Five Reasons the Fight for $15 Matters for LGBT People

feature image via Labor Notes

Today across the United States, people are protesting to demand a $15/hour minimum wage. The Fight for $15 began in late 2012, when hundreds of fast food workers walked off the job in New York City. The movement’s call reverberated across the U.S., tying into continuing movements for economic and racial justice.

Protesters stage a die-in outside a McDonalds in New York City to show that economic justice is racial justice via @FastFoodFoward Twitter

Protesters stage a die-in outside a McDonalds in New York City to show that economic justice is racial justice via @FastFoodFoward Twitter

Since 2012, the Fight for $15 has involved strikes, job walk-offs and media campaigns. The campaign has grown from fast food workers to incorporate low-wage workers from various fields, and it also intersects with organizing against police brutality.

This year, the March 2 Justice is walking 250 miles from Washington, DC to New York to draw attention to police brutality, and will be stopping in Philadelphia to join with the Fight for 15 rally there today. Fast food workers, retail workers, security guards, adjunct faculty, childcare workers and low wage workers from other sectors will join with them to demand a living wage and the right to enjoy a living wage in a world where poor people of color, especially black Americans, aren’t criminalized for walking down the street.

RAP organizers call for a wage increase outside the Zara flagship store in Manhattan via RAP

RAP organizers call for a wage increase outside the Zara flagship store in Manhattan via RAP

We know that queer and trans people represent a huge number of low-wage workers across the U.S and are seriously impacted by not just economic inequality, but economic injustice. While we are often portrayed in the media as wealthy and childless, the reality is that queer and trans people have families (that come in many configurations) and are more likely to be living in poverty than our straight and/or cis counterparts. Queer and trans people, especially queer and trans people of color, are extremely vulnerable to police brutality and abuse, especially when poverty leaves queer and trans people no other options for income except criminalized economies. Raising the minimum wage is a critical piece in a complex puzzle of alleviating economic struggle for queer and trans people.

Here are five reasons why the Fight for $15 is a fight for queer and trans people:

1. LGBT people have higher costs but less income than straight and cis people

KaeLyn broke down the Paying an Unfair Price report, which described how laws that don’t recognize LGBT families and fail to protect LGBT people from discrimination result in an enormous financial burden for LGBT people that cis and straight people don’t have.

The report also detailed extremely low income for trans people, with 28% of trans people making less than $10,000 per year, in comparison to 4% of the overall U.S. population. It also noted that LGBT people of color, and in particular black LGBT people, are more likely to be living in poverty than white LGBTs. Raising the minimum wage would secure higher incomes for many (though not all) LGBT people living in poverty.

2. LGBT women face greater economic security than GBT men and straight and cis women


Last month, a data subset from Paying an Unfair Price illustrated how LGBT women are more heavily impacted by economic insecurity than straight and cis women and GBT men. Audrey described how trans and cis women are less likely to have adequate access to health insurance, family leave, and daycare in facilities that accept their families. Families where two women head the household are more likely to have children than households headed by two men, and they have to deal with the gender pay gap twice over. Partnered or married women are more likely to see reduced income and benefits throughout the course of their lives, which is not something married or partnered men or straight people experience. Raising the minimum wage was listed in the report as one of the ways that these disparities can begin to be addressed.

3. 2/3 of minimum wage workers are women; 22% are women of color

Last year while minimum wage workers called for fair wages, Helen pointed out that two thirds of minimum wage workers are women, and that raising the minimum wage is critical for single mothers and women of color. She wrote:

Twenty-two percent of minimum wage workers are women of color, even though women of color only make up sixteen percent of workers overall. Specifically, the condition of workers in tipped occupations, such as servers in restaurants, is pretty dire given that the federal minimum wage for these positions is $2.13 per hour and nearly three-quarters of workers in these occupations are women.

