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New Report Dispels 'Myth Of Gay Affluence,' Shows Disproportionate Poverty Rates For LGBT Americans


The American public is getting used to seeing gay characters proliferate on their television and movie screens. Most of us would agree, however, that these portrayals leave a lot to be desired, and that "getting used to" is not the most desirable result. A new study from UCLA's Williams Institute suggests that one way in which representation in media, continued into modern day with Looking even, has failed is in its singularly affluent understanding of gay life (How did Jonathan Groff afford that apartment all on his own the whole season? Dom may be a waiter, but he sure has a nice pad!).

The reality? Gay Americans are more likely to grow up homeless, live an impoverished adult life, and require assistance in receiving necessities like food. 

The Atlantic looked to understand "The Myth of Gay Affluence," both in terms of inaccurate representation and economic disparity. The results are a work in progress:

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.

The researchers suppose that those political strides have encouraged people across the country, not just in wealthier urban centers, to come out, increasing the amount of respondents who would identify as LGBT and impoverished in some way. " poorer than Seattle," or San Francisco, or New York. Thus a widening economic disparity. Why then is the public perception skewed toward wealth?

“Corporate America was one of the first targets in terms of trying to improve policies around LGBT issues,” says [Gary] Gates [author of the study], “and part of it was this idea that they needed to focus on the LGBT community as a consumer market that mattered.”

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 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 Atlantic cited a 2010 study, however, that showed gay men to have a poverty rate of 20.5% compared to 15.3% for straight men. The Williams Institute points to a higher amount of lower paying jobs (such as nursing and teaching) taken by gay people, a very real disparity in hiring practices, and the realities of workplace discrimination, but nothing has conclusively shown why the economic difference exists. One thing is for certain:

...equality can’t and won’t be achieved as long as myths and stereotypes about LGBT people continue to be perpetuated and believed.

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  1. As long ago as these myths started, it was available knowledge (as opposed to "widely known") that the numbers had been lifted from marketing surveys and specifically from sources like self-reported income from subscribers to magazines like the Advocate.

    So even at the time, it could be understood that this was a self-selected population of people who were:
    1) Out, or at least out enough to send in a survey card and not care what the mail carrier thought
    2) Had enough discretionary income that they subscribed to glossy gay magazines
    3) Had the same sort of disproportionate income, education, and interests that subscribers to such magazines usually have.

    The earliest uses of it were "we have access to a population of gay people with high discretionary income and the interest in being intensely brand loyal" - true enough of their subscriber lists, but that distinction almost immediately got blurred, especially when the religious right got ahold of it and started claiming that "the gay community" was saying this was true of all gay people.

    The sorts of people who don't fit that profile wouldn't show up in those surveys. People who can't afford food or don't dare be out or are struggling to pay bills don't subscribe to glossy political/entertainment/fashion magazines, or if they do, they don't send in subscriber marketing surveys.

    Posted by: Lymis | Mar 27, 2014 1:46:08 PM

  2. How did Patrick and Dom afford their apartments? SF rent control!

    Posted by: Derek B | Mar 27, 2014 1:47:46 PM

  3. Yes, the myth of gay affluence is BS as these links above well dempostrates, but... TV is also an escapist indulgence. Who wants to watch a show about some gay dudes living in and impoverished hood working as day laborers or not working at all?? Wouldn't be much of a draw. I am open to arguement here.

    Posted by: KevInPDX | Mar 27, 2014 1:49:23 PM

  4. Thanks, LYMIS,

    your comment was more enlightening and understandable than the article.

    Posted by: Derrick from Philly | Mar 27, 2014 2:05:11 PM

  5. When I look around at my group of friends, some are well-paid but the majority are not and I know of three guys who stand in line each Saturday morning for a bag of free groceries, which aren't really much to sustain one person for a full week. Food stamps are a joke - my oldest gay friend (77YO) receives less than the average in Social Security ($900 vs avg $1,175) and is limited to just $24 a month in food assistance. He survives mostly from handouts and free meals at local churches and has lived in a rent controlled apartment since 1965. OTOH, my three gay neighbors, two of whom live together 'just because' work for various web social companies and pull down $6-9,000 a month. To be able to pay for a fair market studio in SF you have to pull down $57 an hour. Most gays I know are barely making it even with degrees and higher education in their backgrounds.

