Michelle Marzullo

The Recession and LGBT Communities

Filed By Michelle Marzullo | December 05, 2009 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: DINKS, economic policy, LGBT, money, personal finances, pink economy, recession

The global economic recession has been rolling over the world full force for over a year now. We have seen the markets flowing in red, homeowners being turned out at a rate not seen since the great depression, and the economy "shedding" jobs by the millions--a term far too positive and faceless for the gravity of the situation.

I was riding along in my car one fine afternoon wondering how all of this impacts LGBT people when the National Public Radio (NPR) show called "Marketplace" began. Since I am no economist, I always find the reporting on this show to be factual yet pithy, exactly how I like my economic information. Get to the point. Be entertaining. Speak my language. Good. Well, until they covered a story about how DINKs (Dual Income, No Kids) are handling the recession.

To Marketplace's credit, the most I've seen in the press or from LGBT organizations on the economic implosion is about the "disappointing fact" that the recession will put off moves towards marriage equality or other important policy concerns to the community. While all of these policies are important, no one actually addresses how our communities are doing nor why we may have particular concerns regarding the economy or what we can do to safeguard ourselves.

Indeed, from past experience I know that we all do have good reason to worry. LGBT people are economically vulnerable in the best of times. Our pay is usually lower and the jobs that we are able to obtain may be more vulnerable to surreptitious firing for our sexual orientation and/or gender identities. To help a little, a federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is currently winding its way through Congress. If you support this legislation call your congresspersons today by clicking here.

ENDA is a federal bill that would protect all people in the US who claim or are perceived to have non-normative sexual orientations and gender identities from being discriminated against in the workplace. There is no such federal law at this time though different states and municipalities have varying laws barring such discrimination. Read more here and watch Brad Sears, Executive Director of the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law testify at a hearing regarding H.R. 3017, Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2009 on September 23, 2009.

Without federal-level protections, the guarantee of "work hard and prosper" as the most fundamental promise of the American Dream is denied to those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans among other non-hetero, non-gender conforming identities. There is hope that ENDA will be voted on by the end of this year but that's quite far off for those suffering presently.

In light of all this, how are LGBT folks faring in these, the worst of times? To assess this question, Marketplace sent a small team to Times Square and Provincetown, Massachusetts (P-Town is a popular vacation destination for LGBT folks). In Times Square they saw that a few young, heterosexual DINKs on a shopping spree were doing well. Similarly, they found that the gay and lesbian DINKs on holiday in P-Town were also doing great by citing the fact that many were kicking back $10 cocktails and having a gay ol' time. Isn't that a relief?! To support this proposition, Marketplace interviewed a handful of locals as well as the marketing firm who has been working against the myth of the pink economy since the early 1990s.

Now, if you have never heard of the myth of the pink economy, it goes something like this: most "gays" are DINKs (coupled with dual income, no kids) and will stay that way. They have good jobs, they do not aspire to have or adopt children, and they are all at least middle class. Most are assumed to be white. So, they have gobs and gobs of money just waiting to be spent if marketers can figure out how to reach them. Sounds neat, doesn't it?

The P-Town interviews focused on a handful of locals to support their supposition of no worries in DINK-land. One person they spoke with was entertainer Mark Sam Rosenthal. He was interviewed to help them to "prove" their point. At the moment, Mr. Rosenthal was engaged in a Commercial St. tradition of luring theatre-goers into his show by standing on the street in the minutes leading up to it.

The show was called, "Blanche Survives Katrina in a FEMA Trailer Named Desire." To Marketplace's question of whether the P-Town crowds have been impacted by "the greatest recession since the Great Depression?" Mr. Rosenthal replied, "No, but I wasn't here for that one. I'm not that old! I mean, I hear that it's worse than last summer, but I don't see the greatest, whatever you said." While Mr. Rosenthal's racially-charged satire has drawn critical acclaim, he is no economist.

Marketplace also interviewed Wes Combs of the marketing firm Witeck-Combs Communications. While that firm has fought against the myth of the pink economy since the 1990s, PRI used their finding to paint LGBT respondents as, "more confident about what's going on right now and what they're seeing, and there's also some additional evidence to show that they're spending more when they go out, specifically with travel."

Now main problem with this PRI report on DINKs is that they are not all the same--even the homos--lest the title fool you. Of course, there will be some gays and lesbians going out and spending money on travel and such, as Witeck-Combs found. What PRI did not report was that not all LGBT people are doing so nor did they emphasize that there are many LGBT folks who are not coupled or in dual-income relationships. Reporting this may have seemed like overemphasizing the fact but given that many Americans do not understand that all LGBT-people are not the same, it would be an important point of clarification.

