Garrard Conley

The Real Whopper: The Persistent Myth of Gay Affluence

Filed By Garrard Conley | July 10, 2014 9:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Media, The Movement
Tags: Apple, Burger King, Cheryl Strayed, gay affluence, LGBTQ poverty, poverty, pride, Pride Parade, Proud Whopper

gaybkcrown.jpgWith so much recent hand-wringing over a small percentage of corporate America's bear-hug embrace of LGBTQ rights, now is as good a time as any to reconsider some deep-seated falsehoods. Responding to Burger King's Proud Whopper, a rainbow-wrapped standard Whopper with the inscription "We Are All The Same Inside," Julie Bindel at the The Guardian offers a sweeping generalization on the current state of LGBTQ political identity:

Almost every aspect of gay life has been commercialised - we can buy sperm, gay-themed wedding services, and holidays - and whenever there is a gay festival or event, the banks, airlines, restaurant chains and other large companies are usually there to profit, all in the name of supporting our quest for equality.

It is hardly surprising that we sometimes appreciate being targeted by big business. Gay men, in particular, tend to have more disposable income than their heterosexual counterparts, and while there has been a baby boom in the gay community as a whole, the majority of lesbians still don't have children, so potentially have more money to spend on luxury items such as exotic holidays and expensive clothing.

While not many would deny that much of big business has opened its ranks for LGBTQ folks, the myth of gay affluence is a harmful one. Whether intentionally or not, it fosters a stereotype that severely distorts the needs of our community; it obscures what it is we have at stake. Most of all, it's just grossly inaccurate, certainly in the United States.

According to the Williams Institute, an independent national think tank at UCLA Law focusing on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy, "LGB populations are more likely to be poor than heterosexual people." Their findings, published June 2013, reveal some salient statistics, and they deserve quoting at length here, after the break.

  • In the American Community Survey, 7.6% of lesbian couples, compared to 5.7% of married different-sex couples, are in poverty.
  • African American same-sex couples have poverty rates more than twice the rate of different-sex married African Americans.

  • One third of lesbian couples and 20.1 % of gay male couples without a high school diploma are in poverty, compared to 18.8% of different-sex married couples.
  • Lesbian couples who live in rural areas are much more likely to be poor (14.1%), compared to 4.5% of coupled lesbians in large cities. 10.2% of men in same-sex couples, who live in small metropolitan areas, are poor, compared with only 3.3% of coupled gay men in large metropolitan areas.
  • Almost one in four children living with a male same-sex couple and 19.2% of children living with a female same-sex couple are in poverty, compared to 12.1% of children living with married different-sex couples. African American children in gay male households have the highest poverty rate (52.3%) of any children in any household type.
  • 14.1% of lesbian couples and 7.7% of gay male couples receive food stamps, compared to 6.5% of different-sex married couples. Also, 2.2% of women in same-sex couples receive government cash assistance, compared to .8% of women in different sex couples; 1.2% of men in same-sex couples, compared to .6% of men in different-sex couples, receive cash assistance.

And this isn't even taking into account our T and Q populations or the fact that 40% of homeless youth are LGBT. Much of this information is well known to LGBTQ activists, but as Nathan McDermott writes in The Atlantic, "few cultural outlets accurately represent the realities gays and lesbians face in America today."

These realities consist of "poverty, discrimination, homelessness and food insecurity."

In the age of applauding celebrity confessions and watching thousands of Apple employees join the San Francisco Pride Parade to hand out $1 iTunes gift cards to passersby, it's sometimes easy to forget that these displays are considered displays because they are so rare.

These videos receive so many views, so much applause, because many of the people who have experienced or witnessed discrimination firsthand are eager for a vision of a future where none of that exists. As Cheryl Strayed writes in her "Dear Sugar" column, seeing a public display such as a pride parade can be cathartic for people who know a thing or two about the pain oppression can inflict on people:

My kids never understand why I'm crying. The parade seems like a party to them and when I try to explain that the party is an explosion of love that has its roots in hate, I only confuse them more, so together we just stand on the sidelines, laughing and crying, watching that ecstatic parade.

I think I cry because it always strikes me as sacred, all those people going by. People who decided simply to live their truth, even when doing so wasn't simple. Each and every one of them had the courage to say, This is who I am even if you'll crucify me for it.

There is still much to debate re: the issue of LGBTQ inclusion and what this does to our political identity, but we will never move forward if we don't erase the myths that continue to set us back. Our public displays of love -- even the viral variety -- are born out of poverty.

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