Editors' Note: Guest blogger Dr. Gary J. Gates serves as the Williams Distinguished Scholar at The Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law. He is a recognized national expert on the geography and demography of the gay and lesbian population and author of The Gay and Lesbian Atlas.
The notion that gay people are disproportionately wealthy represents one of the most common and pernicious myths surrounding the LGBT community. The stereotype is so widespread that it even found its way into US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's dissent in the 1996 Romer v. Evans case that overturned an anti-gay initiative in Colorado.
A new study on gay poverty [pdf] that I co-authored with colleagues from the University of Massachusetts (Amherst and Boston) and the Williams Institute (UCLA), released today in a Capitol Hill briefing, shows just how wrong Justice Scalia was. 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.
We used three different population-based (meaning findings can be generalized to the population) and publicly-funded data sources: the 2000 Census, the 2002 National Survey on Family Growth (NSFG), and the 2005 California Health Interview Survey (CHIS). Analyses from all three surveys confirm that large numbers of LGB men and women are living in poverty, perhaps as many as a quarter of lesbian/bisexual women and one in seven gay/bisexual men. We also find that lesbian/bisexual women are more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to receive public assistance.
Our study shows that African American LGB people especially those raising children, face even more serious economic challenges. Their sexual orientation and racial/ethnic identities combine to put them at even greater risk of poverty than either black married couples or white gay/lesbian couples. The same is true for LGB people living in rural areas.
Unfortunately, there aren't any good data sources on the economic needs and issues for transgender people. But a study we did last year that reviewed many surveys of transgender people also found that many live below or near the poverty level.
This new research presents some provocative findings that challenge popular myths about gay affluence. But perhaps more importantly, the findings also challenge the LGBT movement and its political agenda. Our analyses clearly highlight the importance of issues like marriage equality, employment discrimination, and military service-all policy arenas that affect LGBT economic conditions and opportunities.
But as each day seems to bring more glum news about home foreclosures, job losses, and recession, our findings suggest that LGBT people might be particularly vulnerable in this economic downturn. Policy initiatives designed to help struggling homeowners, enhance unemployment and public assistance benefits, and create new jobs should all be understood as an important part of the gay political agenda. Broadening engagement on these issues may be very important for the short-term needs of the LGBT community.
This broader strategy may also yield long-term benefits. LGBT political involvement in "mainstream" policy initiatives may help to strengthen ties to a wide range of diverse organizations and individuals. Active and passionate LGBT involvement in the economic debates of today may create important alliances that could be crucial in winning the struggle for equality tomorrow.