When Do We Talk About Poverty in the LGBTQ Community?

It is only fitting that days after Amazon releases an “inclusive” commercial for their new Kindle, I am led to a series exploring the lives of transgender persons living on the brink (or deeply enmeshed in) poverty. The cause? Often related to their gender identity, especially in a fragile economy.

“Transgender financial struggle: ‘How We Get By'” offers six snapshot profiles of trans men and women who are coping with the economic consequences of transitioning in the workplace (and health care.) The profiles offer an important glimpse into the lives of LGBTQ men and women who are not necessarily homeless or living with addiction (although one woman profiled is homeless.) Most have (or had) careers, college educations and more privileges that did not buffer them to ugly bigotry and simple discrimination (notably the healthcare inequities.)

The fact is, the “myth of gay affluence” is reflected nicely in the Amazon commercial – white, attractive, gay married male couple who can afford a beach vacation are the ones most likely to afford a spur of the moment purchase of a $125+ electronic gadget because of the glare of the sun. And that’s fine. I would personally move to a shadier spot. Or read an actual book (no glare.) But then again, I don’t have that kind of money to spend on a whim. Or a gadget.value all families

It is a commercial intended to sell a product, not a documentary about the LGBTQ community. So it is what it is and that’s fine.

Dr. Gary Gates from the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute published a 2009 study that refutes the myth. And it is worth revisiting. Note that the study focuses on same sex households, not transgender households so the findings while extrapolated to the LGBTQ community as a whole are certainly not conclusive about the trans (or queer) community.

It turns out that lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals (LGB) are actually more likely than heterosexuals to be living in poverty. Further, one in five children being raised by same-sex couples in the United States lives in poverty, giving further insight into the legal and economics difficulties LGB parents face.

The true is that both things can be true – members of the LGBTQ community who have other types of privilege (race, gender, socioeconomic status, etc) can offset the economic impact of being openly LGBTQ. Nothing new about that – it makes complete sense that well educated, white, middle class gay men and lesbians (and probably bisexual men and women) can attain a degree of financial security. Some of them (us?) at least. And it makes sense that the growing mainstream acceptance of LGBTQ people translates into a marketing niche.

The trouble is that we can lose sight of those who don’t have these advantages. It makes equal sense that LGBTQ persons of color or those who come out later in life or those with children are likely to face economic hardships – hardships exacerbated by their identities. Consider:

  • The costs of being a same sex couple without access to marriage – from the expense of the legal paperwork to the tax burden on domestic partner benefits. Thousands of dollars not being poured into the economy. 
  • The cost of a second parent (or both parent) adoption as well parenting decisions made around second class status – finding a “good” school district (aka safe for LGBTQ families), family activities and again the tax burdens. The list of expenses could go on and on.
  • The potential economic risk of being openly LGBTQ in a workplace where there are no job protections. Beyong losing your job there’s the emotional toll (therapy!) of living with that over your head. And again benefits.
  • The nightmare of accessing entitlement program to offset the loss of a job or second income. Try applying for food stamps when you have your partner’s income, but no federal recognition of your relationship beyond roommates. Or turning to faith based safety net programs. Or the increased likelihood that your family supports are more limited.

There are probably a disproportionate number of middle aged LGBTQ individuals who are very much “gay affluent” but it behooves everyone to be mindful that job protections & immigration protections & yes, even marriage equality, offer concrete solutions to the rest of us.



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