For around twenty years the perception of lesbian and gay people has been biased.
There is a overwhelming myth about gays and lesbians which is tied to their public profile, particularly that of well-known people, that gay people are better off.
But this idea of gay equals better off has been deliberately fanned by gay commercial businesses – because it’s in their interests.
DINK (double income no kids) equates with Will & Grace stereotype equates with yuppie equates with a lucrative market.
When I worked for the Sydney Star Observer, we used some of the earliest marketing data about the so-called ‘Pink Dollar’ to attract then reluctant advertisers. Of course we did and, shamefully, we also bought into the myth.
We did it because I’d read some early marketing studies which sampled gay magazine readers – and showed what they thought advertisers would want to hear: there was a well-off market being ignored.
I’ve learnt since that gays and lesbians come in the most rainbow of varieties and most are not very visible.
They are the ones affected by factors like poor educational outcomes due to harassment at school, and vulnerability to employee discrimination. They are the ones represented disproportionately in the ranks of the homeless.
I’d also suggest that a certain ‘ghettoisation’ into accepting jobs – such as lower paid social work or working in service industries – plays a role.
Of course it’s even worse for transgender people who often struggle with employment.
Unfortunately this DINK information has been used by our enemies to suggest that LGBT are not a group that needs protection, precisely because we’re supposedly already wealthy. Handed to them on a plate by gays-after-a-buck have been powerful political arguments to use against their fellow gays.
I’m not blaming them, I’m just pointing this out.
The myth found its way into US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent in the 1996 Romer v Evans case that overturned an anti-gay initiative in Colorado.
A new survey about LGBT poverty by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, which was funded by gay philanthropists and presented to the US Congress last Friday, has hopefully put the issue of reality of LGBT poverty – not affluence – onto the agenda.
Although the unfortunate UCLA publicity described it the first of its kind, there have been similar studies, though very few, going back years, which have shown the same issues which this one apparently does.
The study, which used three data sources, including the 2000 US census, shows that LGBT families – particularly those of some subgroups are more likely to be poor than their heterosexual counterparts.
It shows that there are a social and political factors that may lead to higher rates of LGB poverty, including vulnerability to employee discrimination, inability to marry and higher numbers of those who are uninsured.
The survey studied coupled Americans but PinkNews.co.uk has reported previously that around 20 per cent of Brighton and Hove’s homeless people are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and that they receive a negative experiences of local authority homelessness services.
Homelessness means rough sleeping or part of the hidden homeless population (sleeping in temporary accommodation, squats, or relying upon friends, family or acquaintances).
A study by Brenda Roche for the homeless charity Crisis said that estimates on the prevalence of LGBT persons amongst the wider homeless youth population have shown considerable variation.
In the United States, national studies suggest that as many as 50 per cent of all homeless youth may be gay or lesbian with estimates in the UK running as high as 30 per cent in urban centres, whereas current broader estimates of population-wide figures of homosexuality in the UK are roughly between five and seven per cent.
Roche cited under-reporting and a lack of monitoring as reasons for a possible underestimation of the figures.
Roche also says that workers in the area know that sexual identity can play a key role in the onset of homelessness.
She suggested that those who migrate to city centres may do so in the hope of finding a more visible gay community or at least one that is more tolerant. However, this can expose individuals to new situations of risk and potential exploitation
LGBT people then find it hard to disclose within services, because it might open them up to greater scrutiny and harassment – so they are assumed to be heterosexual.
Roche says that very little research is put into the needs of LGBT young homeless and virtually none into those of older LGBT people.
These findings sit against a background of educational underachievement because of systemic discrimination in schools.
Surveys have shown that half of gay men and a third of lesbians reporting being bullied physically at school, compared with 47 per cent of heterosexual men and 20 per cent of heterosexual women.
Stonewall’s The School Report said that they are less likely than pupils in other schools to report it. 17 per cent, according to this report, had received death threats
Why would all the well-documented barriers which other minorities have experienced (eg glass ceiling barriers for women or institutionalised racism) not also result in greater poverty for LGBT?
A 1995 study conducted by the Combat Poverty Agency in Dublin found 21 per cent of LGBT respondents living in poverty, while over half (57 per cent) said they found it difficult to make ends meet.
Their findings also outlined clearly the range of effects of harassment and discrimination, and the extent of social exclusion experienced by lesbians and gay men.
Everything about this should ring true with the lived experience of LGBT – most LGBT are far from well-off.
But it says something for the power of the DINK myth that as a organised community, we have ignored those who have failed to get over the economic barriers, despite their numbers. In the wake of the recession, the vulnerability of LGBT people must be considered.
I would argue that the myth has similar power to thwart policy and cultural gains in the UK as it has been seen to have in the US, especially in this economic climate.
It is time for a properly-funded UK-wide study to bust the DINK myth once and for all. Are you listening, Stonewall?