The societal myth that the vast majority of LGBTQ-identified people in the U.S. are white, affluent men who are disconnected from the day-to-day struggles of working-class people has been completely debunked by a recent economic study. The U.S. ruling class and the right wing use this myth to ostracize lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people and economically separate them from the rest of society.
This “gay affluence” myth is depicted daily in the corporate-run media, which produce TV shows and movies that render working-class and LGBTQ communities of color invisible or as rarities within mainstream society.
For example, the most successful gay-themed television show in U.S. history, “Will and Grace,” depicted a white gay male character, Jack McFarland, who had a nonmanagerial retail job, yet could still magically afford luxury housing in the affluent Upper West Side neighborhood of New York City.
M.V. Lee Badgett of the Williams Institute, a LGBTQ think tank based at the University of California, Los Angeles, said on a May 31 NBC news program that “this ‘myth of gay affluence’ has been around for a long time. It gets in the way of people even imagining that LGBT people can be poor.” (inplainsight.nbcnews.com)
The myth puts the blame on individual poor and working-class LGBTQ people for not measuring up to the rich white men on TV, when it’s actually the failure of the capitalist U.S. government to truly provide for the needs of the people.
While Hollywood and the ruling class continue to promote the “gay affluence” myth, the reality is that, just like the vast majority of people living in the U.S., LGBTQ people come from the multinational working class.
In fact, recent studies show that because of discrimination and stigma, LGBTQ people, especially LGBTQ people of color and women, earn less money and experience higher rates of poverty and homelessness than non-LGBTQ people in society.
Released this month, a Williams Institute study, “New Patterns of Poverty in the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Community,” reported that 7.6 percent of lesbian couples, compared to 5.7 percent of married different-sex couples, are in poverty. It also stated that one-third of lesbian couples and 20.1 percent of gay male couples without a high school diploma are in poverty, compared to 18.8 percent of different-sex married couples. (williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu)
Other key findings were that the poverty rate of same-sex Black families was “more than twice the rate of different-sex married African Americans.” (williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu) The poverty rate for all families in the U.S. was 5.8 percent; for Black families alone, it was 9.7 percent. (2010 U.S. Census)
Pertaining to child poverty, “almost one in four children living with a male same-sex couple and 19.2 percent of children living with a female same-sex couple are in poverty, compared to 12.1 percent of children living in married different-sex couples.” Furthermore, with a poverty rate of 53 percent, “African-American children in gay male households have the highest poverty rate … of any children in any household type.” (williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu)
Racist bias compounds poverty
Much has been written on the rampant unemployment and job-related discrimination that happens to trans and gender non-conforming (TGNC) people. A 2011 study by the National Center on Transgender Equality reported that “the combination of anti-transgender bias and persistent structural racism was especially devastating.” (transequality.org) For example, 36 percent of Native people, 32 percent of Black people and 30 percent of Latino/a trans people answered “Yes” when asked if they had ever lost a job due to bias by race.
In a 2012 study, the Center for American Progress reported that transgender people are twice as likely as the general population to make less than $10,000 per year. (transequality.org) Additionally, a 2011 Williams Institute study showed that one in five TGNC people are homeless, and that one in 10 have been denied or evicted from housing due to their gender nonconformity. (williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu)
Most impacted by the economic crisis are LGBTQ young people, who experience not only ageism but anti-LGBTQ violence within their families, in school and by the police. This makes it even more difficult for them to have the level of stability needed to finish school or secure jobs. According to the Williams Institute study, it is estimated that between 20 percent and 40 percent of the more than 1.6 million homeless youth in the U.S. are LGBTQ-identified.
Not only do these studies rip to shreds the “gay affluence myth,” but they also show how the fight against racism, sexism, ageism and LGBTQ oppression is intricately linked to the struggle for jobs, affordable housing, health care and education.
The decades of struggle led by LGBTQ people and their supporters for the 1,138 economic rights that come with marriage equality, or for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a federal law that would ban job discrimination against LGBTQ people, are just two examples of this. It was the years of struggle to build a movement that brought masses of LGBTQ people and their supporters into the streets that forced President Barack Obama and — with a ruling due this last week of June — the U.S. Supreme Court to finally make marriage equality rights a national issue.
This is a just one part of the long and proud history of LGBTQ peoples, who have been active and leaders in every working-class and progressive struggle. This proud history led to the rebellions of poor and working-class trans and gay people, especially people of color, at Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco in 1966 and at the Stonewall Inn in New York in 1969. And these rebellions led to the building of LGBTQ Pride marches and the movements for social justice that we have today.
It is this same spirit of fightback that will liberate all working and poor people from all the injustices of capitalist greed and finally win the economic justice and social change that we truly need and want.