The Myth of Rich, Influential Gay People

One of the common beliefs about gay people in this country is that they tend to be wealthier than other demographic groups, giving them power and influence far out of proportion of their actual numbers. Nathan McDermott takes issue with that idea and calls it a myth.

The pernicious insinuation—that gays and lesbians are one the wealthiest demographics in the country—isn’t a new cliché. Some of the most ingrained public images of LGBT people are their cosmopolitan, highfalutin lifestyle; gays, so the story goes, live in gentrified urban neighborhoods like The Castro in San Francisco or Chelsea in New York, eat artisanal cheese, and drink $12 cocktails.

But like most stereotypes, the myth of gay affluence is greatly exaggerated.

In reality, gay Americans face disproportionately greater economic challenges than their straight counterparts. A new report released by UCLA’s Williams Institute found that 29 percent of LGBT adults, approximately 2.4 million people, experienced food insecurity—a time when they did not have enough money to feed themselves or their family—in the past year. In contrast, 16 percent of Americans nationwide reported being food insecure in 2012. One in 5 gays and lesbians aged 18-44 received food stamps in the last year, compared with just over 1 in 4 same sex couples raising children. The LGBT community has made huge political strides over the past decade, but in economic matters they still lag far behind the rest of the country….

Marketing firms conducted surveys to try to show not just affluence, but disproportionate levels of brand loyalty were a hallmark of gays and lesbians. In the media, gay men became well-to-do, cosmopolitan, and voraciously consumeristic. In 2012, Experian, a national marketing firm, released a business report claiming that the average household income of a married or partnered gay man is nearly 20 percent more than a straight married or partnered man ($116,000 compared to $94,500).

“The downside,” says Gates, “is that those marketing studies looked at the LGBT community as a consumer market, which is a very different perspective compared with how a social science researcher who does poverty research would look at those questions.”…

Further corrupting the data, not all partnered gay people feel comfortable declaring their sexuality in surveys, and, a high-earning gay couple is more likely to report their sexual orientation to a census-taker than a low-earning couple, making wealthier gay people overrepresented in national surveys. Only when asked anonymously, are more gays and lesbians more willing to disclose their sexuality. In such surveys, the poverty and food-insecurity rates for LGBT people rise.

In one 2010 anonymous survey of Americans ages 18-44, gay men were found to have a poverty rate of 20.5 percent; the rate for straight men was 15.3 percent. For lesbians it was 22.7 percent, compared to 21 percent for heterosexual women. The similar rates for lesbian and straight women is attributed to the fact that women overall tend to earn less than men. Additionally, same-sex couples are 1.7 times more likely than different-sex couples to receive food stamps. The more accurate data doesn’t clarify, though, what is the cause of the gay/straight economic gap.

There are, of course, a great many wealthy gay individuals and couples, but their existence does not negate the reality of the broader LGBT demographic (and trans* people are, as a group, in far worse shape than gay and lesbian people and infinitely worse shape than the average person in almost every way).

POPULAR AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
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  • http://www.facebook.com/anthony.barcellos anthonybarcellos

    In addition to poorly sourced marketing studies like Experian’s, there is probably also the notion that since gay people supposedly have no children, they get to spend all their income on themselves in high living. In reality, lots of gay people are parents (biological or foster) and face the same challenges all families do. And even in SF’s Castro I doubt that everyone is rich and living the good life. Stereotypes are a heavy burden.

  • lofgren

    Is it weird that I’ve never heard this before? I mean I’m familiar with the stereotype that he’s describing, but I didn’t realize that it was supposed to represent most gay people. The Castro effete seems to be effectively countered in the US by the Tenderloin degenerate rutting in filthy alleyways with anything that will pay in between hits off the crack pipe. I had heard that former Stalinist countries consider homosexuality to be an affliction caused by excess, but I was not aware that people in this country thought the same.

  • http://www.gregory-gadow.net Gregory in Seattle

    What this study shows is that the distribution curve for gay men is flatter — those on the wealthy side are wealthier than their non-gay counterparts, while those on the poor side are poorer — and that the median for the curve is less than the median when looking at society as a whole. This has been known for many years, but this seems to be the first study that actually establishes it as fact.

    It has also been long known, and I believe established, that lesbians fare significantly worse than gay men, as they have to contend with generally lower salaries, fewer employment opportunities, and other institutionalized discrimination that comes with being a woman.

  • seraphymcrash

    I always thought that this myth was due to the social costs of being gay. A few years ago, there was a significant cost associated with coming out, so only the influential and wealthy could be openly gay. Those who can’t afford it tend to stay in the closet. Thus leading to the stereotype that gays and lesbians are rich and influential.

