LGBTQ people are more likely than straight people to face poverty, food insecurity, and economic hardship:
- Poverty: Thirty-two percent of LGBTQ people have incomes of less than $24,000. By comparison, 24 percent of non-LGBTQ people have incomes of less than $24,000. Fifteen percent of transgender people have incomes of less than $10,000, compared to four percent of the general population living at that income level.
- Unemployment: LGBTQ people, especially transgender people, are at high risk for unemployment. Forty-four percent of transgender people are unemployed or under-employed.
- Food insecurity: LGBTQ people are 6 times more likely than non-LGBTQ people to not have enough money for food for themselves or their families at some point in the last year.
- Child poverty: Children raised by same-sex couples are almost twice as likely to be living in poverty. Twenty-three percent of children raised by male same-sex couples are poor, as are 19 percent of children raised by female same-sex couples. By comparison, the poverty rate is 12 percent for children being raised by married opposite-sex couples.
In addition to the above disparities, LGBTQ people are more likely to face homelessness, which is discussed in more detail in the housing and homelessness issue guide.
The economic disadvantages faced by LGBTQ are in part the result of discrimination. Thirty states do not provide explicit protections from discrimination for LGBTQ people in employment, housing, and public accommodations. The income gap between LGBTQ people and straight people is greater in those states with weaker legal protections of LGBTQ rights.
In 2014, foundations awarded nearly $4.5 million to address economic issues in LGBTQ communities in the United States. This is a 31-percent increase from 2013, when LGBTQ economic issues received $3.4 million.
Looking at specific economic issues that receive funding, the largest amount ($2.8 million) was devoted to housing and homelessness, which is covered in more depth in a separate issue guide. Funding for workforce development and employment totaled $1.2 million, and funding for food security totaled about $400,000.
Funding for LGBTQ Economic Opportunity, by Specific Issue Funded (2014)
These totals only capture funding directly devoted to addressing issues of employment, food security, and housing. Significant other funding addressed the needs of economically disadvantaged LGBTQ people, but is captured in other issue categories. For example, in 2014 more than $3.8 million was devoted to addressing discrimination against LGBTQ people, which is a major factor in the economic disparities faced by LGBTQ people, but is captured under the category of civil rights. Similarly, nearly $15 million was devoted to treating and preventing HIV/AIDS in LGBTQ communities, much of it focused on reaching low-income LGBTQ populations.
In 2014, the top 10 funders for advancing economic opportunity in LGBTQ communities in the U.S. awarded about $1.3 million, or about 80 percent of the total. The top funders for this issue area are diverse, including LGBTQ-specific funders, corporations, a women’s foundation, a community foundation, and an HIV funder. Note that this list only includes funders specifically supporting employment and food security; a list of top funders for housing and homelessness is provided in a separate issue guide.
Top Ten Funders for Advancing Economic Opportunity in LGBTQ Communities (2014)
|1. Ford Foundation, New York, NY||$ 475,000|
|2. Palette Fund, New York, NY||$ 222,500|
|3. Gill Foundation, Denver, CO||$ 181,000|
|4. Aetna Foundation, Hartford, CT||$ 100,000|
|5. Wells Fargo, Palm Springs, CA||$ 80,000|
|6. New York Women’s Foundation, New York, NY||$ 75,000|
|7. Arcus Foundation, New York, NY||$ 60,000|
|8. Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, San Francisco, CA||$ 50,000|
|9. The Cleveland Foundation, Cleveland, OH||$ 50,000|
|10. San Francisco AIDS Foundation, San Francisco, CA||$ 35,329|
In 2014, the top ten grant recipients of LGBTQ funding for economic opportunity received a total of $1.1 million, or more than 70 percent of all funding that year. Five of the top ten recipients were located in New York.
