Thursday, December 12, 2002

Never Enough Recognition Of GLBT Poverty Department

David Mariner of Temenos asked me to comment on GLBT poverty, in light of PlanetOUT's choice of advertisers who target affluent gays and lesbians. Here is my response:

Being transgendered, like being gay or lesbian or bisexual, is a social stigma. It should be no surprise that large numbers of us live below the poverty line. However, there are no statistics on the scope of the problem in the US. I found a reference to one British Columbia study:

"Although trans people come from all socioeconomic backgrounds, trans communities are disproportionately affected by poverty. In a 1998 province-wide survey of 161 transgendered people, 71% of the participants had incomes below the federal government�s low income cut-off; 38% subsisted on less than $1000/month, with 12% surviving on less than $500/month. Only 29% had monthly incomes of $2000 and greater (Burnham, 1999)."

Speaking anecdotally, I've known dozens of transfolk, in particular those who choose to live full-time in their target gender, who have lived as simply as possible, or lived on public assistance, or tried (rarely successfully) to find employment as a sex worker. I've known transfolk who were fired immediately upon transition, or were harrassed out of a job. I've known transgendered who live in their assigned gender simply out of fear that they'd lose their economic status if they dared transition. Add to this the expenses of hormones, electrolysis, and surgeries, and you have a population of people living on the brink of desperation.

In my own case, I've been unemployed for well over a year. I don't consider myself to be unfairly discriminated against, thanks in part to Seattle's long established anti-discrimination laws and in part to a laissez-faire attitude in the area. Yet my own situation is pretty dire. My partner's income helps, and I am still receiving unemployment benefits, but we're barely scraping by. Right now I'm only paying for hormones and anti-androgens, but at US pharmacy prices that averages to about $120 a month. We've had to rely on the kindness of friends, food banks, and our son's school family advocate to help keep ourselves fed and our bills paid. And my unemployment benefits are running out quickly. If I don't find work soon our situation will get extremely dire. (I have two interviews coming up--more than I've had in a while. WISH ME LUCK!)

And while I'm thinking about my partner, I might add that she works at a homeless women's resource center, and that a large part of its clientele is made up of lesbians. Again, there are no statistics here, but I think it's important to point out.

Another issue I have with PlanetOUT is how much of its advertisements are aimed at the young. This only enforces the affluent stereotype, since GLBT seniors may be more prone to poverty than heterosexual, non-transgendered seniors. In addition, it seems like items like exclusive gay/lesbian holidays, expensive fashions, and designer furniture compete with funding for, say, AIDS research and GLBT political action. The end result is an image of young, "passable", dual-income partners blissfully ignoring reality in favor of their own little slice of Gay Heaven, while the ugly reality is rushed off like homeless people in front of a posh hotel.

I can understand the impulse of "going where the money lies" but, like you, I'm appalled by the way that impulse leads to a denial of GLBT poverty. Keep up the fight, David.

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