February 12, 2014 at 4:30 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
SPECIAL REPORT: Poverty in the LGBT community
Kadeem Swenson, poverty, LGBT, gay news, Washington Blade

Kadeem Swenson told the Blade in 2010 that his parents kicked him out of the house for being gay. He spent a year living in abandoned buildings in D.C. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Editor’s note: This week, the Blade kicks off a special yearlong focus on poverty in the LGBT community. The occasional series will examine the problem with special reports from D.C. and around the country. To share your ideas or personal story, visit us on Facebook or email knaff@washblade.com.


As the 50th anniversary of the U.S. war on poverty launched by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 is commemorated this year, LGBT advocates are pointing to little noticed studies showing that the rate of poverty in the LGBT community is higher than that of the general population.

In a 2013 report analyzing data from the U.S. Census Bureau and other data measuring poverty in the United States, the Williams Institute, a research arm at the University of California Law School in Los Angeles that specializes in LGBT issues, concludes that rates of poverty are higher than the general population among gay men and lesbians between the ages of 18-44 and gay men and lesbians living alone.

The report shows that couples – both gay and straight – tend to have a lower rate of poverty than single people and the population as a whole. But it found that the poverty rate for lesbian couples is higher than that of gay male couples and opposite-sex couples and the poverty rate of same-sex African-American couples is higher than it is for opposite-sex African-American couples.

Among the report’s findings that surprised LGBT activists were data showing that bisexual men and women had poverty rates of 25.9 percent and 29.4 percent respectively – higher than gay men (20.5 percent) and lesbians (22.7 percent). The report says the same set of data show that heterosexual men had a poverty rate of 15.3 percent compared to a rate of 21.1 percent for heterosexual women.

“The LGB poverty data help to debunk the persistent stereotype of the affluent gay man or lesbian,” the Williams Institute report says.

“Instead, the poverty data are consistent with the view that LGB people continue to face economic challenges that affect their income and life chances, such as susceptibility to employment discrimination, higher rates of being uninsured, and a lack of access to various tax and other financial benefits via exclusion from the right to marry,” the report says.

The report uses the U.S. Census Bureau definition of poverty for 2012 in its analysis of LGBT poverty levels based on family income. That definition lists the “poverty line” for a single person household as an annual income of $11,815 or less. The poverty line for a two-person household was $15,079, and for a four-person household was $23,684 in 2012.


poverty, gay news, Washington Blade

Researchers with the Williams Institute say this graph summarizes their findings of higher poverty rates among samples of mostly LGB and some LGBT people in the U.S. The bar graph on the left represents data taken from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey (ACS). The chart in the center is taken from data from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2010 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG). The chart at right is from a 2012 phone survey conducted by the Gallup Poll organization. (Graph courtesy of the Williams Institute)

Trans poverty ‘extraordinarily high’


A separate study prepared jointly by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in 2011, called “Injustice at Every Turn,” shows dramatically higher rates of poverty and homelessness among transgender Americans in each state, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.

Kylar Broadus, senior policy counsel and director of the Trans Civil Rights Project for The Task Force, called the poverty rate in the transgender community “extraordinarily high.” He said a key factor leading to economic hardship among transgender people is the persistent problem of employment discrimination.

“There’s double the national rate of unemployment,” he said in discussing the trans community of which he said he’s a member. “And once we’re employed 90 percent of those surveyed reported experiencing harassment and discrimination on the job,” he noted in pointing to the NCTE-Task Force study.

“Forty-seven percent said they experienced adverse outcomes such as being fired, not hired or denied promotions because of being transgender or gender non-conforming,” Broadus said.

He said the respondents reported various forms of housing discrimination that are contributing factors to homelessness in the transgender community. According to the study, 19 percent of respondents reported having been refused a home or an apartment to rent and 11 percent reported being evicted because of their gender identity or expression.

“Nineteen percent experienced homelessness at some point in their lives because they were transgender or didn’t conform as well, and then 55 percent were denied access to shelters,” he said.

Another study released by the Williams Institute last week reports that 2.4 million LGBT adults, or 29 percent, “experienced a time in the last year when they did not have enough money to feed themselves or their family.”

The study, written by Williams Institute demographer Gary Gates, found that LGBT people are more likely to rely on the federal food stamp program for assistance than their heterosexual counterparts.

“One in four bisexuals (25 percent) receive food stamps,” the report says, “34 percent of LGBT women were food insecure in the last year; and LGBT African Americans, Native Americans, and Native Hawaiians experienced food insecurity in the last year at rates of 37 percent, 55 percent, and 78 percent respectively,” the report says.


