New Report Finally Gives Crucial Numbers on Economic Disparities Hurting LGBT Women

We know — intuitively, from stories, from our own lives — that queer women face unique and devastating economic challenges and are at higher risk for poverty than even straight women and LGBT men. Now, we have clear, comprehensive data that solidifies the seriousness of the problem and provides a new resource for battling it.

A new report from LGBT Movement Advancement Report in collaboration with the Center for American Progress and numerous other organizations shines light on the devastating economic disadvantages that LGBT women face. LGBT and other organizational leaders call the report the first of its kind. LGBT women experience discrimination in employment, housing and healthcare, a lack of recognition for their diverse families and various other challenges that create additional barriers to those faced by straight women and LGBT men. Queer women of color, trans women, older women and women raising children face additional burdens that further limit their ability to thrive economically. The report focuses on a subset of a data from MAP’s Paying An Unfair Price project, which launched last fall.

MAP women's econ overview

“I was most taken aback by the poverty levels of specific communities within the LGBT community, particularly transgender women of color, who are facing incredibly high levels of poverty,” said Heron Greenesmith, a policy analyst for LGBT MAP. “The women’s leaders, LGBT groups and communities of color can look at these inequalities and use them to be more intersectional in their work.”

A lot of the statistics in the report will seem familiar from other studies, but it’s never been collated in one place before, and much of the data related to trans women and women of different racial groups had never been disagreggated from data on more general populations in previous research research.

At Forward Together, a national organization dedicated to changing policy and culture in favor of all types of families, the data will be a vital tool in their state-level initiatives to affect policy change, said Deputy Director Moira Bowman. For example, it will bolster the case for laws that protect women’s reproductive health, promote workplace equality and create sick and family leave policies that include and protect queer women and their families. MAP’s research brings together disparate data and cuts out “endless Google searching” that led to unreliable answers, Bowman said, and replaces it with a clear and coherent document that leaders across movements can rely on.

“For communities that have traditionally been marginalized and excluded, having research in the toolbox is a very important piece of what we need to make our case to policy makers,” she said.

Much work on the LGBT population doesn’t examine queer women’s unique needs, which means they’re not getting access to the information, support and resources they need.

“People forget that LGBT women need access to abortion and contraception,” said Naomi Goldberg, a policy specialist at MAP. “If you’re taking time off work to care for a sick spouse or child or when you’re sick yourself, you may not get paid sick time. These are areas where we see higher costs and a reduced ability to balance work and family.”

The report breaks down into three main areas: Difficulty of finding and keeping good jobs, barriers to good health that reduce economic security, and a lack of support for LGBT women and their families.

The report highlights challenges like the cost of child care, difficulty acquiring insurance, the cost of adoption and, for many families, the longerm lower income of having two women head a family whose salaries are lower because they are queer women. Marriages or partnerships between two women will see reduced income and benefits over their life times compared to heterosexual or gay male couples, for example.

MAP women's econ couples duo

Throughout, it is clear that trans women, queer women of color, older women and women with children face some of the sharpest disparities in income, access to health insurance and other factors that contribute to poverty.

For example:

  • It is much more difficult for two partnered women to access resources like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, meaning their incomes don’t go as far.
  • Older LGBT women have reduced Social Security benefits because their lifetime earnings are lower, meaning a lower return from the program, and because they have less access to spousal and survivor benefits.
  • Transgender women often can’t access adequate health insurance leading to higher costs associated with poor health. 36 percent of trans women report losing a job because of their gender identity or expression, compared to 26 percent of the overall trans population.
  • Queer women of color experience oppression on multiple axes including race, gender and sexuality. Trans women of color experience poverty at particularly alarming rates.

Health care access can be an expensive fight for LGBT women. We are less likely to have good insurance, and in our jobs we may not be protected by family leave policies.

MAP women's econ insurance

At The LGBTQ Task Force, priorities include reducing LGBT youth homelessness, reducing incarceration of queer people, and promoting economic justice. Numbers like these strengthen their power to work on behalf of the most vulnerable populations, said Meghan Maury, a policy counsel for the Task Force.

“When I walk into the Housing and Urban Development office and say LGBT people are disproportionately poor or that we know trans people in general are facing inequality at incredibly high levels, they appreciate the anecdotal evidence, but they want the numbers,” Maury said. “I can walk in with this report and show them why LGBT women in particular need access to services.”

Because the data is so diverse, it indicates many possible next steps. Maya Pinto, Economic Justice Program Director at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, said the report “points to the need for increased intersectional work between the economic justice and LGBT movements.” Some of the recommendations include updating definitions of “family” to include LGBT families, creating comprehensive sex ed programs, raising the minimum wage, and passing laws requiring that health insurance providers treat LGBT people equally in their policies.

“We as LGBT women don’t live in a vacuum, and our employment policies, our educational policies, our healthcare policies impact us as women and LGBT people together to reduce our economic security,” said Greenesmith of MAP.

Fortunately, there’s hope that better data and growing national coalitions will help change that.

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Adrian is a writer, a Texan and a Presbyterian pastor. They write about bisexuality, gender, religion, politics, music and a whole lot of feelings at Autostraddle and wherever fine words are sold. They have a dog named after Alison Bechdel. Follow Adrian on Twitter @adrianwhitetx.

