Progress in the LGBTQ

I recently watched this incredibly sappy but wonderful movie entitled, “The Fault in Our Stars.” Without giving too much away, there is a pretty incredible “aha moment” for our leading lady where she talks about time.

“There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There’s .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities….”

Profound, right? The idea that some infinities are bigger than other infinities is simple yet complex at the same time. It seems like when good times end, they are much too short and when bad times start, they couldn’t end fast enough. Time is what we make of it, right?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, until 1973 homosexuality was a mental illness. That was just 42 years ago. Forty-two years in the span of time that it usually takes to change policy is a small infinity as compared to others, but when you live in any infinity it can feel like forever.

Thirty-seven years ago, the first openly gay man, Harvey Milk, was elected to office in a major U.S. city when he won a seat on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors in early 1978. Nine years later, Barney Frank became the first openly gay Member of Congress in 1987.

In 1993, the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was implemented in the U.S. military, permitting gays to serve in the military but banning homosexual activity.

In 2000, Vermont became the first state in the country to legally recognize civil unions between gay or lesbian couples.

Fast forward to 2015 when the Boy Scouts of America ended its ban on gay adult leaders and marriage equality was finally a done deal, but our community is still left with a void.

In looking over all of the challenges that the LGBTQ community has overcome, I was slapped in the face with the realization that even within one community the fact that some infinities are definitely bigger than other infinities is true. So many issues have been taken on and championed by the awesome movement makers in the LGBTQ community but I am uncertain why poverty isn’t one of them.

Sure there has been action taken to address discrimination, which would then help with access to employment, but there hasn’t been a specific emphasis on addressing poverty in the LGBTQ community. Movement makers are collecting data to help bring awareness to this challenge.

Poverty isn’t new. Back when the fight was just to remove homosexuality as a mental illness 42 years ago, there was poverty. And the crisis has only gotten worse, especially for people of color.

The statistics below demonstrate the high incidence of poverty in the LGBTQ community, which is especially acute among same-sex couples with children, African Americans in same-sex couples, women in same-sex couples (outside of metro areas especially), transgender individuals, LGBTQ youth and LGBTQ seniors:

  • Food Insecurity: More than one in four (29%) LGBTQ individuals – or approximately 2.4 million people – experienced a time in the last year when they did not have enough money to feed themselves or their family, compared to 18% of non-LGBTQ individuals (Gates 2014).
  • Household Income: More than four in ten LGBTQ adults aged 18-44 who were raising children (43%) live in poverty, and approximately 650,000 LGBTQ people participate in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). These rates are substantially higher than among non-LGBTQ Americans. More, African-American same-sex couples are three times more likely to live in poverty than their straight counterparts.
  • Youth Homelessness & Poverty: An estimate 1.6 million youth in the US experience homelessness each year, and up to 40% of those identify as LGBTQ. One in five children living with same sex couples are living in poverty.
  • Extreme Poverty: Transgender people are four times more likely to live in extreme poverty (household income under $10,000) (National Transgender Discrimination Survey).

The stereotype of affluence that characterizes the LGBTQ community has helped the community make unprecedented gains in civil equality; however, research has shown that this stereotype is simply not accurate, creating an “invisibility” in both LGBTQ and Poverty discussions as well as in related programs and support networks. In reality, same-sex couples and LGBTQ-identified people are at significant economic disadvantage compared to different-sex couples and non-LGBTQ people.


In order to help address this problem, Chicago House has partnered with the The Center for American Progress, The Vaid Group LLC, and The Williams Institute at UCLA Law School to form The LGBTQ Poverty Collaborative. The partners seek to articulate an LGBTQ poverty agenda, link the LGBTQ movement more closely with poverty-focused advocacy, increase support and commitment to fighting LGBTQ poverty among LGBTQ donors, and to create awareness of the disproportionate needs and unique barriers in LGBTQ Poverty with government entities and their associated funding streams.

Maintaining LGBTQ solidarity through the umbrella concept of poverty won’t happen naturally, but with intentional focus it can happen in logical progression: from marriage equality toward civil equality, and from civil equality toward lived equality. As its primary contribution to the work of the Collaborative, Chicago House seeks to launch a “Proud to Share” marketing campaign to promote LGBTQ people taking care of those most vulnerable and most in need in the LGBTQ community. Virtual and viral activism is now possible in ways that were unthinkable at the outset of the HIV/AIDS and Marriage Equality movements, and they will be critical components of mobilizing such a campaign.

The Proud to Share campaign will launch next spring. Stay tuned for more news to come!