LGBT homeless rate high in San Fran


Yet another report released last June found that 29 percent of the homeless population in San Francisco identified as LGBT. The report, which was part of the city’s biennial homeless count, included for the first time a count of the number of homeless people who identified themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Brian Bassinger, director of the San Francisco-based AIDS Housing Alliance, which provides services to the HIV and LGBT communities, said although the finding to some degree reflects the high LGBT population in San Francisco, which is 15 percent, he believes LGBT people make up a sizable percent of the homeless population in other cities throughout the country.

Bassinger said he also believes the 29 percent figure for San Francisco is most likely an under count and that the actual number is higher.

“LGBT people in the shelter system here are regularly targeted for violence, harassment and hate crimes, which are very well documented,” he said.

Since much of the effort to count homeless people in the city takes place at shelters, large numbers of LGBT homeless people are not counted because they generally avoid the shelters out of fear of harassment and violence, Bassinger said.

He said his group also closely monitors a development in San Francisco threatening to push the city’s older LGBT population into poverty and which may be occurring in other cities – the enormous rise in the cost of housing due to gentrification and a booming real estate market. Those who for years have lived in popular gay neighborhoods as tenants are being displaced by the conversion of rental apartment buildings and houses into upscale condominiums, Bassinger said.

“Long-term San Franciscans who have spent decades building the system to deliver access to equal treatment under the law here in San Francisco are getting displaced by all of these people moving into our community,” he said.

And because they can no longer afford to live in San Francisco many are being forced to move to other parts of the state or other states that are less LGBT friendly and don’t have the support community they came to enjoy for so many years, according to Bassinger.

The Williams Institute’s 2013 report, meanwhile, analyzes data from four surveys of the U.S. population with a demographic breakdown that included mostly gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals as well as a smaller, combined “LGBT” sample.

The four surveys were conducted by these organizations or government agencies:

• The 2010 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau with a sample of more than 500,000 and which included data from same-sex couple households.

• The National Survey of Family Growth conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics from 2006-2010 included a sample of more than 19,000 people throughout the country, including people who identified as LGB, the Williams Institute study says.

• The California Health Interview Survey conducted by UCLA’s Center for Health Policy Research in collaboration with California Department of Public Health surveyed more than 50,000 Californians, including LGB adults from 2007 to 2009.

• A Gallup Daily Tracking Poll conducted between June 1 and Sept. 30, 2012 with a sample of more than 120,000 adults from 18 and older, included people who identified themselves as LGBT in all 50 states and D.C. The poll was conducted by phone.

The report includes these additional findings on the subject of poverty in the LGBT community:

• 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 percent of gay male couples who don’t have a high school diploma are in poverty, compared to 18.8 percent of heterosexual couples.

• Lesbian couples living in rural areas are more likely to be poor (14.1 percent) compared to 4.5 percent of lesbian couples in large cities; 10.2 percent of gay male couples who live in small metropolitan areas are poor compared with just 3.3 percent of gay male couples who live in large metropolitan areas.

• Nearly one in four children living with a male same-sex couple and 19.2 percent of children living with a female same-sex couple is in poverty. This compares with 12.1 percent of children living with married heterosexual couples who are in poverty.

• African-American children in gay male households have the highest poverty rate (52.3 percent) of any children in any household type.

• 14 percent of lesbian couples and 7.7 percent of gay male couples received food stamps, compared to 6.5 percent of straight married couples. In addition, 2.2 percent of same-sex female couples received government cash assistance compared to 0.8 percent of women in different-sex couples. And 1.2 percent of men in same-sex couples received cash assistance compared to 0.6 percent of men in different-sex couple relationships who received cash assistance.

The report’s co-author Lee Badgett, a Williams Institute senior fellow and professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, said it’s difficult to draw a conclusion from the Williams Institute and other studies as to why there are higher poverty levels in the LGBT community.

“The people that I know who worked with LGBT people in poverty talk about the reasons being very complex,” she said.

“I suspect that there are lots of disadvantages that people face, whether it’s in the labor market or in schools and that maybe somehow they kind of come together, that they are sort of cumulative over time and make people more vulnerable to poverty. But I think we don’t really know exactly why that happens,” Badgett told the Blade.

In the Williams Institute report, she and co-authors Laura Durso and Alyssa Schneebaum call for further studies to explore the factors that contribute both to “poverty and economic resilience” within the LGBT community.

“Our analyses highlight different demographic subpopulations that may be particularly at-risk; however, we are unable to take a more fine-grained approach to identifying factors that contribute to poverty in these different communities,” the report says.

“Identifying the conditions under which individuals and families descend into and escape from poverty will aid service organizations and government agencies in designing interventions to address this significant social problem,” the report concludes.

Broadus of the Task Force said discrimination and bias make up at least some of the conditions that force LGBT people into poverty.

