We see it on TV and in movies all the time: images of affluent LGBT folks shopping for expensive fashions, owning ideal real estate, taking lush vacation and eating at posh restaurants. The portrayal of the affluent LGBT person in the USA is even used against us; those who want to take away our rights often point out wealth in the LGBT community to show how we are, apparently, “not oppressed.”
The truth is that LGBT people face higher rates of poverty than their heterosexual counterparts. The Atlantic article “The Myth of Gay Affluence” and a recent Washington Blade article, covering the findings of a Williams Institute Report have done a great job outlining poverty in the LGBT community; stating that 29% of LGBT adults have faced food insecurity, or not having enough money to feed themselves or their family, in the past year (compared to 16% national average), 20% of working age LGBT adults, and 25% of same-sex couples have received food stamps last year.
Adding an analysis of race to this data, we also see higher rates for LGBT African American compared to heterosexual African Americans. The Atlantic article quotes Gary Gates of the Williams Institute who explaining that the myth of wealth in the LGBT community probably came from market researchers and advertisers. As they targeted the wealthiest segments of the LGBT community, it perpetuated the myth in the entire commercial arena.
And, poverty is related to health too. It is clear to everyone by now that food insecurity, access to healthcare and medicine, or delaying health care due to cost have been associated with poverty. Beyond these, poverty affects health on a number of other levels, too. Poverty in childhood has been shown to affect stress levels across the lifespan. And while there isn’t a ton of research to link poverty and things like heart disease, there is enough research linking poverty to measurable stress hormone levels that are known to have effects of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, and a number of other chronic ailments.
There are articles that show astounding rates of LGBT adult homelessness, and an increasing number of articles and documentaries about the problems of LGBT youth homelessness. For LGBT youth homelessness, the product of economic marginalization, is even more dangerous, as it is associated with increases in substance abuse, mental health problems, sexual abuse and other forms of violence.
So what is there to do? It may feel like a losing battle sometimes. However with the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) more people have access to healthcare than ever before, regardless of income. In addition to securing health insurance there are other things we can do that both reduce our stress and improve our health whether it’s eating well, exercising, quitting smoking, or practicing mindfulness or meditation.
We cannot message enough that poverty is also an LGBT issue.