Nina Smith

Gay Affluence: fact, fiction, or somewhere in between?

Filed By Nina Smith | October 05, 2007 7:45 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: LGBT wealth

“Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

On Saturday night this past summer, we went with friends to HRC’s Annual Orange County Federal Club Garden Party and this year it was at a young gay man’s ocean front home in Laguna Beach. It was rumored that he purchased the home a year ago for 16 million dollars.

How does a thirtysomething queer make enough money to buy a house like this? Some said he made his money in credit card processing, others through real estate. I’m certain it was a combination of the two. Looking around on Saturday night, the bigger question was: Are all gay men wealthy?

There were 350 people in attendance – 90 percent were men. Some were there to raise money to support HRC goals. Others were there to gawk at this amazing house. We went to do both.

Much has been written about The Myth of Gay Affluence as in this Blade article by Thomas Soule. It didn’t look like a myth on that Saturday night.

That said, Soule’s article references a report by Lee Badgett, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst defusing this myth. Soule writes:

Based on extensive research, Badgett found a diversity of economic situations among the lesbian, gay and bisexual population. Although further study only confirms that reality, the image of affluence lives on.

Why? Maybe it’s because we’re throwing parties in 16 million dollar homes.

One of the most convincing arguments for the notion of gay affluence is that because most gay people don’t have children, they have more “disposable income” to spend than the average straight person… Although it is true that gay men are less likely than other men to have children, studies show that lesbians have children at nearly the same levels as heterosexual women. That has nothing to do with how much money they’re earning—it merely dictates what they spend it on.

Well, I’m glad then there’s a subset of the gay population spending it on political causes. I felt part of a well-organized and mobilized group with a say in determining the next administration.

Political clout and buying power… isn’t this really the same thing? Awhile back, I asked Bob Witeck and Wes Combs if they thought gay people have more disposable income to spend than the average straight person. They answered:

It is definitely a myth and perhaps the most misunderstood fact about gays and lesbians. We are not wealthier. We make about the same amount of money as our non-gay counterparts.

They continued with these thoughts:

Because only about 20 percent of gay and lesbian households have children in them, we tend to have more discretionary income. What others spend on child care related costs we often spend on ourselves (or save.) In many cases we are also dual income households, which coupled with no children gives us more money to spend than the average consumer.

Do you agree? John W. Stiles at OutSmart begs to differ and gives his take on the myth:

So we get all of the harm of appearing wealthy, without any of the fun (or security) of actually having the money in our pockets and bank accounts.

It seemed like a lot of people (350 to be exact) were having fun that Saturday night in Laguna Beach. Yet others were working so they could have fun… the catering crew and shuttle bus driver to name a few. Is that any different from a fundraiser attended by straight people in Middle America? Probably not. Every subset of the population will have guys that can afford the million dollar homes and party goers wondering what he did to deserve it. The shuttle bus driver was probably thinking the same about us as he pulled into the parking lot full of nice cars. Money is relative and being gay or straight doesn’t have anything thing to do with it.

For more on this topic, read this Queercents post about the realities and perceptions around the issue of class in America.

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Nina blogs about money over at Queercents.


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While you often see the rich queers with zillion dollar homes, you also quite often see the other end of the spectrum - those who have lost their homes when fired for being part of the LGBT community. I know transgender folks often are living below poverty because it's so hard for them to keep a job due to discrimination.

And I'd imagine - just like straight America - most of us fall somewhere in between - the middle class.

MONEY SETS YOU FREE

Poor and Lower Middle Class Gays may be in the closet - or not out as loudly and in the public view - as wealthy gay men.

That is all this is. This is a stereotype promoted to create yet another reason for the uneducated straigths to dislike gays.

It is a slightly different version of the stereotype the Nazi's used to promoted dislike of Jews.

Only Wealthy (by birth or effort) gay men can afford to fly to gay resorts, live in upscale (and safe to out gays) gayborhoods, attend fundraisers.

Double Income No Kids - straight or gay - they have a good life.

If Nina and I are talking about the same beachfront home in Laguna Beach ... I think I've been to that home. It was built by a man who was a corporate Director of a major Fortune 500 construction company that, among other things, built nuclear reactor plants for the Chinese. I went to a fundraiser in that home many years ago because the man's adult son was gay and involved in a gay political organization. (Hint: it was not Stonewall Democrats!)

The home is indeed stunning --- but it changes hands every few years because, being on a cliff right above where the salty ocean surf crashes onto the rocks, the home demands upkeep that costs hundreds of thousands annually. Lesson being: Even the rich can experience budget bloat.

One thing you didn't mention, Nina: Presumably, gay and lesbian children inherit great wealth at roughly the same rate as straight children, and this is another explanation for the GLBT upper class. (Care to guess how much Mary Cheney might inherit someday?)

I have also heard that gay men and lesbians are well represented in the army of "microserfs" that eventually became "Microsoft millionaires" --- they were early Microsoft employees who were given generous stock options while Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Steve Ballmer et al were building that company.

So, just like straight people, sometimes we just happen to be in the right place at the right time.

Steve Ralls Steve Ralls | October 7, 2007 9:38 AM

A.J., I think you're right on point.

Nowhere in the coverage of Oprah Winfrey's lavish fundraiser for Barack Obama did I read any quoted as saying, "Wow, those single, African American women sure do have a lot of money."

Why? The media has (and rightfully so) reported on the economic hardship faced by many women in the African American community. The challenge here isn't to dispel the myth that all LGBT people are wealthy, but to do more to show that, just like our heterosexual neighbors, gay Americans come from a diverse economic background, too, and face many of the same challenges as everyone else.