Michael G. Bare, MPH
Program Coordinator
National LGBT Cancer Network 

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.

Summary of Poverty Rates from National Surveys by Sexual Orientation. Source: The Williams Institute, UCLA
Summary of Poverty Rates from National Surveys by Sexual Orientation. Source: The Williams Institute, UCLA

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.


  1. I understand your dismay, Lynnette, you are absolutely right. I recently heard Williams Institute folks speak on health related issues within the Trans community, and partially the lack of information is due to lack of data. I believe there is research currently being conducted to collect such data. When this becomes available, I will also blog on it as well. Thank you for brining up these really critical issues.

  2. As Lynnette points out, for many years, research has lumped gays, Lesbians, and bisexuals together, found serious physical and mental health problems in the LGB community, and these problems were used to get funding. But more recently the various groups have begun to be researched separately. When this is done, it is clearly seen that due to the stigma born by the bisexual community, the bisexual community bears the brunt of the problems. In childhood, bisexuals are more likely than gay men and Lesbians to be abused or bullied – see “Friedman, et al., A Meta-Analysis of Disparities in Childhood Sexual Abuse, Parental Physical Abuse, and Peer Victimization Among Sexual Minority and Nonminority Individuals. American Journal of Public Health, 2011, 101 (8), 1481-1494. In adulthood, 45% of bi women have considered or attempted suicide, 35% of bi men, 30% of Lesbians, 25% of gay men, and much lower rates for heterosexuals. Similar discrepancies are found for other health problems, and we are much more likely to be poor. A quarter of us are on food stamps, but only 14% or Lesbians and gay men. And this is only a partial list of bisexual health disparities – more can be found by googling the “Bisexual Invisibility Report” by Lindasusan Ulrich.

    Yet over the past 30 years, while the LGT community has received $487,677,799 in funding, the bi community has received a grand total of $85.356. So the Gay and Lesbian groups use our suffering to get funding, and then do not spend any of it on us.

    These disparities are true for cancer as well, with bisexuals disproportionately affected by cancer:


    I do hope, knowing this, that your group will turn its efforts to helping reduce these high rates of cancer in the bisexual community

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