4. LGBT people of color disproportionately experience economic injustice

The Broken Bargain report by LGBT Map, artfully dissected by Carmen, went much deeper than income inequality to identify why LGBT people of color are disproportionately affected by economic injustice. The study examined barriers LGBT youth of color face, like under-resourced schools, bullying, the school-to-prison pipeline, and barriers to higher education. It also pinpointed institutionalized barriers like inadequate nondiscrimination laws, bias and discrimination in hiring practices and workplaces, background checks, and lack of legal work authorization which make it much more difficult for people of color to find work.


While a higher minimum wage won’t solve all these problems, it would help build a critical foundation to stand on while dismantling the rest, which is why the Fight for $15 takes an intersectional approach, bringing together groups that are fighting to address economic injustice across the board.

5. Low-wage workers are put in impossible situations by their employers

On top of only being guaranteed $7.25 an hour if you work an hourly job in the U.S., minimum wage employers are notorious for implementing systems for their employees which makes their income unreliable and unpredictable. Practices like inflexible scheduling, as Kaitlyn describes, maximize profits for companies while treating their workers like disposable commodities. This can be incredibly difficult or impossible to juggle for parents who need to arrange childcare while they go to work, for people who need to arrange healthcare for themselves or family members, or people who are trying to go to school or do other things to expand their skill set. This disproportionately affects women, who are both more likely to be doing minimum wage work and more likely to be in charge of arranging care for their families.

But remember…

The fight to raise the minimum wage is critical for the economic well-being of LGBT people, but it’s not the only barrier. An end to police brutality, the expansion of welfare benefits, and the decriminalization of drugs and sex work will also be critical to LGBT people getting economic justice. It’s also critical that we address the needs of people with disabilities, many trans and gender non-conforming people, undocumented people and formerly incarcerated people, many of whom can’t find work at all, let alone work at a living wage.

To find out about Fight for $15 actions in your city today or in the future, visit Fight for $15 or follow along on Twitter at #fightfor15.

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Autostraddle staff writer. Copy editor. Fledgling English muffin maker. Temporary turtle parent. Zine creator. Swings enthusiast. Political human who cares a lot about healthcare and queer anti-carceral feminisms. I asked my friend to help me write this bio and they said, "Good-natured. Friend. Earth tones." Another friend said, "Flannel babe. Vacuum lover. Kind." So. Find me on Twitter or my website.

Maddie has written 100 articles for us.


  1. Excellent piece, Maddie! It’s a bit staggering, and very informative, to see all the intersecting challenges facing LGBT minimum wage earners laid out like this.

  2. While I support a $15 minimum wage, it seems pretty unrealistic to jump from a $7.50 min wage to double that amount. Although Seattle did it, so who knows.

    • Actually Seattle is phasing it in. As of April first it went up to $11 (possible $11.50 I can’t remember) from the original minimum wage of $9.35. It will ramp up to $15 over the course of 3 years for big companies and I think 5 years for smaller companies. So yes, I think you’re right it can’t just jump immediately if we want it to be successful. Businesses, particularly small businesses with small margins, need time to adjust their practices and consumers need time to adjust to higher costs.

      • Since the last update of the minimum wage, on 2009, the federal minimum wage has lost about 5.8% of its purchasing power to inflation (US Department of Labor and US Bureau of Labor Statics).

        According to a report from UC Berkley Labor Center, low wages cost about U$S152,8 billion a year on taxes. “The federal government spends about $127.8 billion per year, and states collectively spend about $25 billion per year, on public assistance programs for working families.”

        Those programs include Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Temporary Aid to Needy Families Program, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.


        But I do understand the need to make the increase gradual for small business. But Walmart, MacDonald’s, Burger King, Target and a bunch of similar business are not small business.

          • Let’s just say I like to keep my ducks on a row.

            Mostly I like to use common sense, but it can be quite subjective. But when you have the numbers to back it up, it works like a charm.