“We are less economically secure as a community due to suffering at the hands of discrimination in employment, marriage, insurance and less familial and societal support,” he said. “The LGBT community as a whole lives at the margins and some at the margins of the margins such as women, people of color and children. When some of our community is vulnerable we are all vulnerable.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • Gentrification is alienating gay people as our communities disappear and bars which we used to socialize in are disappearing. The Boston gay community was incredible 30 years ago for example. Now, there is no particular place that can be called a gay neighborhood and a city once full of great bars only has 4 or more very lame ones. The younger generation maybe okay with mixing at hetero bar and connecting online but the older generation is not. It’s nice to have an all gay space where you know everyone around you is the same. I hate mixed bars where I don’t know who is gay and not. It’s bad enough walking into a gay bar and connecting to other people. We like to socialize and actually meet new people face to face. It’s becoming to expensive to live in urban areas forcing people to feel isolated in relatively cheaper suburbs. Gay marriage expanding and increased media coverage of gay people give many the false assumption that there is more acceptance from society in general. It’s really just an illusion.

    Poverty rates maybe higher among GLB people because many were forced to drop out of High School due t harassment and bullying. This in turn limits their job prospects. But what is stopping them from getting a GED then seeking more education? The job market is increasingly competitive and College Degrees are becoming the equivalent of what a High School degree was once as so many are getting them now cheapening their value.

  • This is so sad,LGBTIs must unite all over the world to give relief and shelter to the homeless of the community.Thanks to Cyndi Lauper and the True Colors Foundation ,the pioneer institution in this field of activism, something has started to be done to help them.I hope the initiative finds many echoes worldwide someday. https://truecolorsfund.org/

  • #REALTALK. Talk bout it Ra Shawn Da-Professor Chisolm. #LGBT community. What is up with parent throwing their children to the waste side when they reveal their sexuality? Like what the fuck?

  • Especially in the African American community. Like WTF? For real….some of us black folks acting like we don't recognize anything…sort of running around with dark blinders on. UMPH. Probably gay yourself n don't want nobody to notice your DL lifestyle…raising children n then want to put the kids that come out in the confines of your homes into the streets. Just feed dem kids to the wolves while you spew asinine ish. Where they do that at except in dysfunctional environments. Speak on it Ra Shawn Da-Professor Chisolm. Thank you for posting the article….a conversation that is long over due. :O

  • No problem I heard stories about parents telling their kids they rather them be Gang bangers and drug dealers then being gay.

  • Ooooooo baby…….#ENOUGHALREADY with it! Seriously I am confused.

  • Excellent article Ra Shawn Da-Professor Chisolm. I am too tired to chime in and give a opinion lest I start misspelling words n whatnot. Ugh….grits teeth! :/

  • I really do not effin understand at all!!!! At ALL!!! NOPE. :O

  • Y’all two need to take that stupid convo elsewhere no solutions and talking crap

  • “The LGBT community as a whole lives at the margins and some at the margins of the margins such as women, people of color and children. When some of our community is vulnerable we are all vulnerable.”

  • What? You mean we all can't afford to take all the cruises and live a life of luxury 24/7/52
    ? About time somebody prints a report that many (if not most) of us can't have the high-income lifestyle we see in The Advocate and other gay media.

  • Yes,Trans people that have transitioned are the ones being highly discriminated against. The main reason is we can not hide our being Trans as someone being Gay. We change our name and gender markers if we can and out there 24/7 for people to see and usually know your Trans by your looks. I passed but my records and gender markers have not. Sure there are some in the Trans community that have made it big time because they had the money to change everything and the needed surgeries to do so. I run across more well to do Gay's than I do Trans. The whole LGBT and whatever letters it has now is a great big joke. I'm not new to this failing at my first attempt to transition back in the early 70's. I had two Gay brothers so I know their side of this story also. I went it alone in my final transition and even though I had to use all of my savings to live on and was forced to take my social security at 62 I survived. I gave up looking for work because of my past and the fact my credit was very bad by this time. Yes,companies won't hire you if you have bad credit along with being Trans I was fighting a losing battle. The crazy thing is most people I have met like me for me how I am now. It takes a good personality and confidence to make people like you. Having a chip on your shoulder gets you nowhere with people. I survive with what I have and live in peace with myself. It great we are being treated pretty well from 50 plus years ago and those of us that blazed the trails get very little credit for it.

