LGBTs to Pope: Yes, Lets Talk About Poverty

Papal frenzy has struck America. Schools systems have shut down, air traffic has been halted, and politicians from both sides of the aisle are scooping up phrases from his speeches. For LGBT people, his apparent ambivalence seems like an improvement from the past, but ultimately he has re-wrapped a series of familiar messages. He has called for rejecting "unjust discrimination," but his use of this old term reflects previous Catholic doctrine, which holds that some discrimination is perfectly justified.

Understandably, some LGBT people see the Church as a permanent adversary, and the discussion ends there. Some LGBT Catholic groups have sought to engage in discussion with the Pope and the hierarchy, seeking inclusion and reconciliation. Truth be told, my mother would probably fit into the former category. We come from a very Catholic family (one of our ancestors, was beatified by Pope Pius XI). As a young French woman my mother left the Church because of her suspicions of the Popes complicity with the Nazis, as well as her disgust of the local clergy who seemed to be "more interested in girls' skirts than girls' souls."

For me, still not Catholic either, I see the Church as a powerful institution which must be confronted. There are 1.2 billion Catholics around the world. The Holy See is a voting member of the United Nations, one of the world's largest providers of education and social services, and a vigorous political voice. As the media coverage in the past few days indicates, few institutions impact issues important to LGBT people as heavily as the Church.

For those who want to attempt a closer relationship with the Church, the issue of LGBT poverty, not just the issue of LGBT exclusion, should be the theme of the approach. Above all else, Pope Frances is in the United States to talk about poverty. Poverty was the centerpiece of his message to Congress. While in New York he participated in a meeting at the United Nations to set the anti-poverty agenda for the next two decades.

His focus on poverty has been an explicit and deliberate component of his pastoral messages for many years. While in Argentina, his opposition to LGBT human rights was aggressive and sometimes vitriolic. However, his limited personal interactions with LGBT people while in Rome may indicate that his concern for the poor supersedes his beliefs about LGBT people. It may be worth investigating whether his commitment to poor people may be the way to crack through his continued attachment to Catholic dogma on this issue.

Research shows that poverty is an LGBT issue. Studies by UCLA's Williams Institute looked at large datasets in the United States and found new patterns of
  • For LGBT people living alone, 1 in 5 lives below the poverty level.
  • More than a quarter of bisexual women age 18-44 are poor.
  • 1 in 5 lesbians age 18 - 44 are in poverty.
  • Female couples were more likely to be in poverty than opposite-sex couples.
  • Children in same-sex couple households are almost twice as likely to be poor as in married different-sex couple households.
  • African American children in gay male households have the highest poverty rate (52.3 percent) of any children in any household type, and the rate for children living with lesbian couples is 37.7 percent.
  • 1 in 4 LGBT adults have experienced times in the past year when they did not have enough money to feed themselves or their family.
  • 1 in 5 LGBT adults participated in the food stamps program in the past year.
concluded that
  • Transgender people were 4 times more likely to have a household income of less than $10,000 per year compared to the general population.
  • Transgender people of color had an unemployment rate four times the national average and almost one in five reported being homeless at least one time in their life.
A multi-country
of wages shows that sexual orientation could account for wage disparities as large as 11 percent. In the United States, the Conference of Catholic Bishops has taken positions on federal minimum wage, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Earned Income Tax Credit, foreign food aid programs and a large number of other poverty programs. Given the poverty in the LGBT community, these legislative issues should be part of the LGBT political agenda. The LGBT Catholic group Dignity USA noted "higher rates of poverty" in a
to the Pope requesting a meeting. LGBT groups have an opportunity to gain a voice in a central area of activity of the Catholic Church, and possibly influence this powerful institution for the better.