            So I’ve collected a bunch of studies, like: tax deductions big corporations get vs. small business; big corporations cutting domestic jobs and hiring abroad (been happening for years, but now you have tech companies in the game); how they pay less taxes by stashing money overseas, etc.

            Besides, I’m fascinated with Northern Europe. If you think you pay a lot of taxes, just take a look at those countries. The key is what you get for your money.

  3. I’ve been reading several posts about this subject around the web. Although most of the articles agree about the importance of decent minimum wage, what blows my mind are the comments (yes, I should know better and never read those, but it seems that I’m a masochist), because it seems that most americans have their heads right up their asses about this subject.

    Comments like “Working in McDonald’s is not a career,” “You should find a better job,” “Workers with minimum wage or part-time jobs have get what they deserve because they chose jobs with less responsibilities,” “If you increase wages the price of fast food and retail products will skyrocket,” “Minimum wage? That happens because you chose not to continue your education,” etc.

    So I have several ideas about this issue:

    1- This is not related to wages, but I can’t understand how this can happen. You have millions of, registered and legal, part-time workers without healthcare provided by the employer. Maybe it’s weird, but most countries in the world don’t work that way, it may happen with unregistered workers, but NEVER with registered workers.

    2- “Finding a better job” looks like a joke. Yes, I want to be the CEO of Google, but I think I need a little more than my will to get it.

    3- The education detail also looks like a joke, because everybody knows that education, in the US, takes money, even if you go to Community College. I don’t know many people who went to College or University and never spent a dime on books or any other material related to your career. And remember, you get a minimum wage, and still have to eat, take the bus to work, etc.

    4- About prices, you can go to any fast-food joint and, in my opinion, pay too much money for a canapé-size burger. I’m willing to pay more for a good reason, and this looks like a good one.

    5- You can’t have millions of workers outside of the market. U$S15 is not much, but it will give the workers a little more money to spent on other things and not just the basics. I can’t believe I’m gonna use this person as an example, but I think you should really take a look once again at what Henry Ford did back in the day.

    • bless you for reading the comments on those pieces. i’m glad you responded to them here!

  4. I’ve done lots of research into the minimum wage, and I think I’ve commented here before about how horrible a large increase in the minimum wage would be.

    In undergrad I did summer research on the minimum wage. I used three independent, administrative panel data sets to analyze the impact of states’ increases on their minimum wages on their job creation and job destruction rates from 1975-2011. I found that a state increasing its minimum wage by 10% reduces job creation by 25%, and increases job destruction substantially. Increasing the minimum wage by >100% would be devastating to the economy. Not only would there be no new businesses opened for the indefinite future, but there would also be extensive layoffs. This is a worse outcome for workers than earning a lower wage.

    People like to have a very qualitative view of the economy, e.g. “businesses are corrupt and all business owners are rich, therefore increasing the minimum wage will save workers from evil capitalism!!!!!!!” But if you look at the data and apply a little economic sense, you can find that there is substantial harm done by large minimum wage increases.

    Please, AS, hire an economist to write these articles. There are queer-identified women with the ability to write a coherent article about queers and economic policy – please find them.

    • You know, I find your position in economics quite familiar, it’s the same thing some economists have been saying for the last 30 or 40 years, and has been applied in Latin America. Recently those economic policies are reaching Europe and the numbers of the EC don’t look so good.

      For years I’ve been listening to similar arguments, and I’m still waiting for the “trickling down” effect that every one of those economists promised.

      Capitalism is not evil, but has big problems, like distribution of wealth.

      Let’s not talk about economic sense, let’s talk about some common sense. Do you think that a CEO making 300 times more than the average worker makes sense? That performance-based bonuses and stock options for chief executives can be deducted from taxable corporate income? It may be the law (or more correctly, the loophole), but do you think that makes sense, that is fair? This little gem in the US Tax Code was passed in 1993 to make CEOs better keepers of the shareholders’ money, but I think that idea went to hell with the 2008 crisis.