Top Ten Grant Recipients for Advancing Economic Opportunity in LGBTQ Communities (2014)
|1. Center for American Progress (CAP), Washington, DC||$ 300,000|
|2. A Better Balance, New York, NY||$ 150,000|
|3. Hetrick-Martin Institute (HMI), New York, NY||$ 120,000|
|4. God’s Love We Deliver, New York, NY||$ 116,000|
|5. Dimmock Lamarca, New York, NY||$ 100,000|
|6. Out and Equal Workplace Advocates, San Francisco, CA||$ 97,500|
|7. SAVE Foundation, Miami, FL||$ 90,000|
|8. National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, Washington, DC||$ 75,000|
|9. StartOut, New York, NY||$ 50,250|
|10. Small Business Majority Foundation, Sausalito, CA||$ 50,000|
For funders seeking to advance economic opportunity for LGBTQ communities, there are a number of community assets to build on:
- The LGBTQ Poverty Collaborative, a national coalition of LGBTQ organizations, seeks to advance policies that address the high rates of poverty in LGBTQ communities and to build stronger ties between the movements for LGBTQ equality and economic justice. Members of the Collaborative include the Center for American Progress, Chicago House, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the Williams Institute, and Funders for LGBTQ Issues.
- There are hundreds of LGBTQ community centers around the country, which work to advance economic opportunity for LGBTQ people through programs ranging from workforce training to financial literacy workshops. These community centers are connected through the national network of community centers, CenterLink.
- There are more than 50 LGBTQ chambers of commerce in the U.S., which provide support for LGBTQ-owned businesses and advocate for inclusion of LGBTQ people in the business sector. Most of these local chambers are affiliated with the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
- Several LGBTQ organizations work to advance inclusion of LGBTQ people in various industries and sectors. Out & Equal Workplace Advocates is a network LGBTQ Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). Out Leadership works to advance LGBTQ inclusion in the financial services sector and in the legal industry.
- A number of LGBTQ and economic justice organizations are advocating to protect LGBTQ people from workplace discrimination and to advance policies that increase economic fairness at the federal, state, and local levels.
Building on these assets, funders have several opportunities to advance economic opportunity in LGBTQ communities:
- Support pilot models to advance economic opportunity in LGBTQ communities: A small but growing number of LGBTQ centers, youth programs, and other service providers have begun exploring innovative service models for advancing economic opportunity in LGBTQ communities. These programs address the unique challenges faced by LGBTQ communities—and draw on their unique assets—to help LGBTQ people find employment or housing, start their own businesses, and become economically empowered. Funders have an opportunity to support pilot programs, to identify promising practices, and to replicate successful models for advancing economic opportunity in LGBTQ communities.
- Increase the cultural competence of mainstream service providers: Many organizations attending to the needs of low-income communities do not understand the unique needs of LGBT people living in poverty. Capacity building through training and education tailored for these organizations can help them better serve the full diversity of their constituencies.
- Provide opportunities for cross-issue coalition building: Advocacy for economic fairness is essential to addressing the high rates of poverty in LGBTQ communities. Funders have an opportunity to expand support for economic justice by supporting cross-issue coalitions between LGBTQ advocacy organizations representing economically disadvantaged communities. These coalitions have the potential to advance a number of policy reforms that will benefit LGBTQ people and all economically vulnerable populations, such as increasing the minimum wage, requiring paid sick leave for all workers, improving the safety net, and expanding nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people and other marginalized groups.
- Adopt a human rights framework: Access to basic needs such as adequate shelter, food and enough income to provide for oneself and one’s family is considered by many to be a human right. Funders can encourage a different approach to addressing poverty by developing a human rights framework that challenges traditional notions of charity and welfare with structural changes that move to increase access to economic opportunity for all.
- Support efforts to change the narrative: All too often, the common understanding of the LGBT community is limited to the lived experience of affluent lesbians and gay men who live far away from the realities of poverty. Funders have an opportunity to support efforts that offer a different story about the lived experience of all LGBT people, including the struggles of those living in poverty.
Research & Resources
- The Williams Institute’s LGBTstats Demographic Data Site provides detailed data on the income levels of LGBTQ people and same-sex couples by state and county.
- The Movement Advancement Project’s Paying an Unfair Price: The Financial Penalty for Being LGBT in America provide an excellent overview of the economic disparities faced by LGBTQ people in the U.S.
- The Williams Institute has published several in-depth reports on poverty and food insecurity in LGBT communities, including New Patterns of Poverty in the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Community and Food Insecurity and SNAP Participation in the LGBT Community
- The National Center for Transgender Equality’s U.S. Transgender Survey of more than 28,000 respondents documents the discrimination and economic disparities faced by transgender communities in the U.S.