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  1. I am curious to know how bisexual women compare to bisexual men. I keep seeing this in other studies also, but why is it that bisexual women’s number lower than lesbian women? Also, is that $0.79 per dollar for the two women couple, for each woman or for couple? Because, if it’s per women in the relationship, it’s interesting to see they are making $.16 per dollar more than a straight woman.

    btw it would nice to see what these numbers are for non-binary/agender/genderqueer people.

    • I think it’s per person, so on average the women in same sex relationships each make slightly more than a woman in an opposite sex relationship… BUT the total income of the lesbian couple (1.58) is of course lower than for the opposite sex couple (1.63), once you add both partners’ incomes together.

    • The statistic is a little confusing outside out context. It’s taken from this study which uses data from the census:

      I was actually reading an article about this the other day, women in opposite-sex marriages / relationships, especially those with children, are rarely financially independent from their husbands. Because the burden of domestic work esp childcare falls more on women, women often can only work part-time which results in their income being smaller than that of their partner. My gut feeling is that the disparity between the incomes of women in same-sex and opposite-sex relationships is probably due to this as well.

      • Except that bi women are also more likely to be poor. That study didn’t say “bi women in similar-gender partnerships.” It said bi women.

    • I’d suspect some of the poverty differential has to do children. Are bisexual women more likely to have children from previous relationships.

  2. Disheartening. What also impacts this further is if you are queer and have a disability.

  3. “bisexual women” covers a lot of ground…i wish studies like these would look at bi women in long-term partnerships with men vs. bi women in long-term partnerships with not-men (& other permutations), because i have hunches and intuitions about how these dynamics would play out economically but people are pretty invested in acting like we all have the same experience.

    thanks for posting this, though, it’s distressing but it’s good to have concrete numbers.

    • Also, if I’m not mistaken, a higher proportion of bi women are trans. I’d be interested to see how that affects things, too.

  4. Lesbians are barely more likely to be in poverty then straight women which is interesting since they don’t have men to depend on. Also they earn more money then straight women according to this and other studies. So there is some good news.

    But what the heck going on with bisexual women? Lesbians are doing better then bisexuals. I have been seeing studies showing bisexuals to have poorer mental health, to be more likely to be on welfare, and now this. This is odd since the vast majority of bisexual women settle down in heterosexual relationships (See Pew 2013 and others). You can’t really compare the experience of the majority of bisexual women who mostly don’t make homes with other women to lesbians. I know there are issues that make being bisexual hard but the increase in abuse (mostly by men), mental health problems, poverty…I don’t totally understand.

    I get some of the bisexual issues (I’m bisexual / but strictly lesbian romantic) and understand bi-erasure and biphobia are issues. But I always kind of thought of bisexuals (men and women) as just people that may have problems when coming out as teenagers or dating when young. But then they mostly wind up in their heterosexual marriages and what’s the problem here??? Apparently I am wrong.

    The main solution seems to be a more out, robust, and supportive bisexual community engaged in helping bisexuals. I am not saying gays and lesbians shouldn’t be concerned about bisexual issues (and some of them should treat bisexuals less badly). I am just being realistic. Bisexuals have some uniques issues that obviously are concerning and need to be addressed.

    • The study might be capturing far more bisexual women in same-sex relationships than heterosexual relationships. In effect erasure of one half of the bisexual community.

      • Not sure why this study would disproportionately scoop up an unbalanced representation of how many bisexual women are in SS relationships but I guess it’s pissible. But the the other studies showing similar results are too. Also doesn’t explain why bisexuals in an SS relationship are worse of then a lesbian in one. Don’t think so.

    • Yeah, it turns out that biphobia is NOT entirely about visibility in queer communities (though that is important too and I am kinda feeling it in my reaction to this article). There are stereotypes that specifically apply to bi people, not to all LGBT people. Bi women are more likely than straight women or lesbians to be raped or sexually assaulted. Bi people are more likely to experience domestic violence than straight or gay/lesbian people. Bi people are more likely to experience police violence than LGBT people as a whole (though not nearly to the same extent as, say, trans people of color). Bi women are more likely to be poor. Bi women have worse mental health (not surprising given everything else I just said).

      It can’t be said enough: Bi is not gay/lesbian-lite.

  5. Can we just note that the term “LGBT men” seems a bit odd since L doesn’t usually refer to men?

  6. One study showing lesbians earning more then straight women adjusted to compare lesbians that also had children. The lesbians still earned a little bit more.

  7. I normally think Autostraddle is great on bi issues, and have long appreciated its strict line toward biphobia in comments sections. But does anyone else find it odd that this article (correctly) words to how “Queer women of color, trans women, older women and women raising children” face special disparities, but didn’t bother to mention that bi women face a special disparity, despite the numbers being right there in the charts that were displayed in the article? I’m glad that at least several commenters noticed.

    Thoughts on why: This is pulled straight out of my butt, but we know that sexual violence reduces earning power, at least for women (don’t know if this has been studied in non-women). Bi women are far more likely to experience sexual violence, especially rape, than straight women or lesbians. Maybe this is contributing to bi women’s higher levels of poverty.

  8. Hey babes! I’m seeing all your comments about bisexual specific issues and taking them to heart. Y’all know it’s never my intention to minimize the B, and probably what I should have done in this article is link again to this other superb report by LGBT MAP about bisexual Americans that came out in the fall. It speaks to a lot of the questions and comments y’all have brought up! Check it out here:

    • Thanks Audrey. I just came back to look at this thread and I appreciate the link and the fact that you responded. I’m planning to do some posts on my own blog soon about bi issues beyond (bi-yond?) the important but disproportionately-discussed one of queer community visibility.

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