Indeed, reporting on LGBT economic issues is a sensitive topic as care must be taken to emphasize that the economic picture of LGBT individuals varies widely. Not taking such care perpetuates myths of the pink economy and a like myth that all gays are affluent. This "affluence" myth has recently been used to argue against LGBT people needing federal protections under ENDA. As Bob Witeck recently reports, "the Traditional Values Coalition and other opponents, once again, selectively cherry pick data to argue that 'gay incomes don't justify ENDA.' In an action alert made in October 2009, the TVC writes that it doesn't appear 'that LGBT individuals are suffering any widespread or systematic discriminatory treatment as employees. Clearly, the stated purpose of ENDA is based on a falsehood about widespread discrimination against LGBT individuals.'" Grouping all LGBT people together as one economic unit is the same as saying that all heterosexuals are in the same financial situation without regard to education level, marital/cohabitation status, profession, socioeconomic class, race/ethnicity, or citizenship status. Put in those terms, the idea that all "gays" are DINKs is silly.

All this glossing over and collapsing down of our communities to fit into a tidy, MarketPlace clip had me seeing red. And it began as such a nice afternoon drive.

In the blog series that follows, I will focus on how people in our communities are faring under the recession outside of the mythic occupants of "pink economy" land. I will also interview scholars examining these issues as well as professionals who provide individual financial advice. In addition, I will collect some online tools to help us do something more about these issues in our own lives.

In the forthcoming installment of the series, I will interview economist Dr. M.V. Lee Badgett, who is the author of "Money, Myths, and Change: The Economic Lives of Lesbians and Gay Men." I will ask her about how much we actually know about LGBT people in the economy and what kinds of things are being done to improve what we know.

In that book, Dr. Badgett, "refutes the common stereotype that lesbians and gay men are more affluent than heterosexuals. Studying the ends and means of gay life from an economic perspective, she paints a more accurate picture than ever before of gay and lesbian standards of living, financial and family decisions, and professional lives, analyzing along the way the crucial issues that affect the livelihood of gay men and lesbians: workplace discrimination, denial of health care benefits to partners and children, the corporate wooing of gay consumer dollars, and the use of gay economic clout to inspire social and political change," (Excerpted from the book's dust jacket).

Along with authoring "Money, Myths and Change," Dr. Badgett has recently written a book on marriage equality entitled, "When Gay People Get Married" (NYU Press, 2009). Dr. Badgett is Professor of Economics and Director at the Center for Public Policy and Administration at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Splitting her time between coasts, she also serves as the Research Director at the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Stay tuned.

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A couple of years ago, my Partner and I attended
a showing of a movie (narrated by Judy Shepard)
on youth homelessness. After seeing this movie,
we were strongly made aware of the large percentage of homeless youth which are LGBT.

I see that you use the term "LGBT" in your title and in the piece repeatedly, but your examples and arguments relate exclusively to lesbians and gays. I don't see a relevant mention of transgender people and our experiences in the entire piece, other than simply that we're included in ENDA.

What's up with that?

Michelle Marzullo Michelle Marzullo | December 5, 2009 7:39 PM

Thank you for your comment Rebecca. As you read, this will be a series on economic issues. I mention LGBT as I intend to address some issues that attend to these various identities: lesbian, gay, trans, bisexual. I hope you will re-read this keep that in mind. While you are reading please also notice that I don't address any real economic issues on gays, lesbians or bisexuals either. Indeed, I talk of none specifically. My point here is that I wrote the piece using Market Places' report--THEY focus on "gay" dinks. My piece made what I think is a strong point to emphasize that THEY glossed our communities as all one thing--namley "gay" and only discusses affluent DINKS.

The point of the blog was to introduce the topic of economics, which I intend on expanding on in successive blogs to give attention to issues within the lesbian and gay and trans and bisexual communities while simultaneously understanding the limits of what can be done in a tiny blog. That's what's up with that.

Ok, fair enough. I look forward to reading your next installment.

I hope you don't think I was trying to attack you, but IMHO this kind of thing, the use of "LGBT" to define a topic that really is focused directly on gays and lesbians exclusively, is a common problem with our community media. When I see something posted where that appears to be the case, I question it.

Given that even before the recession, only 1 in 3 Trans people were in fulltime employment in the NE states - and the average income for the ones lucky enough to have jobs was $15k/year - I think that there's a significant difference between the GLB and T situations. One that even a necessarily condensed article should have mentioned from the start.


I look forward to your comments about the Pink Economy.

But, I must take exception to this statement

"Without federal-level protections, the guarantee of "work hard and prosper" as the most fundamental promise of the American Dream is denied to those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans among other non-hetero, non-gender conforming identities."

ENDA and other laws are not "protections." They never have been and they never will be (REF Civil Rights Act of 1964). Hate Crimes, ENDA and other "protective" measures do not come with a security force 24/7 and anyone who violates them simply has to choose a different reason. These laws are about punishment - not equality. Equality is our goal.

I look forward to your series.

Just remember:
"Everyone's a critic!"

If your post wasn't good, it wouldn't have attracted our critique, would it?

Thanks for doing this, and don't let the peanut gallery (including me) put you off continuing. It's far easier to critisise than to synthesise.

I'm sure you mean well, but the following "a priori" declaration makes my teeth hurt:

"LGBT people are economically vulnerable in the best of times. Our pay is usually lower and the jobs that we are able to obtain may be more vulnerable to surreptitious firing for our sexual orientation and/or gender identities."

