The common portrayal of gays and lesbians in the media is this: dual income, no kids; highly educated; artistic; relatively affluent; white. It’s been part of the argument some have made about gay marriage – think of all the money gay and lesbian people would bring in with their fancy weddings!
This observation is, of course, somewhat true. The only reason Megan and I are traveling out East for our wedding (along with a few friends, all of us contributing to the Massachusetts economy) is because it’s legal there and not here in Minnesota. Middle class people can travel, upper class people can travel and throw lavish affairs.
This perception was something that ran under some anti-gay sentiment during the arguments over proposition 8, and also reinforces the idea that gays are just rich, white, and privileged.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that there are poor gay people. It shouldn’t surprise me that gays and lesbians are poorer than our heterosexual counterparts, but it did. The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law released the results of a study they did that compiled and analyzed data from the 2000 Census, the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth and the 2003 and 2005 California Health Interview Surveys. via Echelon
Though poverty is on the rise among all Americans, the authors of the study–entitled Poverty in the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Community–suggest that unique social and political aspects of LGB life play a role in contributing to higher rates of poverty in this community, including vulnerability to employment discrimination, inability to marry and higher numbers of uninsured.
Key findings include:
- After comparing families with similar characteristics, gay and lesbian couple families are significantly more likely to be poor than are heterosexual married couple families;
- In general, lesbian couples have much higher poverty rates than either different-sex couples or gay male couples;
- African-Americans in same-sex couples have poverty rates that are significantly higher than black people in different-sex married couples;
- People in same-sex couples who live in rural areas have poverty rates that are twice as high as same-sex couples who live in large metropolitan areas;
- Employment discrimination, lack of access to marriage, and a greater likelihood of being uninsured exacerbate poverty among LGB people.
Also, a note about the the lack of transpeople in this study:
Because no representative data exist for transgender people, the report does not analyze poverty in that community. Previous Williams Institute studies, however, found that large proportions of transgender people report very low incomes, which suggest that poverty is also a major concern for transgender people.
This seems like an important analysis, and sad. It was really amusing to both Megan and me today when we drove behind some bigot’s truck with his “Marriage = 1 man + 1 woman” bumper sticker, pulled in front of them so they would be forced to drive behind my big ol’ rainbow-stickered car.
That is what life is like when you’re comfortable. You live in a big, liberal city and the bigots are out of place driving down 28th street. You don’t feel like the people who dominate this report. You have agency. There are parts of your existence you’re powerless over, but on the whole you’re not powerless. Hell, in my case, your life is filled with people – mostly straight – who go and buy you the stones for your wedding rings because you can’t afford them right now yourself.
I think it is important to recognize that those of us who are gay and comfortable – incomes we can live on, jobs we can be out at, relationships we don’t have to hide – are like refugees who have found the safehouses. It’s not like we’re truly ignorant of our status – people feel free to slap their prejudices on their bumpers, even in Minneapolis – but that we have the privilege to pretend they don’t exist at times.