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Election 2012: LGBT Equality Is an Economic Issue

While it may be an easy talking point for some to say, "I'm not a single issue voter... LGBT issues aren't all that matter," the actual truth about the intersection of LGBT rights and economic justice is inescapable.
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When cutting through the rhetoric of campaigns and the presidential election to get to the reality of the issues facing many Americans, one thing becomes clear very quickly: It is impossible to separate the need for LGBT equality from economic issues. While it may be an easy talking point for some to say, "I'm not a single issue voter... LGBT issues aren't all that matter," the actual truth about the intersection of LGBT rights and economic justice is inescapable.

Jobs, Wages, Poverty, and Workplace Discrimination

While some may try to separate the need for a focus on jobs and economic recovery from LGBT equality, the two are closely connected for many in the LGBT community. While media portrayals of affluent, white gays dominate the airwaves, the truth is that LGBT people face higher rates of joblessness, lower wages, and higher rates of poverty than their heterosexual counterparts, due in large part to the compounded issues of workplace discrimination and a slow economic recovery.

LGBT people, particularly LGBT people of color, face significant discrimination in the workplace due to their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Recent studies show that anywhere from 15 to 43 percent of gay people experience some form of discrimination and harassment at the workplace. For transgender Americans, the situation is even worse, with a staggering 90 percent of transgender workers reporting some form of harassment or mistreatment on the job.

To be clear, it is still perfectly legal to fire, or to refuse to hire, someone for no other reason than the fact they are gay or transgender, or even perceived as such, in the majority of states. Only 21 states and the District of Columbia have laws barring employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, while just 16 states and the District of Columbia have laws that ban employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression.

This pervasive discrimination against LGBT people leads to vast socioeconomic inequalities. Discrimination directly causes job instability and high turnover, resulting in greater unemployment and poverty rates for LGBT people, which strikes doubly hard in tough economic times.

The discrimination also leads to a wage gap between LGBT and straight workers. Gay men earn 10- to 32-percent less than similarly qualified heterosexual males, while older gay and lesbian adults experience higher poverty rates than their heterosexual counterparts. Findings also show that lesbian women across the board are consistently poorer than their heterosexual counterparts. Transgender people are twice as likely to be unemployed and are four times as likely to live in poverty. Nearly 20 percent have been or are currently homeless due to the issues stemming from workplace discrimination.

The economic news for LGBT families is startling, as well. Being denied the legal protections and economic safeguards provided to married heterosexual couples and parents contributes to higher economic insecurity for LGBT families. A 2009 Williams Institute report, "Tax Implications for Same-Sex Couples," finds that same-sex couples often pay more in taxes than heterosexual couples because the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriage. The report shows that the economic impact of marriage discrimination is significant: Same-sex couples are not able to file federal joint tax returns, cannot transfer property tax to their partners freely, and are not eligible for Social Security survival benefits.

And again, all these numbers multiply when factors like race and gender are added to the mix for LGBT people and their families.

This job insecurity in the LGBT community often results in insufficient income, sporadic health-care coverage, and inadequate or unsafe housing. The issues that many Americans are facing are compounded because of systemic discrimination on many fronts for the LGBT community, from employment discrimination to lack of relationship recognition.

It's the Economy, Stupid

So while many may criticize the LGBT community for focusing on basic equality and protections from discrimination, it is clear that these issues directly affect the economic stability of our lives and families. To try to claim that calls of "jobs, jobs, jobs" is more important than, or not even connected to, issues of equality is to deny the complex and systemic history of bias and discrimination that hurts LGBT people, women, and people of color.

That's why fully inclusive nondiscrimination laws that protect all LGBT workers on the local, state, and federal levels are essential to boosting the economic security of our community. It is also why having equal access to civil marriage rights, health coverage, and governmental services is vital to LGBT people's economic well-being. Securing equal rights for all would ensure that bigotry and ignorance do not perpetuate joblessness and economic hardship in the LGBT community.

To pretend that there is no connection between LGBT rights and economic security is to speak from a position of disconnect that is steeped in dishonesty and affluent privilege. It is clear that you have one political party seeking to strip rights from LGBT people, to the point of writing those calls for continued discrimination into their party platform and into their candidate's stump speeches, which goes straight to the heart of economic insecurity for the LGBT community. You also have another party seeking to expand access to equality through both their platform and actions. The choice should be clear for LGBT Americans.

There is simply no denying that equality is an economic issue.