      Maybe you don’t like them, but you can’t denied the credentials of Paul Krugman, Thomas Piketty, Joseph Stiglitz, Jacques Drèze, etc.

      • Yeah, I don’t think economists share a singular position on this issue.

        I do think a significantly higher minimum wage is just one of MANY things that need to happen to address the disaster that is the U.S. (and global) economy for low-wage workers. Everyone deserves a living wage, and minimum wage is not that, so instead of saying, “a minimum wage is doomed,” and throwing up my hands, I’m more interested in thinking about how we might create a system in which a higher minimum wage is viable. Definitely interested in hearing from queer and trans economists on that one.

      • No, Europe is having difficulties because they are too far to the left on these issues – high income taxes, extensive regulation, overly generous entitlements…I assure you they are not in their troubles because their minimum wages are too low!

        Raising the minimum wage does not combat issues of wage inequality. It puts a bandaid on a much larger problem (and like I said, with the implications for job destruction and creation, it probably isn’t even as helpful as a bandaid). The reason the wage gap is so large is that high-skill jobs are increasingly demanded in the labor market, and the supply of individuals who have those skills is not growing at the same rate. The solution to wage inequality would be to get more average Americans to develop these higher-level skills, such as computer programming. Then there would be more workers able to do these skills. More supply -> lower wages for high-skill tasks. Simultaneously, there would be less workers who were willing to work at McDonald’s. Less supply -> higher wage for low-skill tasks.

        Economics requires economic sense, not common sense. We get upset at politicians who have an unpopular opinion on global warming because they aren’t scientists, and therefore don’t know what they are talking about. People who aren’t economists should not argue that they know the benefits or harms of a $15 minimum wage.

        And please, tell me that any one of those economists (or any worth their salt, in general) supports a minimum wage of $15. Many economists support one of $9, or maybe $10, as soon as we are definitively out of the recession – I’m one of them. But to have a wage hike this large, and when job growth is just finally picking up, is insane.

        • The idea that the solution to low wages in the food service industry is urging these people to spend a large amount of money they don’t have on retraining to become computer programmers is utterly ridiculous. Minimum wage jobs in the food service industry have always been the jobs that people who have no other alternatives take due to the high demand for workers and the fact that they’re perceived as “low skills” so you don’t need many formal qualifications. Why do you think so many women, especially women of colour work in these types of jobs? As long as racism and misogyny continue to exist and cause widespread employment discrimination there’s going to be huge numbers of people willing to do any kind of jobs simply because they are desperate to get a job and support themselves and their families. This means that employers will always be able to push wages down because they know there’ll always be a large enough pool of desperate people who will work for them.

          The only way out of this situation is unionizing and laws that ensure employers can’t exploit their employees.

          • The government should subsidize programs to get these people higher-level skills – of course minimum wage workers cannot afford this education out of pocket, and they would probably have a hard time getting loans. But funding community colleges (like the President is doing), and in particular certain technological programs through those colleges that match students to employers directly would be tremendously useful.

            Unionizing fast food and Walmart/Target workers would also help. Ensuring that employers don’t “exploit” their workers is much harder of a goal. My argument isn’t that nothing should be done, but rather that raising the minimum wage to $15 is the absolute worst choice.

    • I agree with the last bit about finding a queer female/trans/non-binary economist/finance person or someone well versed on this subject.

  5. There was a Fight For $15 & anti-police brutality march going on near the university where I work today, and it made me kind of sad to hear my coworkers’ comments and opinions on it. Everyone seems to be responding to this movement in a very defeatist kind of way, saying that it will never work and that raising the minimum wage is just going to lead to all kinds of other problems.

    I wish we could all believe in the possibility for real, deep, radical change! No one should have to be labeled as unrealistic, or stupid, or lazy, for their commitment to fighting for justice in the face of so many barriers.

