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Debunking The Myth Of LGBT Affluence

July 12, 2013 11:36 am ET by Luke Brinker

Research shows that the stereotype of the LGBT community as overwhelmingly affluent has no basis in reality, but opponents of marriage equality continue to push the myth that LGBT people are financially better off than heterosexuals.

A July 10 column from The Witherspoon Institute's Public Discourse blog asserted that the LGBT equality movement is nothing more than the pet project of a comfortable, well-to-do population:

With the distance and detachment born of time's passage, will historians of this sort note how much the gay marriage movement has been centrally about acquiring government benefits and protecting the wealth of an influential, prosperous, successful, urban elite during a time of deepening national inequality?

[...]

Today's historians find no discrepancy in the LGBT community's use of civil rights language. Future historians and commentators may question this move, especially since it favored a wealthy and successful interest group at a time when the lower middle class continued to lose ground, with incomes and social mobility stagnating. They may marvel at this group's success in focusing the nation's media and cultural apparatus on this issue while economic inequality deepened. [emphasis added]

The column failed to mention that the LGBT community actually faces higher rates of poverty, homelessness, and economic insecurity than do heterosexual Americans. A study released last month by UCLA's Williams Institute highlighted the difficult economic circumstances confronted by many LGBT couples. Salon summarized some of the study's key findings:

Contrary to dominant media narratives about gay affluence (the "New Normal," "Modern Family" and others spring to mind), the data on wealth, sexuality and gender identity portrays a vastly different reality shaped by a nexus of gender, sexuality, race and geography.

The differences between certain groups are nuanced, but significant to track, advocates say. For example, the poverty rate for women in same-sex couples is 7.6 percent compared to 5.7 percent for women in different-sex couples. Poverty rates vary considerably between white gay men and gay men of color, with African-American men in same-sex couples six times more likely to live in poverty than their white counterparts. [emphasis added]

The report also found that a staggering 40 percent of homeless and at-risk youth seeking services from homeless agencies are LGBT.

Beyond poverty and homeless, LGBT Americans face a host of other economic challenges. As the Center for American Progress notes, employment discrimination is among the most persistent problems: 

LGBT employees continue to face widespread discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Studies show that anywhere from 15 percent to 43 percent of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people have experienced some form of discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Specifically, 8 percent to 17 percent of LGB workers report being passed over for a job or being fired because of their sexual orientation; 10 percent to 28 percent received a negative performance evaluation or were passed over for a promotion because they were LGB; and 7 percent to 41 percent of LGB workers encountered harassment, abuse, or antigay vandalism on the job. Rates of discrimination are especially high among people of color who identify as LGBT.

Transgender workers in particular experience high rates of employment discrimination. An astonishing 90 percent of transgender people report some form of harassment or mistreatment on the job or report having taken action such as hiding who they really are to avoid it. As with LGB employees, rates of employment discrimination are especially pronounced among transgender people of color.

Additionally, a recent study by the Department of Housing and Urban Development pointed to widespread housing discrimination against same-sex couples, with heterosexual couples more likely to receive favorable responses to email inquiries about rental housing. Although some state laws and local ordinances ban housing discrimination based on sexual orientation, there is no federal law prohibiting the practice.

Groups like the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) jump at opportunities to depict marriage equality supporters as wealthy, urban elites, but data indicate that issues of poverty and economic inequality are LGBT issues. Ignoring this plain fact only reinforces crude stereotypes while advancing a divisive and counterproductive discourse on matters of inequality.

Previously:

Why The Media Should Stop Taking ENDA's Opponents Seriously

FRC Misleads On Economic Impact Of The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)

Forbes' Jerry Bowyer Baselessly Argues That Marriage Equality Is Bad For Business