Marla R. Stevens

That rich queer myth -- again.

Filed By Marla R. Stevens | July 24, 2005 9:02 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: African-American

A while back, people on the GayIndy list were discussing queers' incomes.

Yes, the myth of the wealthier than non-gay gay community was started by a research firm that looked the disproportionately prime-aged, wealthier, SINK and DINK male readers of certain gay publications and found, surprise, surprise, that they were younger, whiter, and wealthier than the average adult consumer -- basically certain advertisers' wet dreams. The company, Overlooked Opinions, which was located in Chicago, then passed this off as valid scientific research describing all gay people which it most certainly -- and, finally apologetically admitted as such by Overlooked Opinion's owner -- was not.

The only valid scientific research (properly using matched pairs) I know of on the incomes and relative wealth regarding gay people and non-gay people was conducted at the behest of the State of Maryland by then-University of Maryland -- College Park professor Lee Badgett. Lee has done followup work on behalf of NGLTF's Policy Institute, MIT, and the U.S. Census Bureau, some of which expanded on her original work's holes in ignoring the effects of lack of right to marry on couples' lifetime incomes. Her subsequent work also increased the information available on gay parents' incomes.

What Lee has consistently found is that, as with every other form of discriminatory oppression, homohatred has a negative effect on income. In other words, as a people, gay people are poorer than non-gay people due to antigay oppression and that, when other oppressions such as those based on race and sex are added to homohatred, the negative effect is compounded. Lesbians are thus poorer than gay men and lesbians of color raising children are, as a group, the poorest of us all -- which is very important information given that lesbians of color are the most likely of us to raise children.

There are, of course, gay people with plenty of disposable income but they are a niche and not the norm and, even they, as a niche group, are negatively affected fiscally by antigay oppression. In other words, as a subgroup, wealthy gay men, when taken as a whole, are less wealthy than wealthy non-gay men. (Ah, the blessings of matched pair research!)

They have -- we all have, for that matter -- been undermarketed and that the business community is finally starting to take more serious note of that is a good thing but it doesn't change the basic fact of our collective lower income as a people.

What gets to me about all this is the persistance of the rich queer myth -- defended most staunchly in my experience by those who most want to oppress us (religious political extremists) and many of our own people. The first group came as no surprise but the second one, who I've experienced to be the most viciously intractable when confronted by the facts -- well, the first time I experienced the angry vehemence of the denial was at a public talk I gave over a decade ago on the fight for marriage equality and how it would likely play out in Indiana and I was, frankly, astounded. I had personally discussed it with both Prof. Badgett and the Overlooked Opinions owner and provided much information to the audience beyond which was readily available -- information that was lapped up by the professors in attendance -- yet these students remained outraged in their denial to the point of rudeness.

It was something I was to experience again and again. In fact, on the GayIndy list over the years, I've provided the same basic information about the myth, how it came about, the players involved, updates, etc., yet still the myth persists among some of that list's regular readers.

I believe that it is due to some deep wounding in our collective psyche causing an odd clinging to a myth that is routinely used to further deny us equality and thus perpetuate the sad fiscal truth or make it worse -- but I have no proof of that. Have any of you had similar experiences or are any of you able to shed more substantiated light on the genus of this strange denial?

-- Marla

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AUTHOR: bilerico

DATE: 7/24/2005 09:23:28 PM

I think it's simply a repitition thing. I remember when the survey results came out. They were trumpeted across the gay media as a great way of upping gay-related advertising and marketing. The myth persists simply because it was repeated over and over by the straight and gay media - the refutation hasn't been. You've basically been a lone voice howling in the wilderness. By making ourselves into a niche-group, we were, in effect, making ourselves. We were like the small kid trying so hard for attention that he'll resort to getting bad attention as long as it's attention. And, even if it was wrong, a lot of GLBT folk took the erroneous stereotype to heart as a long-sought definition of "who" they were. It's too hard to explain our diversity as a people in neat, tidy, advertiser-friendly tidbits - the wide brush strokes are so much easier.

AUTHOR: Steph Mineart

DATE: 7/25/2005 08:07:15 AM

In my observation, some of the people in the GLBT community who are intractable about holding on to this gay myth are some of the niche group for whom it seems to be true -- the wealthy white gay men. I'm not sure whether it's a point of pride, or a self-esteem isssue, but they seem to want to believe that all GLBT people are making better incomes than their straight counterparts.Another reason why this is a dangerous myth -- it seems to parallel the centuries old anti-semetic stereotype that all Jewish people are rich; a stereotype that is the root cause of indescribable persecution, violence and death directed at Jews.

Just a comment. Overlooked Opinions never maintained or stated that its research represented "all gay people" nor was any sort of appology ever issued. Some people have very creative imaginations.

Our studies were conducted to gather the best information we could from gays and lesbians who could be identified and polled. No more no less.

Our final study had a sample size of over 200,000 individuals.

In this sample, over 4.5% were not even out to their "gay friends/associates", and over 14% of the male population in the sample was in fact married with no sexual contact with other men - just examples to illustrat that this was not a homogenious single point sample from magazine subscriptions as has been suggested by many.

I have read all the many criticisms over the years and without fail they have been misleading. I had chosen to ignore them because Overlooked's time is past, we did the best we could, brought attention and some light on our community and that was that.

Not sure why i am responding here. Perhaps because of the statement which placed some sort of appology in my mouth.

Also for the record, overlooked did many studies showing quite clearly that when demograhics such as age, number of workers in a household, and location were removed as covariates that there was virtually no dfference between gay and nongay household incomes. That was the reality then and most likely is the reality now.

The affluent gay market was not a myth - rather it was an artifact of household structure, geography and relative lack of children in the household.

The media chose not to focus on these facts no matter how often i restated them.

Finally the research you cite from Lee Badgett has its own problems which you may or may not be aware of.

Some of her studies were conducted specifically to show low gay incomes as a way to "prove" that gays and lesbians are disadvataged and discriminated againt.

Overlooked actully collected her first data set in conjunction with NGLTF. We paid for it, did the data tabulation and analysis and when we did not want to edit the conclusions in certain ways we decided to hand over the dataset to NGLTF and demanded that our name not be placed on it.

So in short, history and the facts are not as simple as you present above.

One last thing - if anyone had ever wanted to ask of me specific questions about overlooked's data collecton they could have emailed me [email protected] I have never received such a request. Its far easier to just say our work was garbage than to bother givng it a fair assessment. My email has never changed in all these years.

Jeffrey J Vitale
Founder, Overlooked Opinions, Inc.

[email protected]