winter Chicago house

Together, we stand at a crossroads of progress in HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ civil equality, but that progress is not being felt by those who are homeless and low-income in those communities.”  – Rev. Stan Sloan, Chief Executive Officer of Chicago House

This is the season that for many brings cheer, fond memories and merriment. Unfortunately it is also the time of year when those of us who are less fortunate can feel sadness. Some might say that poverty can affect anybody and everybody, but in the United States, persons of color are affected at a notably higher rate – especially blacks and Hispanics.  Factor in the marginalization and discrimination faced by individuals in the LGBTQ community, and consider the implications of these socioeconomic hardships during the ‘festive’ season. This time for family and sharing can be quite a different experience for people facing these hardships, but it doesn’t have to be.

It has been fifty years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the legislation that outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, in which time, it is important to note, there has been progress in the reduction of poverty, particularly for African Americans and Latinos. That said, people of color are  still more likely to live in areas with high poverty rates, which continues the cycle of systemic discrimination, and the brunt of policies that lead to mass incarceration. Rates of poverty in LGBTQ adults are higher than heterosexual adults, as they face unique obstacles due to their sexual orientation and gender identity, which lead to higher risk of homelessness, harassment and discrimination.

According to a 2011 jointly prepared study by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, rates of poverty and homelessness are dramatically higher among trangender Americans. Kylar Broadus, Senior Public Policy Counsel with the Transgender Civil Rights Project calls the rate of poverty in the transgender community “extraordinarily high”. A key factor to this economic hardship is persistent employment discrimination.

We need progress, and cannot afford further stagnation on this very important issue. With the recent win for marriage equality many are wondering, “What next?” The answer in short: addressing poverty.  This is clearly a multi-faceted and complex issue but the key to change starts with social awareness. This topic needs to be openly discussed so that it can be brought to the forefront of the minds of individuals who can seek to create change in their own lives and those around them. Whether you are in a position to help end this discrimination by forging a more diverse workforce in your own employment strategies, or merely by discussing these issues in the workplace to bring it into consciousness, making it clear that you don’t stand for discrimination is just one way you can help.

Another way of course, particularly with Christmas around the corner, is the gift of giving. Gift exchange is a major part of celebrating holidays, and donating to a nonprofit over the holidays is a great way to bring cheer to all, to spread that love to our global family and increase the strength of a shared community. There are also the psychological benefits for you as gift-giver!

A 2008 study ‘Feeling Good About Giving’ by Harvard Business School Professor Michael Norton and colleagues, found that giving makes us feel happy, and that giving money to someone else lifted an individual’s happiness more than spending it on themselves. Renowned Philosopher Peter Singer also says, “Becoming an effective altruist gives you meaning and fulfillment, it enables you to have a solid basis for self-esteem on which you can feel your life was really worth living.

Be a part of positive cultural change this holiday season, whether that’s spending your time volunteering, making donations, or merely lending your voice to help end poverty and discrimination.  Every bit helps. Thanks in advance for taking part in the effort to address poverty in our community. Enjoy the gift of giving this holiday season.