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Why is it harder for LGBT people to be financially secure?

March 22, 2019

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By Naomi Goldberg

Mar 20, 2019

Everyone deserves a chance to provide for themselves and their families through hard work rewarded with fair pay. Yet for the estimated 11 million lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) adults in the United States, achieving economic security is especially difficult.

Why? To start, there is no federal legislation that explicitly prohibits discrimination at work based on sexual orientation and gender identity. And while some states have passed laws providing protection, half of LGBT peoplelive in states that don’t provide such explicit protections. Add in discrimination in health care, housing, credit, education, and day-to-day life, and it is not surprising to learn that LGBT people report lower overall economic well-being compared to their peers.

And even in states with laws explicitly prohibiting such discrimination, subtle and less-than-subtle harassment and discrimination can mean that LGBT people get passed over for a promotion or don’t get hired at all. In a 2018 survey, 46 percent of LGBT workers said they were “closeted” at work, which can impact performance — as workers may be distracted, less connected to a team, and ultimately feel unhappy or depressed at work.

Far too many LGBT people face hostile workplaces or lose their jobs because of who they are. In 2015, 30 percent of transgender people reported being harassed at work, fired, or otherwise mistreated at work in the past year. And the impact of that discrimination is that transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, are more than twice as likely to live in poverty than the general population and three times as likely to be unemployed.

It is time to update to our nation’s laws to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

The challenges for LGBT people extend beyond the workforce and into personal finances: LGBT Americans are more likely than many others to struggle to make ends meet, showing higher rates of poverty, greater reliance on the safety net, and less certainty about the future. Analyses from the Williams Institute released earlier this month show that LGBT people are more likely to be unemployed, uninsured, experience food insecurity, and have incomes less than $24,000. These findings often come as a surprise to many given that the media and even politicians often inaccurately portray LGBT people and their families as being well-off.

These struggles are compounded for LGBT parents, of which there are many. In America, 29 percent of LGBT people are raising children, with the share exceeding 40 percent in some states. Parenting can be a challenge for adults of all stripes, but can be especially difficult for LGBT people — who often raise children in the face of discrimination, with no guarantee of paid sick time or family leave, and the added risk of being fired simply because of who they are or what their families look like.

All told, the reality for LGBT adults is that they often work, make ends meet, and parent in the face of severe discrimination — frequently without laws to protect them from these inequities.

With the reality of LGBT America in clearer view, what to do also becomes clearer. It is time to update to our nation’s laws to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Last week, the Equality Act was introduced in Congress. The bill would ensure that all Americans can work hard and be treated fairly regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

States and cities are taking steps to protect their residents from discrimination through state laws and local ordinances that prohibit discrimination at work, in housing, and in places of public accommodations like restaurants and daycare centers. Basic nondiscrimination protections are critical to ensuring the economic well-being of all Americans. And more is needed.

It is time to pass meaningful leave laws that allow workers to take paid time from work to care for themselves or a family member. LGBT people are more likely to be caring for a loved one who isn’t legally recognized. Laws like Arizona’s paid sick time law and the sick leave ordinance in Chicago, which have broad definitions of family, offer job security during times of crisis.

It is time for health insurance to cover transition-related care so that transgender people can access medically necessary care without needing to jump through hoops or face outright denial.

These policies will have a tangible impact on the lives of millions of LGBT people and their families. After all, these Americans deserve the chance to provide for themselves and their families without the threat of lower pay, inadequate benefits, or being fired simply because of who they are.


Naomi Goldberg is policy and research director at the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), an independent, nonprofit think tank that provides rigorous research, insight and communications that help speed equality and opportunity for all. MAP works to ensure that all people have a fair chance to pursue health and happiness, earn a living, take care of the ones they love, be safe in their communities, and participate in civic life.