As LGBT people, we are unfortunately used to living in the minority. But as economic protest movements spread from Wall Street to Atlanta and around the world, we are firmly in the majority: We, too, are the 99 percent.
The slogan of the Occupy Wall Street movement comes, of course, from staggering statistics about the divide between the richest 1 percent of Americans and the rest of us.
According to Think Progress, this richest 1 percent owns 40 percent of the nation’s wealth, takes home 24 percent of national income, owns 50 percent of stocks, bonds and mutual funds; has only 5 percent of the nation’s personal debt; and their share of national income is higher now than at any other time except the 1920s.
Whether you agree with the “occupy” tactic to call attention to the problem, the rapid swell of support for the grassroots protests in cities around the world, plus widespread identification with blogs like “We are the 99 Percent,” shows that the sentiment behind the movement isn’t as radical as critics would have us believe. The Great Recession left many Americans feeling vulnerable.
This includes many LGBT people, as discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has dire economic consequences that leave us particularly at risk.
More discrimination, fewer safety nets
Transgender people face some of the worst economic discrimination. Lesbians face anti-gay job bias as well as the sexism that still sees women earning less than men for similar work.
Even gay men, often thought of as particularly privileged due to the increase in disposable income that comes from being less likely to have children, face quantifiable job discrimination.
A study published in the American Journal of Sociology last month used two fictitious resumes of recent college grads to apply for a variety jobs in seven states. To show that the applicant had financial experience, one set stated that he had served as treasurer of a college progressive group. The other outed the applicant as gay by stating that he was treasurer of a college LGBT group.
Overall, the straight applicant received 1.5 times more calls for an interview. In Texas, one of the more conservative states in the survey, the gap doubled to 3 times more likely to get an interview.
Research compiled by the Williams Institute shows 27.1 percent of LGB people report discrimination at work, and 7.1 percent report losing a job because of it.
Another study showed 78 percent of transgender people report some form of workplace mistreatment; 47 percent reported discrimination in hiring, promotion or job retention.
When we do suffer unemployment or under-employment, we also have fewer safety nets.
Homophobia from family members may make us less able to lean on them for support. Marriage discrimination makes us unable to be covered as spouses on our partners’ health insurance, if they are lucky enough to have a job that offers health benefits. And if we are luckier still and our partners’ health insurance covers domestic partners, that benefit is taxed as income even though it isn’t for straight spouses.
Marriage discrimination also leaves us economically vulnerable if one partner dies. We can’t receive Social Security spouse benefits — despite paying the same amount in Social Security taxes as other Americans. We can’t inherit their property unless we have proactively drawn up wills (which can still be contested), unlike the automatic inheritance rights afforded to spouses.
A key component of the fight for LGBT equality, then, is economic equality. And that’s exactly what the “99 percent” movement — in all of its messy, diverse glory — is all about.
Hope for change
The “Occupy” movement may not ultimately be the solution to our nation’s economic problems, and many are frustrated that the protests have not yet articulated a specific set of demands that would lead them to decamp.
But at this point, that may be just fine. Their mere existence has sparked discussions about economic realities among a much wider audience, and that may be enough to start the ball rolling to social change.
If nothing else, we can hope the broader frustration they have tapped will lead politicians to be more reluctant to take huge corporate and lobbying group donations; companies to be less likely to lay off workers while doling out huge bonuses to top executives; and all of us to be a bit more conscious about the economic struggles we share, perhaps forging bonds and even coalitions among people who previously thought we were more different than alike.
If any of that happens, the “Occupy” movement will have been a success, regardless of whether activists continue camping.
We, as LGBT people, are among the 99 percent who stand to gain from such change.