  • Michael Heath

    From the text Ed blockquotes:

    The pernicious insinuation—that gays and lesbians are one the wealthiest demographics in the country—isn’t a new cliché.

    […]

    But like most stereotypes, the myth of gay affluence is greatly exaggerated.

    What’s presented here does not falsify this perception. It does reveal gay people are disproportionately vulnerable at the low end, but doesn’t even consider their frequency at higher economic levels.

  • hunter

    Gay men and lesbians are most likely more vulnerable than straight men and women to job insecurity, to name a key factor in financial stability. Notwithstanding the example set by Catholic schools, most managers can find ways to get rid of gay and lesbian employees without the question of sexual orientation ever entering the picture. Trans* people are even more vulnerable.

    Of course, that little bit of reality never penetrates those who are perpetrating the myth of gay affluence — many of whom are more than likely to be willing to fire gays because of their orientation.

  • petemoulton

    I think the public perception that LGBT people may be wealthier on average stems largely from the fact that it’s really scary for LGBTs to come out into a climate of religious rightwing hatred, and it takes a lot of security to do that. Not only the security of being comfortable in their own skins, but also the tangible financial security of knowing that they’ve already accumulated sufficient means to live the way they want, should bigots attempt to punish them by taking away their livelihoods. There are a lot more LGBT folks out there than we ever hear about because, while they may or may not be out, they maintain low profiles to protect themselves and the people they care about.

  • http://www.gregory-gadow.net Gregory in Seattle

    @seraphymcrash #4 ” few years ago, there was a significant cost associated with coming out, so only the influential and wealthy could be openly gay. Those who can’t afford it tend to stay in the closet. Thus leading to the stereotype that gays and lesbians are rich and influential.”

    It is more culture than just economics, although they are entwined. In general, people raised in modest circumstances often have had less formal education and less exposure to cultures outside the one they were raised in. They also typically have had a religious upbringing, and have been indoctrinated with anti-sex and anti-body doctrines since birth. They are also more likely to have been raised to conservative political and social views. In the end, many simply do not self-identify as gay, despite having sex with people of the same sex.

  • MarcusC

    “One in 5 gays and lesbians aged 18-44 received food stamps in the last year, compared with just over 1 in 4 same sex couples raising children.”

    “Additionally, same-sex couples are 1.7 times more likely than different-sex couples to receive food stamps. ”

    I’m assuming the data was pulled from multiple studies. At least I hope so as these statements contradict each other.

  • timberwoof

    This message gets trotted out whenever it’s politically desirable. In 1992, as Colorado for Family Values was campaigning for their infamous Amendment 2, demonstrated an astonishing feat of cognitive dissonance. In the very same issue of their propaganda “newspaper”, CFV reported that gay people are typically poor and unemployed and living off welfare and therefore don’t deserve civil rights protections … and that gay people are typically well-educated and affluent and therefore don’t deserve civil rights protections.

  • freehand

    MarcusC – perhaps the difference is between [how many have been on food stamps in the last year] and [how long they are on food stamps on the average]. If it takes same-sex couples longer to get off food stamps, then you would see disparities like that.

  • Crudely Wrott

    In all demographics there is a wide spectrum of habitants which should not come as a surprise. Go ahead, divide humanity any which way you can. Look. Surprise!.

    Cubby holes. They just can’t make them small enough. I have no idea how that shit works but I’m glad it does.

    *large grin*

  • leonardschneider

    You mean all gay men don’t live like David Geffen? My mind is blown.

  • khms

    #9 MarcusC

    “One in 5 gays and lesbians aged 18-44 received food stamps in the last year, compared with just over 1 in 4 same sex couples raising children.”

    “Additionally, same-sex couples are 1.7 times more likely than different-sex couples to receive food stamps. ”

    I’m assuming the data was pulled from multiple studies. At least I hope so as these statements contradict each other.

    #11 freehand

    MarcusC – perhaps the difference is between [how many have been on food stamps in the last year] and [how long they are on food stamps on the average]. If it takes same-sex couples longer to get off food stamps, then you would see disparities like that.

    Hmm – I don’t see the contradiction here.

    * 20% of (gays or lesbians aged 18-44) received food stamps.

    * 25% of (same-sex couples raising children) received food stamps.

    * 14% of (different-sex couples) received food stamps.

    So, it’s worse if you’re raising children, and a lot better if you’re heterosexual.

    What contradiction or difference are you talking about?

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