    • I’m sorry your coworkers’ reactions made you sad! I know what you mean about wishing we could all believe in the possibility for deep change. What would it look like if instead of saying, “$15 an hour will never work,” we said, “What else needs to happen in addition to a higher minimum wage to make it so everyone can make a living wage?”

  6. I feel so strongly about everyone being given the opportunity for a living wage. And our current federal minimum wage is not enough to support you, even if you’re extremely frugal. I don’t think anyone can truly understand the need for a reasonable living wage until they’ve been in a desperate situation working a minimum wage job and worrying about running out of money. Twists of circumstances can land anybody in that situation: the old and young, the educated and uneducated. I was fortunate during my experience of working a minimum wage job; I had a college degree, I found a higher paying job before my savings ran out, and I had parents to fall back on if I did run out of all my savings. I can’t imagine what it would’ve been like to have kids to support or to not have any safety net. It is so easy to get stuck. Everyone should be able to afford basic necessities like food and rent and medical care. I wish everyone were empathetic enough to see this. …But I know I’m preaching to the choir here.

    I’m very proud of my local Seattle for phasing in a $15/h wage. I really hope the rest of the country will follow.

  7. (Forgive my misspelling or grammar! Phones aren’t much help :/)

    I do understand the upset with how low the minimum wage is but I do not think doubling it will help anyone especially small businesses. Working in a small business (and working with other small businesses in my community) I can for sure see that this jump in minimum wage would be the end to a lot of small businesses. I am fortunate to have a boss who tries his hardest to be fair when it comes to paying his employees. No one in our company gets less than 10/hr to start. I’ve seen our books and his take home is equal to and even sometimes less than ours (taxes can kill a small biz as well). This jump would for sure bankrupt our company and many others. I know this is not the case with a large percentage of employees in the U.S. But I also don’t see how doubling minimum wage will fix it. I don’t see large corporations minimizing their profit margin or cutting salaries for CEOs to fix it either, so that leaves more unemployed citizens or less pay for the workers who have made their way up in a company and are fortunate to get paid more than minimum wage. I see them getting pay cuts before the CEOs. My question is where exactly is the money going to come from? My prediction is Large corporations will just invest into more computer technology which will put the common man out of work (ie fast food kiosks etc). It’s a sad time and I won’t be surprised if this goes wrong.

    Sorry if my rambling seems everywhere.

    • I do think it’s important to keep in mind is that the Fight for $15 is really aimed at giant corporations and employers who are clearly exploiting low- and minimum-wage workers to maximize profits.

      I hear what you’re saying, and yes, small businesses might need more support to phase in a wage increase of that magnitude, but everyone deserves a living wage, no matter what.

      • But does anyone really think that these big corporations are going to cut into their profit that much to balance it out? Greed is a huge factor that will win unfortunately. They will find other ways to get around it and I think it will just end up hurting the same people this fight was suppose to help. In no way am I against the raise, I just don’t have high hopes for it helping the people that need it.

        Technology is ever growing and can/will replace a lot of the minimum wage workers. And the ones left will need special skills to be able to manage the technology. Computers don’t need breaks and specific working conditions like humans do.

  8. I fully support liveable minimum wages; what I think would do the most for a liveable, just society is MAXIMUM wage. That would solve the issues of where the money is coming from, and the constant rush to outsource with the associated negative economic spiral.

    The argument against goes that it would stifle energy/competitiveness: quite frankly I think that if you’re not willing to work for a yearly salary of say, 100K (US$), then you shouldn’t be entrusted with the position, as you are clearly more motivated by greed than the good of the company/people.

    • I know it would mean AS writers having to cut back on the chauffeur/personal chef/24 kt gold monogrammed sex-toy lifestyle, but we all have to make sacrifices, right?

  9. Just wanted to let you know the link in #5 is broken.

    But while I’m here can we just talk about the BS inflexible and erratic scheduling that tends to come with these jobs? Among other problems, it can make it almost impossible to hold a second job to try and compensate for subpar compensation.

Comments are closed.