- March 13, 2015
The facts laid out in a report about LGBT women and poverty released earlier this week were as startling as they were distressing.
Among the findings: LGBT women - and particularly bisexual and transgender women - are among the most at risk of poverty in America. Older LGBT women in same-sex relationships have twice the poverty rate of older, married opposite-sex couples. And discrimination in the workplace, in healthcare, and in the realm of legal recognition continue to complicate the path to economic stability.
The report, “Paying an Unfair Price: The Financial Penalty for LGBT Women in America,” released by the Movement Advancement Project and the Center for American Progress, is not only thorough and groundbreaking, but it lays out the myriad ways in which LGBT women face economic hardship beyond that of our non-LGBT peers.
For LGBT women of color, transgender women, and older women the burden is even greater due to employment discrimination, stigma, and lack of health insurance. It was inspiring to see the number of organizations that participated in producing the report, from the National Education Association (NEA) and National Association of Social Workers (NASW), to the National Partnership for Women and Families. This joint effort by LGBT advocacy organizations and more “traditional” or mainstream organizations reflects the tremendous progress we’ve made in establishing that women’s issues are LGBT issues, and vice versa.
It’s no surprise to me, as a professional social worker, that the NASW and the NEA -- organizations that together represent millions of women in historically undervalued and underpaid roles -- see clearly the need to improve the employment and financial lives of all women. We have come a long way in bridging our advocacy work and the priorities for LGBT women to the broader women’s movement, joining forces for work-life balance, pay equity, and access to reproductive health care.
While this report emphasizes the need for laws and policies that protect LGBT women as parents, partners, and employees, stigma - a significant factor in creating financial hardship - does not go away with the passage of non-discrimination laws and marriage equality. In popular culture, workplaces, and even within families, sexism is still far too common. That’s magnified when we do not meet the heteronormative expectations of what women “should be” in our dominant culture. As LGBT women, we essentially defy this conventional role in one or more ways depending on our identities and life choices.
We all deserve to be safe, affirmed, and loved for who we are, and we all need and deserve full legal protection and access to economic security. Let’s work together toward the goals highlighted in “Paying an Unfair Price,” and let’s also recommit ourselves to supporting one another as LGBT women. Let’s recognize and embrace the fact that we share many experiences of discrimination and stigma that transcend race, socioeconomic status, age, relationship status, and identity. Let’s fight for the most marginalized and financially burdened among us. All of our lives matter.