Help! We’re Gay and We’re Being Oppressed!

Help! We’re Gay and We’re Being Oppressed! January 11, 2013

A recent Prudential study showed that gays and lesbians are considerably more wealthy, on average, than their heterosexual counterparts.  As the Prudential press release explains:

The study found that the LGBT community is in relatively good financial health with a median household income of $61,500, above the median U.S. household income of $50,000. Although gay men report earning more than lesbians individually ($49,000 vs. $43,500 median personal income), when it comes to household income, lesbians, who are more likely to live in dualincome households, have higher household income ($63,700 vs. $62,300). While the combined household income of gay male couples is the highest overall at $103,000, these couples constitute a minority (19%) of the LGBT community.

The study is based on a detailed survey of 1400 LGBT’s in every state of the union, aged 25-68, with a distribution that corresponds to the distribution of LGBT’s according to the US Census, and with over seventy multiple-choice and write-in questions. While other surveys have only looked tangentially at income, this one was specifically designed to determine the financial health of LGBT’s, and had neither the marketer’s temptation to overstate the purchasing power of LGBT’s nor the political temptation to understate gay wealth in order to convey the image of systemic gay oppression. In the past, one argument against the “gay wealth myth” has been that it’s disproportionately the wealthy who are “out” and therefore the results are skewed. Yet the Prudential study included both “out” and “not out” gays. While the methodology will presumably be attacked, the Prudential study represents the strongest evidence to date that the “gay wealth myth” is not a myth at all.

You can read the report in full, but it’s fairly summarized by Austin Ruse in First Things, who suggests that the results challenge the equation of the LGBT condition with the conditions of other historically oppressed minorities: “Rather than living in extreme poverty, or poverty of any kind, the study shows that gay individuals and couples are significantly better off than heterosexuals. They are more likely to be employed. They make significantly more money. They have much higher levels of disposable income and have more in savings.”

It should not be surprising that LGBTs have more wealth in general than non-LGBT Americans. For one thing, LGBT’s are strongly over-represented in elite academia. While LGBT’s are generally found to be roughly 4% of the general population, they are over ten percent at many elite universities, ranging all the way up to Yale University, where one-fifth to one-quarter of the student population identifies as LGBT. Gays, lesbians and bisexuals emerge disproportionately from universities where their average incomes will be high. In my own fourteen years at elite universities, a very high proportion of my friends were gays and lesbians — and I continue to have great love and respect for them. This is not an accusation, it’s simply a fact. Universities have bent over backward to include gays and lesbians in the student population, and have especially supported gay applicants who make a point of social activism or political leadership on behalf of their orientation. It was a joke I heard more than once that any applicant who wanted to gain an advantage in the admissions process should claim that he was the President of the Gay-Straight Alliance or had formed an Out and Proud Society. Furthermore, LGBT’s are also disproportionately likely to live in high-income states and high-income cities. So rather than the usual rending of garments when it’s pointed out that LGBTs are relatively flourishing financially, the answer really should be: of course they are.

Neither are these the only advantages gays enjoy. As Ruse goes on to write, “They are lauded in the media and in the popular culture [and] their cause is championed by what Fr. Neuhaus called the ‘prestige media.’ They are honored and promoted not just as Ivy League schools but in just about every college setting in the United States.” Meanwhile, those who oppose them are “vilified” and “driven…from the public square.” Recent court rulings too have underscored the fact that LGBTs have powerful political muscle and therefore do not deserve the “heightened judicial solicitude” granted to powerless minority groups.

Sometimes it seems as though the whole of contemporary political discourse is a fierce competition to claim the most persecuted victim status — that, at least, is a fair description of far too many seminar conversations in which I took part at Stanford as an undergraduate and Harvard as a doctoral student. The first person to be righteously offended generally won the conversation, and identification with a victimized people group was like grabbing the “snitch” in Quidditch: the end of the match and practically an automatic victory. So it’s understandable that LGBTs have often fought back against the notion that they are by and large wealthy and successful. But if greater wealth, greater education, greater access to academic privilege and the professional classes, and almost universal celebration in popular media is the new form of oppression, it’s an odd oppression indeed.

AND YET, and yet

This is where I want to make a very important transition. And I hope it will be edifying to those who are thoroughly furious with me right now.

AND YET, LGBTs do suffer certain forms of social opposition and disadvantage. They may lose their jobs because heterosexual colleagues are uncomfortable around them. They struggle with a whole set of issues around medical care, retirement and partner benefits that heterosexuals do not. And far, far too many gays have suffered verbal abuse, and sometimes even physical abuse, from non-LGBT’s, including non-LGBT Christians.

In other words, the question of whether a particular group suffers unjust forms of social opposition is not a simple question. And for all my gay and lesbian friend and readers who are agreeing with me right now — “Yes, absolutely right, you can be doing fine in some ways and yet suffering attacks at the same time!” — I want to ask: Why should it be any different when it comes to evangelical Christians?

Evangelical Christians are frequently mocked for crying out that they are “persecuted” (although I almost never see that term used) when they are denigrated in popular media or when the culture turns holidays sacred to them into areligious consumeristic feeding frenzies. In fact, a couple hours ago, Rachel Held Evans extended her usual mockery to the notion, this time in relation to Louie Giglio’s invitation and then exclusion from the inauguration ceremony. She points to how “we live in a country in which the majority of its citizens are Christians” and then she torches the straw man: “Not getting your way in every area of civic life,” she writes, “is not persecution.”

Granted, but who claimed that it is? And what does “Christians” have to do with it? The majority of Americans are not evangelical (which is what’s really under discussion here), and evangelicals are treated unjustly in many spheres of civic life. While evangelicals have political power due to their sheer voting numbers, and while the worst (and therefore most-quoted) evangelical commentators can be terribly ungracious in their use of the power of the megaphone, it’s nevertheless true that evangelicals are frequently mocked in popular culture, frequently given a raw deal in academia and elite media, and evangelicals who hold to traditional views of sexual ethics are — as the Louie Giglio affair shows — increasingly shoved to the side of the public square.

An evangelical pastor with a sterling record, who had developed strong relationships with President Obama and particularly his office of faith-based initiatives headed by Joshua DuBois, who had turned his enormously successful Passion conferences against the problem of human trafficking, was just publicly humiliated and shouted out of the public square for professing fairly standard Christian views on human sexuality and the possible redemption of our desires through the transformative power of the gospel of Christ. On the advice of the faith-based office, Giglio was invited to deliver the benediction, the LGBT community raised a hue and cry, and the White House quite obviously (see here and here) pressured him to step aside.

The message is loud and clear. It doesn’t matter what else you have done. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was. If you hold to traditional Christian views of human sexuality, or once did, you are no longer a citizen in good standing who is welcome to participate fully in the public square.

So, a wry congratulations to the LGBT community. You just chased an evangelical pastor widely known and celebrated for his anti-trafficking efforts out of the President’s inaugural for the thought-crime of believing (or once believing) that homosexual sex is sinful, and homosexual desires can be controlled or cultivated in other ways. In so doing, however, you proved not only that you (unlike most oppressed minorities) wield immense political power, but you also proved that the oppressed can also be oppressors, the bullied bullies, and you proved too that evangelicals are right to have concerns that their religious conscience freedoms are in danger.

Was it worth it? It’s hard to claim the place of the oppressed when you wield power like this.

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