Alison and I both enjoy telling our money stories, but more than that we appreciate hearing other people tell their stories. Unfortunately, it’s not all good news. Too many LGBT+ people have described feeling excluded from the world of personal finance and not at all free to focus their time and money on preparing for financial independence. Which is disheartening!
It’s interesting that so many people believe “everything is fine” in the world of queer money. There’s an assumption that LGBT+ people are treated equally in the USA at this point. And it’s great to know that’s true for many people. But it’s not true for everyone. We want to make sure we can see past our own little bubble of experiences, and really pay attention to other people. With all of the craziness of 2020 it should be perfectly clear that everything is not fine, and it won’t help to keep our heads in the sand. If you are white and you don’t know any black people, or if you are heterosexual and you don’t know any LGBT+ people, you might want to make more of an effort to see past your bubble. Just sayin!
Some of Us Are Doing Great
It’s true that lots of LGBT+ people are doing great these days. Especially when you compare today to 70 years ago. We used to hear a lot of stunning stories from Alison’s aunt about how hard it was to be an out lesbian in the USA when she was young. Trying to live your best life in the 1950s sounds pretty rough for LGBT+ people (and women, and people of color). Things were bad enough that Alison’s aunt and her partner decided to leave the USA and McCarthy Era persecutions behind, and make a new life together in Canada.
So yes, lots of LGBT+ people are doing great these days, but maybe those of us who are doing great are actually the privileged minority. And things have improved a lot, but many of the rights and protections we have today are very recent. Same sex marriage was only legalized across the USA in 2015 (Alison and I actually got married in Canada in 2006 since the USA can be slow to provide civil and human rights). And LGBT+ employees were only given legal protections with a ban on employment discrimination in all states in June of 2020.
I Have Been Lucky
The more stories I hear from other people, the more I know I have been very lucky in my life. There were some significant challenges to deal with when I was a kid, but at this point I definitely see myself as privileged.
- I’m white (you can’t tell by looking at me that I had Mexican immigrant grandparents on my dad’s side).
- I have always felt loved and supported by many of my family members (my grandparents, aunts and uncles, and even my little sister stepped up to compensate for my bad parents).
- I’m in a happy and loving marriage (Alison and I have been together for 16 years and married for 14 years so far!).
- I was able to get out of credit card debt and student loan debt by age 31 (and my spouse has always been debt free).
- During my career after college, I never faced discrimination as a lesbian. I had employers who recognized my contributions and paid me a decent wage, with benefits for me and my wife (long before laws were in place at the federal level requiring those benefits).
- My wife and I reached financial independence together in 2017, and I was able to retire early at age 44 (my days as a welfare kid feel like ancient history)!
The Parent Factor
When LGBT+ people share their money stories with us, two of the topics people mention as most often having a negative effect on their finances are are parents and their employers. I can relate to some degree, but I still feel like I’ve had it easy and I definitely feel privileged today.
When I was a kid my mom made it clear to me that she didn’t want me around. That never changed, but at least today we are in agreement about not being in each others’ lives. My mom probably would’ve kicked me out at some point, and she certainly voiced hateful opinions about having a lesbian daughter. But the real problem was that she wasn’t interested in spending money on food or clothes for us kids. My dad didn’t want to be part of my life either, and he didn’t share his time or his money with us kids. He left when I was two years old and I only saw him a few times before he died when I was 36 years old. Lucky for me, my grandma took me and my sister in when I was 12 years old, and she always made sure we felt loved and protected, had food to eat, and clean clothes to wear. She taught us about money and did her best to set us up for success. So even though my parents didn’t share any money or affection with me, their influence on my financial life ended when I was a little kid.
When I think about those experiences now, I wonder how many LGBT+ kids have been kicked out of their homes. How many of them have been blocked from financial and emotional support from their parents when they were still underage? How many of them had trouble finishing school, finding jobs, paying their bills, and also went into debt because of those experiences?
The Employment Factor
When I was 18 years old I was fired from a job because I’m a lesbian. Everything was fine at this little stationary store in Davis California, until one morning in 1992 when I mentioned my girlfriend to my new bosses. When they heard I had a girlfriend their faces immediately changed from smiles to disgust. That same day they told me things weren’t working out so they were letting me go. I was young and feisty so I was thrilled to find out I was too gay for their business. I had a girlfriend sharing the rent and a grandmother who was always willing to help so I wasn’t afraid of losing that shitty part-time minimum wage job. I didn’t need to work for prejudiced assholes. I walked out with a sense of pride when they told me to leave, and I found another job very quickly.
When I think about that experience now, I wonder how many other LGBT+ people (and women, and people of color) do have to work for prejudiced assholes. How many of them live with discrimination in the workplace every day, and can’t just walk away to find another job where things will be better? How many of them have been fired or blocked from promotions and equal pay for no good reason? How many of them have had trouble paying their bills and also went into debt because of those experiences?
Be a Good Listener
Huge numbers of people in the LGBT+ community have faced discrimination from their families, their employers, and suffered financially because of those experiences. When Alison was younger and starting out in her career she was scared to come out to her employers. If you’ve never had to deal with anything like that, remember that you are privileged and be sure to listen to other people tell their stories. Here are a few examples of the stories we’ve heard from people…
A lesbian described dealing with discrimination every day, including things like never feeling safe in public restrooms. This person has been yelled at in public restrooms because she doesn’t look the way heteronormative people expect her to look. Which is outrageous. That kind of ongoing discrimination has made lots of things difficult for her, including finding the confidence to apply for jobs, and interacting with financial professionals in banking related situations.
