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Why We Need Our Own Economic Justice Month

Why We Need Our Own Economic Justice Month


Queer people don't get a fair shake in this country, and for LGBT people of color, that's doubly true.

It has been a landmark year for LGBTQ equality, with the marriage equality win. We know there is so much more work to be done, though, to reach full equality. The social and economic justice issues facing the LGBTQ community and our allies have reached a critical boiling point; the major issues facing our communities continue to be ignored by the mainstream movement.

I have a dream that Monique, a trans women of color, reaches her dream of becoming a nurse despite being wrongly incarcerated for protecting herself from her attacker; that Dafari, a gay refugee from Africa, achieves his goal of being a lead engineer; that Marleen, a single lesbian parent of twins, reaches her goal of finding a safe child care and school for her trans child; that Joey, a homeless queer youth kicked out of his in rural Montana, can move to San Francisco to find safety, community, and housing.

Most of us are told that if we have a dream, "Anything is possible if you work hard enough" or "Give it your all!" We hear these messages all the time. But is it true? Can we truly measure our wealth, strength, and success by how hard we work?

In the high-powered tech bubble of San Francisco, I stopped by Starbucks on my way to work for my usual morning necessity. I noticed how I seamlessly fit into the woodwork of the white, youth-led techies. A veritable double agent contemplating her white trans passing privilege and her responsibilities as an advocate and survivor.

The man in front of me was desperately trying to pay for his triple-shot no-foam latte with his Apple watch. As he repeatedly swiped his watch, his frustration grew until it finally scanned. I wondered how he got that watch: Was it a gift, did he win it, would someone actually buy one?

My quick judgment in that situation made me question why I assumed he didn't have to fight hard for his success. Shouldn't we all be able to reach for our dreams, whether it's a fancy Apple watch or something even bigger.

This October, I spearheaded the first annual LGBTQ Economic Justice Month, a call to action bringing visibility to the idea that we cannot leave anyone behind despite our recent victories. The month included free events and workshops focused on building a thriving trans and queer community that has access to stable and equal employment, housing, health care, education, and beyond.

For the millions of Americans living in poverty or living paycheck to paycheck, this is not a game of chance or luck. There is often an assumption regarding LGBTQ wealth: No kids equals stability and disposable income. This is not the truth. Most LGBTQ people, like other Americans, face the realities of debt, high rents, unemployment, and homelessness, and this collection is just the tip of the iceberg.

During Economic Justice Month, we highlighted the San Francisco LGBT Center's innovative LGBTQ economic development programming. Over the last decade, our work has been committed to assisting job seekers in finding safe and secure living-wage employment; supporting LGBT small-business owners; increasing community connection to affordable housing and financial wellness; and eliminating barriers to transgender economic success through mentoring and connections to employers committed to diversity and inclusion.

As we move beyond the marriage battle and start to shift resources, what are the issues the movement should focus on? It is important that we start building stronger communities that address the political and socio-economic realities facing the most vulnerable members of our population -- people of color, transgender/gender-nonconforming people, queer people, lesbians, differently abled people, youth, elders, immigrants, and low-income individuals -- including our allies and those who experience te intersecting forms of discrimination, racism, criminalization, and so on.

In much of the media's portrayal of a gay utopia, the myth of gay affluence is compounded. This is a harmful depiction of our realities. The current economic divide has a critical impact and destructive outcome on many queer and intersecting low- to moderate-income communities. The harsh realities facing youth, trans and gender-nonconforming people, communities of color, immigrants, and refugees continue to underrepresented in data collection and reports.

In most cases, the public image of LGBTQ people is limited to wealthy actors coming out, the Ellen show, or sensationalized transition story of a trans millionaire.

In reality, our community is moving through the economic and social justice issues with complex intersectionality. We are fighting for equality in health care, housing, and the workplace.

Transgender and queer people, especially those of color, are experiencing violence at alarming rates. Trans and queer people face violence in multiple and complex ways throughout our communities via the criminal justice system, public transportation, in the workplace, and beyond. The unparalleled violence is an epidemic of hate, violence and bullying. In 2015, 21 trans women have been reported murdered in the U.S. and countless LGBTQ youth have committed suicide, making the upcoming annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, November 20th, an observance of the most violent year despite all the visibility in the media.

Employment and housing discrimination continue to perpetuate the cycle of institutional violence and poverty. In my work, I receive hundreds of calls a month from transgender and queer people who can't find work. More than 90 percent of transgender people have experienced discrimination or harassment in the workplace, and 47 percent have reported they were fired, not hired, or denied a promotion simply because of their gender identity.

After decades of advocacy, we still lack federal employment protections. While many states have passed laws protecting LGBTQ people, Congress has still not passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, despite a win with the Senate. Many employers have stepped up to develop internal policies to protect employees, although they lack the motivation to actively recruit LGBTQ talent.

Despite the limited data and exclusion from Census data, most research has shown that the discrimination trans and queer people face greatly impacts economic well-being, with consequences including homelessness, poverty, and poor health. Despite the myth of gay affluence, same-sex couples are twice as likely to live in poverty, and they experience disproportionate levels of homelessness. Those of us who are wage earners are much more likely to earn less annually as compared to our straight, cisgender counterparts. It is reported that trans Americans are four times more likely than others to earn below $10,000 a year. This meager $900 a month would not cover the cost of a studio apartment in most cities considered "gay meccas."

In many cases, if we are lucky enough to be housed and employed, we are denied equal access to health care benefits. Community elders and people living with HIV or AIDS often lack necessary and safe care, housing, and treatment. Also, despite the recent win of inclusive coverage in Obamacare, many insurance providers in the private market exclude transgender people or deny them medically necessary treatment.

It is important that we move away from the illusion that we have won, that we have reached equality, and that we can all be cast members in the Glee/Will & Grace crossover musical.

If we limit our dreams to the newest tech devices versus equality for all, we are selling ourselves short. It is this mainstream illusion that keeps us in hiding. It is what has allowed our trans women of color leaders to be forgotten behind whitewashed walls in the new Stonewall movie.

What can we do during Economic Justice Month and beyond? How can we start to work toward economic and social justice for all of our communities? It starts by getting engaged and taking action. We are not fighting just for our own dreams, but for the dreams of others -- because we are stronger together.

CLAIR FARLEYCLAIR FARLEY is a trans advocate, actress, and writer. She is the associate director of economic development at the San Francisco LGBT Center. Clair starred in the award-winning film Red Without Blueon Netflix and American Transgender on National Geographic. She works across the country and internationally to advocate for increased trans media visibility as well as safe and equal employment and housing opportunities for trans and queer people. Follow Clair on Twitter.

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