  • I expect my comments will be extremely controversial and may anger some, although it is certainly not my intention. When I first realized (accepted) that I was gay, I relied very heavily on older gays as mentors to sort of teach me the ropes – not sex, but success. I was young and cute and older guys were very generous with their advice and information. When reading your article about the LGBT communuty’s higher incidence of poverty, I realize that for the adult portion of my 66 years I have been living in the bubble of the “persistant stereotype of affluent gay men and lesbians”. Literally all of the hundreds of gay and lesbian friends I have had through out my life have been smarter, more creative and had better jobs and work ethics on average than the straight people I have known. Almost to a one, every gay or lesbian friend had also experienced some sort of devistating rejection from family, friends, employer and stranger. A lot can be said for how a person allows these things to affect their lives and how much they are willing to do to mitigate homophobia. In my 20’s, I lost a job of eight years because I am gay, although I did not know until later that was the reason. I lived in the homophobic mid-west at the time and revealed more of my private life than they could handle. I was accutely aware of the extreme homophobia in that area because I could “pass” for a short time leaving the homophobic’s guard down and they would freely spew their hate. Although it was horribly difficult dealing with the job loss, I decided that since I had only one life to live I did not relish the idea of wasting it in such a despicable area. I moved to Washington, DC because it seemed far less homophobic and far more enlightened in the 70’s. Here I was able to use all of my tallents and education with minimal cloaking of my personal life and joined the stereotype. One thing I have learned is that the more one appears to deviate from the center of average society, the more difficul their path to acceptance. This is not fair but an unfortunate reality.The more that people around me could see our similarities, the less the differences seemed to matter. When a person decides to be in your face about their differences, they risk not giving the person the ability to see the sameness. That alienation negatively affects job and housing opportunities and is a very high price to pay. I remain extremely thankful for my family and straight friends and acquantences who have worked on eliminating the predujucies they once had. I also owe an eternal debt to my gay mentors. This is where as a community, we can help each other. There seems to be a lot of ugly age discrimination in the gay community, the very source of mentors, which is unfortunate as the strength of mentoring is a major benefit to the recepitient’s life.

    • When one reads the article and examined the graphs, one will see for gay men, 4 out of 5 DO NOT live in poverty. Congratulations on being of of them. It is good to hear success stories in our communities.

      Your comments are not controversial. Uninformed and insensitive, yes. Controversial, no. I did not feel it was your intention to be aloof and distant to the needs of those in our communities suffering.

      What is missing from the data is the correlation between those experiencing poverty and the frequency they face discrimination. Mike, stated you felt you once faced discrimination sufficient to cause termination from a job, even though you didn’t know it at the time.

      I can assure you, for those of us who have been fired for being LGBT ( and when I say LGBT, I mean gender non-conforming, because who one has sex with is not a basis of discrimination, it is the fact that same-sex coupling is gender non-conforming and THAT is the basis of discrimination for sex-sex loving members of the LGBT communities) we certainly knew it was because we were gender non-conforming.

      Some gay men and women “blend” into society sufficiently to avoid raising biases and prejudices. Take transgender OUT of those numbers and the gay numbers go down substantially.

      Controversial means giving rise to public disagreement. I don’t disagree with what you said. Gay men and women are not as discriminated against in anywhere near the same frequency and intensity as transgender and gender non-conforming members of the LGBT communities and having mentors and role models (thus a support network) is a significant factor in fostering those success stories which happen for many.

      For the 1 in 5, maybe someone can buy us some new bootstraps, discrimination and rejection cut ours off.

  • THE DEFINITION OF HOMELESS IS NOT JUST BEING ON THE STREET BUT SLEEPING ON COUCH TO COUCH, LIFE IN EXTENDED STAY MOTELS, RELIANT ON TEMPORARY SUBSIDIZED HOUSING PROGRAMS -Good article….“Instead, the poverty data are consistent with the view that LGB people continue to face economic challenges that affect their income and life chances, such as susceptibility to employment discrimination, higher rates of being uninsured, and a lack of access to various tax and other financial benefits via exclusion from the right to marry,” the report says.

  • Some good comments here, but I will just say one thing. There are lying ads parents out there (you know who you are) whi sit & watch Modern Family, but cant stomach the fact your child us homosexual. All of you need your mental capacity examined …shame on you all for being hypocrites & sorry excuses for parenting your children!

  • Gentrification and personal struggles effecting majority “socialist policies of equality in America” it appears. Victim has squabbles there’s always agencies not just “self support” organizations appropriate goal independence. Younger
    LGBTQ psychological and physical appearance recommend ask yourself where,do see yourself not as whole. LGBTQ society where not conceding in
    America myself from Nordic region,yes adamant fair housing,health and jobs.
    Lingering attitude lack preparation of goals besides acknowledging…your freedom must empower yourself. Squabbling among LGBTQ front plenty conservative “LGBTQ” hierarchy unfortunate myth persist we can’t resist. Where affluent “economic” not interest anyhow those not finding housing contact housing and LGBTQ centers additional information good luck.

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