Since the start of the Great Recession, social stability has deteriorated as income inequality climbed. This growing divide has affected every part of American society. The LGBTQ community has not been immune from this and we have an obligation to confront this threat.
Talk of the ten year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers has filled the national conversation. The Wall Street investment bank's bankruptcy on September 15, 2008, has come to represent the start of the Great Recession. Media commemorated the event with discussions on what it all meant. Had banks become more secure? How did it change people's lives? The New York Times even created an entire online section dedicated to its anniversary coverage of Lehman’s fall.
Yet, with all the chatter, little was said on how the recession changed the LGBTQ community. One thing that stuck out from the anniversary mania was an article in The New Republic. The piece reviewed Adam Tooze’s findings in Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World. In the book, Tooze laid out how the Great Recession exacerbated income inequality around the world. He points to this divide as the driver of the political instability and social upheaval that gave rise to political charlatans such as Donald Trump.
Tooze laid out his conclusions at a time when the top 1 percent control a greater share of wealth than at any other time in the last 50 years.
This financial chasm has heightened conflict within the LGBTQ community, just as it has across the country. The image of LGBTQ people is one that is all too often seen primarily as affluent, white and male. An image far removed from the lives of many in our community. It is the myth of LGBTQ affluence.
The myth of LGBTQ affluence has grown over years of us touting our economic might. Reports trumpet how the LGBTQ community takes 16 percent more shopping trips than our straight counterparts. LGBTQ groups, from the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce to the Human Rights Campaign, champion that our buying power now tops $900 billion a year.
Pointing to our perceived economic clout comes from a desire we all have to project strength and to protect the LGBTQ community. In reality, this mirage is not only an illusion; it erases everyone else that is LGBTQ.
Yes, the wealth of some in our community has grown since the collapse of Lehman Brothers. But, one in five LGBTQ single adults still make less than $12,000 a year. Big business might view us as a lucrative market. But, LGBTQ people with children are still three times more likely than their straight counterparts to live in poverty.
Some in our community have seen their investments in the stock market recover. But, transgender people are still four times more likely to live in poverty than their cisgender peers. The economic might of some LGBTQ people is great. Yet, studies frequently debunk the image that queers are all living the high life.
This juxtaposition of images of opulence on one side and the reality of a growing economic divide should worry us all. Today, we increasingly see protests and conflicts in LGBTQ spaces. Not protests by anti-LGBTQ forces, but from LGBTQ people themselves. Often these protesters are not affluent, often they do not match the myth. Instead, they are demanding nothing more than to be heard and seen in our community.
Our community saw what happened when these divides reached a breaking point in 2017. At the time, most mainstream Prides ignored criticism that Pride celebrations had become corporate-sponsor driven spectacles that catered too a largely white male audience. This resulted in protesters blockading Pride parades in over a dozen U.S. cities. The image of the white gay man who takes all those shopping trips was ripped away — supplanted with images of black, white and brown, working-class queers who were angry and refused to pushed aside.
We shouldn’t fear this change, we must embrace it. The National LGBTQ Task Force is not afraid to run toward this change. As part of a coalition of LGBTQ organizations, we are sounding the alarm on poverty in the LGBTQ community. While the Task Force Action Fund’s Queer the Vote project is working to expand voting rights for LGBTQ communities of color.
If we learned one thing since the failure of Lehman Brothers, it should be that we must amplify those who often feel voiceless. Remember, those that don’t match the myth of the affluent gay can speak and we need to learn to listen.