A gay man described working in an office where he hears racial and homophobic slurs every day from his coworkers. He’s living with discrimination in the workplace in order to continue receiving a paycheck and minimal benefits. He can’t just quit and get another job because the only other local job options in his town are minimum wage part-time jobs that would not cover his mortgage.
A trans woman described the way their debt climbed during their transition process. Their health insurance did not cover their therapy sessions, prescription medications, or surgery. They have a great salary and standard health insurance, but the costs of proper healthcare in their situation were still extreme enough to put them into debt. Good health insurance in the USA can still leave LGBT+ people with major healthcare costs to pay out of pocket.
A gay man described living with extremely high student loan debt. He can stay rent-free with his parents in their home to avoid accruing more debt, if he lives within their religious belief system. His parents still refuse to accept that he is gay after more than a decade since he came out to them. His mom still cries if the subject of being gay comes up even vaguely since she believes he’s going to hell. His dad says they constantly pray for him to marry a woman. These are tough emotional exchanges for saving on rent while he tries to manage his student loan debt.
A trans man described their very specialized career and impressive salary. But life still sounds tough because coming out as Trans has been so complicated. Their family members have not been accepting of them, so the emotional side of life is far from perfect. On top of that the idea of coming out at work sounds a bit like waving a torch over all of their existing and future cash. Which means so far they have no intention of coming out at work, and they can’t have their transition or even their name recognized.
A lesbian described the cost of multiple IVF treatments so that she and her wife could have two kids together. We have heard from other people that their insurance or employer provided benefits helped with the cost of IVF treatments, but that wasn’t the case for this family. The cost of numerous IVF treatments over years in the process of having their two kids was significant. And those costs meant they had to sacrifice other financial goals in exchange for creating a family.
A few gay men, not just one, told us they never saved for retirement because they assumed they would die of AIDS long before retirement would be an option. That was a common belief/fear for many LGBT+ people after the AIDS crisis began. That means our community includes a surprising amount of people in their 50s and 60s who are nearing the traditional retirement age, as well as people beyond the traditional retirement age who have worked hard and dreamed big all their lives without saving or investing for retirement.
A ton of LGBT+ people have described their various experiences and ongoing challenges with tremendous amounts of student loan debt and consumer debt. The common thread we have noticed in many of these stories is that people aren’t comfortable asking for help. People aren’t confident enough to take even small steps to improve their financial situations. People are experiencing so much fear and guilt and shame around money, that they feel paralyzed and unable to take any kind of action to try to make things better.
Discrimination is tied to self worth, and self worth is tied to money. This is especially true in the LGBT+ community. Far too many LGBT+ people don’t have enough support or legitimacy to create financial success for themselves, and instead they have a series of unsurmountable obstacles they can’t overcome. Far too many LGBT+ people just don’t feel like they have access to the resources and tools we all need in order to be financially healthy.
LGBT+ People are More Likely to…
- Get kicked out of their parents’ house as kids
- Be disinherited by their parents and grandparents
- Experience double the rate of unemployment
- Experience a queer pay gap and a gender pay gap
- Have additional costs involved with having kids
- Have additional out of pocket healthcare costs
- Postpone medical care
- Be uninsured
- Never work with a financial professional
- Have little or no retirement savings
- Have no will or estate plan
- Be in debt
- Be unbanked
- Live in extreme poverty
It’s important to remember that issues like these are often influenced by geography, which means LGBT+ people living in areas that are less liberal and accepting with fewer local and state protections in place experience more discrimination and financial issues than their counterparts in more liberal and accepting areas.
It’s also worth mentioning that everything listed above is experienced more often by Trans people than other members of the LGBT+ community. I also think the prominence of anti-bisexual bias and especially the prominence of anti-transgender bias, even within the LGBT+ community, are serious issues not mentioned enough.
The statistics I’ve read about the LGBT+ community and personal finance issues are discussed in various reports available on the internet, and the two reports I found most helpful are listed below. These reports are both from 2016 so I’m hoping we have new statistics for the LGBT+ community in the next year or two.
- Injustice at Every Turn, A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey
- The LGBT Financial Experience from Prudential
The Fight for Equality is Not Over Yet
We still have a long way to go both legally and socially to remove all of the financial and social barriers LGBT+ people (and women, and people of color) face. It’s true that some of us have not had to cope with outrageous discrimination. But it’s also crystal clear that personal finance issues are very common for huge numbers of LGBT+ people.
The June of 2020 Supreme Court ruling that bans employment discrimination in all states will make a difference in the future for LGBT+ people. But it won’t undue the lifetime of discrimination people have already experienced. And unfortunately colleges, landlords, stores, hospitals, restaurants, hotels, foster care agencies, and adoption agencies can still discriminate against LGBT+ people in the USA. And far too many families still discriminate against their LGBT+ family members as well.
What can we do about all of this? The first thing we can all do is listen to other people who are willing to tell their money stories. And of course there are more ways to help beyond just listening than we can count. But it starts with listening, and validating other peoples’ experiences.