thinking of the bigger picture can help with reducing waste, keeping trash away from where it shouldn’t be, and protecting both the land and the water.

5. Encourage others to do the same.

While people may not be into it at first, just letting them know the steps you’ve taken or sharing info you’ve learned may go further than you think. Encourage your friends, family, and neighbors to recycle more. Sometimes just seeing someone else doing something is enough to start a trend. When you walk into a coffee shop and ask the barista to refill your mug, you’re also making an impression on the people around you. Many coffee shops even offer a discount for bringing in your own mug – who wouldn’t want a discount?

6. Love each other and also love the environment.

Pride is all about love, celebrating who we are, being visible, building community, and demanding respect and quality of life. At the same time that we ask to be respected, it’s important to also respect the environment around us. One Seattle-based organization, Out for Sustainability, is trying to do just that by “mobilizing the LGBTQ community for environmental and social action, in pursuit of a fabulous planet.” In select cities, they work with parade/festival organizers to create a “Greener Pride.” As of yet, these efforts have not yet reached Chicago, but their work serves as an example of what can be done. We can work both individually and collectively to reduce our environmental impact and celebrate Pride without the harmful environmental consequences.

We are all part of this beautifully woven and interconnected community. Let’s keep it beautiful and healthy for future generations. Enjoy knowing that you’ve made a difference, just by making an effort. After all, the cleaner our environment, the more there is to enjoy, and hopefully you won’t have to navigate leftover food remnants or broken bottles after the parade.

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” ― Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

An image of Chicago's Lakefront Trail near Lake Michigan, taken in spring.

Shawna Davis, “Lakefront Trail, Chicago,” April 2016.

 Resource List

Like this article? Read more on our Youth Blog and Family Blog.
Interested in participating in research? Find out if you are eligible.

Looking for other ways to help? Show your support by donating to IMPACT


[1]Judd, Jenna. (2017, July 7). The 5 “R’s” of zero waste: A practical guide. zerowasteXchange. Retrieved from

[2]Alliance for the Great Lakes. (2017, April 12). Can you top this? Adopt-a-Beach 2016 data report. Retrieved from

[3]NOAA Marine Debris Program, Office of Response and Restoration, NOAA National Ocean Service.

[4]Humes, Edward. (2012). Garbology: Our dirty love affair with trash. New York, NY: Avery.

"Northwestern|sustainNU Green Office Certified" banner.



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