Op-ed: The Fiscal Cliff Has LGBT People In Its Sights

By Rea Carey and Jeff Krehely

Originally published on Advocate.com November 28 2012 4:00 AM ET

The fiscal showdown we’ve been hearing about, which could trigger a combination of across-the-board spending cuts and automatic tax increases, might sound like an inside-the-Washington-Beltway fight that doesn’t really impact those of us in the real world.

But think again.

Washington’s ideological paralysis on budget policy has the potential to harm all Americans, especially those from marginalized populations. If political grandstanding and irrational inaction continue to trump thoughtful and reasoned bipartisanship, these populations in particular are going to feel the effects.

And for the LGBT population specifically, at risk are programs reflecting years of steady and hard-fought progress that continue to make a real difference in the lives of LGBT people and our families each and every day.

While the media’s and much of the public’s barometer of the success of the LGBT movement has been centered on the freedom to marry, other significant, but less visible, gains have been made for the LGBT community. This progress is due in part to organizations like the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Center for American Progress, and other allied groups that have worked closely with the Obama administration to bring far-reaching changes in policies that level the playing field for LGBT people and their families. These policy achievements include:

- The first-ever health care protections extended specifically to LGBT people at the federal level

- Health benefits for children of federal employees in a same-sex relationship

- Housing protections for LGBT people and their families

- Improved services for LGBT older adults

- Efforts to prevent bullying and violent crime against LGBT people

These are just a few of the hard-won gains that will be diminished if the current lame-duck Congress does nothing for the next month to resolve the fiscal showdown in a balanced and responsible way. If they cannot reach an agreement and do nothing, here’s what will happen:

Beginning in January of next year, deep, drastic automatic cuts will be enacted to the federal budget, cuts which will impair the health, wellness and livelihood of virtually every person in this country.

As is usually the case when across-the-board cuts like these are made, traditionally marginalized groups who have had to fight for their place at the table — including the LGBT population — will be among those who are disproportionately affected.

These automatic cuts will make it more difficult for the government to investigate and prevent workplace discrimination, will reduce funding for critical health care services LGBT people need, will reduce resources for organizations working to prevent LGBT youth homelessness, and will make it much harder for the federal government to prevent violent crime against LGBT people.

In addition to these wholesale spending cuts, not resolving the fiscal showdown would mean a higher tax bill for nearly all Americans, including those who are lower-income and middle-class. Contrary to commonly-held stereotypes, a recent Gallup study revealed that LGBT Americans on average have lower levels of income than other Americans. Other research has found that families headed by same-sex couples are twice as likely to live in poverty compared to families headed by different-sex couples. A higher tax bill is the last thing lower-income and middle class LGBT families need during the current economic recovery.

Luckily, the Senate has already passed a bill sparing 98 percent of Americans from a tax increase. President Obama has repeatedly said he is ready to sign that bill into law. However, the House majority continues holding onto their vows to protect the wealthiest Americans from tax increases — though there are signs that this wall is beginning to crack. These are the very House leaders who last summer required the same type of wholesale sequestration cuts set to go into effect in return for raising our nation's debt ceiling.

So, while this budget standoff may sound like a problem just for Washington bureaucrats, it is actually much bigger than that. It impacts every person, every community, all of us — LGBT or not.

We need Congress to set aside partisan differences and adopt a balanced, sustainable budget plan that protects programs and agencies that serve the LGBT and other marginalized populations. And if this goal can’t be reached before the end of the year, then a short-term agreement delaying sequestration should be put in place to give the next Congress a chance to forge a long-term fiscal solution.

We all need to make sure Washington hears us on this one — especially those of us in the LGBT community. Our recent progress toward equality has been real, tangible, and a long time in the making. We have too much at stake to simply sit back and watch this wild and dangerous ride.

It’s time we help steer.

Co-authored by National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey and Center for American Progress Vice President for LGBT Progress Jeff Krehely. To learn more, read this new report from the Center for American Progress, the NGLTF, and a coalition of 23 other national LGBT organizations: “Caught in the Budget Battle: How the ‘Fiscal Showdown’ Impacts Gay and Transgender Americans.”