An economy still plagued by stagnant wages, sluggish growth and a tight job market has left millions of Americans financially vulnerable and struggling to make ends meet. A new landmark report, however, asserts that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans are feeling this pain more acutely than others. The reason? A combination of discriminatory state laws and unwelcoming environments that have thrown up obstacles to economic opportunities, penalizing the LGBT population – including students – because of who they are.
According to the report, these laws contribute to significantly higher rates of poverty among LGBT Americans and create unfair financial penalties in the form of higher taxes, reduced wages and Social Security income, increased health care costs, and reduced access to higher education.
“Imagine losing your job or your home simply because of who you are or whom you love. Imagine having to choose between paying the rent and finding legal help so you can establish parenting rights for the child you have been raising from birth,” said Laura E. Durso, Director LGBT Progress at the Center for American Progress (CAP). “These are just a couple of the added costs that are harming the economic security of LGBT people across the country.”
Paying an Unfair Price: The Financial Penalty for Being LGBT in America, was co-authored by the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) and CAP, in partnership with Center for Community Change, Center for Popular Democracy, National Association of Social Workers, and the National Education Association.
The study pinpoints three “state failures” that financially penalize LGBT people: failure to protect LGBT people from discrimination, failure to legally recognize LGBT families, and failure to protect LGBT students.
Students are vulnerable on two major fronts. One, the bullying and harassment LGBT students experience in school can lead to poor grades, dropping out of school and even homelessness. LGBT students at the college level also report feeling unsafe and unwelcome. Secondly, obtaining financial aid can be difficult for LGBT students and for students with LGBT parents for several reasons, including often-strained relationships with parents and difficulties related to identification documents for transgender students.
As the chart above shows, most states have not stepped up with laws prohibiting discrimination in schools based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Only 13 states and the District of Columbia currently have such laws on the books. Slightly more states (18) have enacted laws prohibiting bullying of LGBT students.
Paying an Unfair Price provides a menu of policy recommendations that can at least begin to break the cycle of poverty that has trapped many LGBT Americans, including:
- instituting basic nondiscrimination protections at the federal and state level
- allowing same-sex couples to marry in all states
- allowing LGBT parents to form legal ties with the children they are raising
- and protecting students from discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Video: Maria’s Unfair Price