WHAT is your "proof" for these statements? Why are they any more credible than the nonsense behind "all gays are affluent"? One could say that "affluent gays are affluent" and easily imagine that, in more places than not, the more one is out or perceived to be LGBT (vs. simply LGBT) the more measurable negative impact on one's economic status, e.g., are out LGBTs less likely to be promoted?

Assuming your statements are based upon some "study,"

1. who did it? What is his/her expertise?
2. what was there methodology, i.e.,

a. how many people did they study and
b. how did they come to be involved, e.g., did they respond to a magazine or newspaper article, were they solicited from participants involved in LGBT-identified activies, from telephone surveys, etc.?

I respectfully submit that because of the ongoing reluctance of many to self-identify as LGBT that there is NO SUCH THING as a survey on ANY topic that can possibly meet the minimum criteria for application to ALL LGBTs. Put in research speak: there is simply no way to determine a credible "margin of error."

That includes "public opinion surveys" and "voter exit polling," though the latter instance suggests greater credibility because of the extremely disproportionate results, e.g., it would be reasonable to assume, based on the responses of SELF-IDENTIFIED LGBs [I haven't seen any that included Ts yet] that the majority of LGBs did vote for Obama [Kerry, Gore, Clinton] but it's, at best, hubris, to declare that some exact percentage did.

The issue is not one of the built-in challenges to statistics but one of epistemology...the ability to know, in this case, what the actual number is of your POTENTIAL respondents.

Until you, and everyone else involved in similar pontificating, responsibly qualifies your statements, e.g., "LGBT people [WHO PARTICIPATED IN ____ STUDY WERE] economically vulnerable in the best of times. [THEIR] pay is usually lower and the jobs that [THEY WERE] able to obtain may be more...." this reader will not take your writing seriously....and that includes the sources of the assertions that "only 1 in 3 Trans people were in fulltime employment in the NE states - and the average income for the ones lucky enough to have jobs was $15k/year."

Thank you.

Michael -
Bias in the Workplace: Consistent Evidence of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination By M.V. Lee Badgett, Holning Lau, Brad Sears, and Deborah Ho June 2007

This report reviews more than 50 studies over the last decade and demonstrates a disturbing and consistent pattern: sexual orientation-based and gender identity discrimination is a common occurrence in many workplaces across the country. Surveys of GLBT individuals, studies of the sexual orientation earnings gap, and controlled experiments all provide evidence of discriminatory treatment.
Some highlights:

* Fifteen to 57% of transgender employees reported that they experienced employment discrimination on the job.

* In six separate studies conducted between 1996 and 2006, 20% to 57% of transgender respondents reported having experienced employment discrimination at some point in their life.

* Between 13 and 56 percent of the transgender respondents to those six studies were fired from their jobs, and between 13 and 47 percent of transgender respondents were denied employment.

* Based on their gender identity alone, between 22 and 31 percent of transgender respondents were harassed at work and 19 percent were denied promotions.

Transgender individuals also report high rates of unemployment and very low earnings:

* Between 6 and 60 percent of transgender respondents reported being unemployed.

* Between 22 and 64 percent of the employed transgender population earns less than $25,000 per year.

Source: DiversityJobs

So... what's your evidence that these studies are wrong?

My evidence that they are wrong is the same as that which you presented that they are right: NONE. But, if anything, your quoted source proves there ARE NO definitive answers about HOW MUCH discrimination there is.

Look again at those broad number spreads.

"15 to 57%"

"20% to 57%"

"Between 13 and 56 percent"

"Between 13 and 47 percent"

"Between 6 and 60"

"Between 22 and 64"

Those differences are so GIGANTIC that the most any person TRYING to be objective could conclude is that, while there is "evidence of discriminatory treatment," the data, so far, is simply too inconsistent to say HOW extensive it is.

Hypothetical situation: you're in your favorite fair trade organic tofu candy shoppe. Suddenly several gun shots and screams are heard outside. The silence for several minutes. Wondering if it's safe to go outside, you ask the person next to you. She replies, "Well 6 percent of us think it is and 60 percent of us think you'd better keep your ass right where it is."

What would you do?

Finally, in addition to not responding to the core of my basic objection which was Ms. Marzullo's implicit broadbrushing "[all] LGBT", even if the results among those 50 studies were close enough to be REMOTELY credible on their face, you failed to address the FIRST criteria: how were the respondents identified and how many were there?

NOTA BENE: I never asserted, nor do I believe, that such discrimination is not extensive, but these studies tell us nothing credible in relation to how extensive. It MIGHT be even MORE.

Thank you.

The reason for the wide bounds is because the situation is quite different in different areas of the USA.

Within say, the NE states, the numbers are consistent. But they differ markedly from the SE, which differs markedly from the midwest etc.

38 states still permit the summary dismissal of Trans people. 12 do not. That's one reason for the disparity, though the difference is less marked than you might think.

As for the selection criteria, read the paper and chase up the individual studies. The quality varies a lot.

The studies are consistent though in one respect: whatever the situation is for GLBs, the situation for Ts is approximately 4 times worse. In an area where X% of GLB people are unemployed, about 4X% T's are unemployed.