    Posted by: Mike Ryan | Mar 27, 2014 2:09:28 PM

  6. I would add a couple of things... I have straight friends who make more money. But then they have kids and most of their money goes to said kids. In the past there really wasn't gay adoption or as much surrogacy as we might have today. So I had more "disposable" income to spend on me, me, me even though I made less.

    The second thing about "urban centers" centers is, that at least in my neck of the woods, is the "gayborhood" is really mostly made up of people from small towns with little education who have come to the city to wave the rainbow flag. So unless they go to hair school, their skill set more or less guarantees they work retail or are waiters. People who grew up in the city would never consider living in that part of town

    Posted by: Homo Genius | Mar 27, 2014 2:09:42 PM

  7. No one, straight or gay is making money anymore unless you are the one percent. The economy is now based largely on people making money off of money while manufacturing has dwindled.

    Posted by: Lazycrockett | Mar 27, 2014 2:20:40 PM

  8. I'm 53, and I my self dont know of any Rich Gays ....sure I know some that live decent lives, wrk hard & tho they too have NO children, can afford a vakay once a yr....but also - I know struggling gay people as well....a few raising children. My hubby 56yrs old and I only have a cat... he's an exec., I am lower level employee...tho together we make 140k gross a yr...tho neither us is a "designer label person either"...tho I never was and never will we save for retirement.

    Posted by: disgusted american | Mar 27, 2014 2:26:05 PM

  9. I've seen a lot of gay men who don't make a lot of money, but go into deep debt to create the illusion of affluence. I've seen a lot of gay men who are horrible at managing their money.

    Posted by: Arkansassy | Mar 27, 2014 2:38:50 PM

  10. Dom also has a roommate who works in healthcare...

    Patrick is a game developer. What surprises me more about Patrick is that he's ever home at all. Tech companies tend to prefer hiring geeks who have no social lives or outside interests to speak of. He'd be getting paid an amount of money commensurate with the cost of living in San Francisco OTHERWISE HE WOULDN'T BE LIVING THERE.

    Posted by: Jerry | Mar 27, 2014 2:43:04 PM

  11. Yet shows like Looking make it seem as if it is a minority problem. The current level of poverty is unprecedented. Today even the "rich" are poor and the one percent is a myth and in actuality not even a tenth of that.

    Posted by: Jay | Mar 27, 2014 2:51:26 PM

  12. Some many gays are attracted to materialism that on the surface it looks like they're wealthy but the reality is, they're up to their eyeballs in debt.

    A simple question of: "do you own or lease that fancy car?" tells you if they have money or are simply 'borrowing' it.

    Posted by: Steve | Mar 27, 2014 2:54:25 PM

  13. Sigh ... it seems like the "pink dollar" myth needs dispelling again and again - it's really tough to change ideas once they've become people's default assumption.

    Posted by: distinguetraces | Mar 27, 2014 2:54:28 PM

  14. Boy, people love finding reasons to hate on LOOKING.

    In fact the show does treat SF's housing market realistically.

    Patrick is a newly hired techie. He alone among the cast is part of the class that can afford a decent SF apartment without roommates.

    Posted by: distinguetraces | Mar 27, 2014 2:57:11 PM

  15. You'll notice that this study is about "LGBT" affluence or lack thereof, but there is no discussion of transgenders. It shows once again that nobody really takes LGBT seriously, as they shouldn't.

    However, if they had tried to break out statistics for transgenders, you would have seen huge poverty. Why? Not because of discrimination. The recent NGLTF study on trannies shows that their unemployment rate is lower in states with no anti-discrimination protections than in those that have it. So why would there be such huge trans poverty? Crime. Transgenders commit a lot of crime and go to prison at far higher rates. Crime and imprisonment equals poverty.

    Posted by: Sharon | Mar 27, 2014 3:07:36 PM

  16. disabled and living on S.S. far from wealthy, but getting by. Could be worse.

    Posted by: Tom | Mar 27, 2014 3:08:39 PM

  17. @Disgusted American: You and your hubby make 3x the median US household of 4. Whether or not you feel affluent is besides the point. Doesn’t matter if you like to shop at the Gap or Barneys. All that matters is your income power and the potential to be marketed to.

    Posted by: matt | Mar 27, 2014 3:11:07 PM

  18. This study is a big duh. Gays come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and socio-economic statuses just as straight people, from your rich sugar daddy Calvin Klein to your meth-addicted homeless guy turning tricks to survive. What we watch on TV and in the movies is generally a nice escape from reality.

    Posted by: SpaceCadet | Mar 27, 2014 3:57:56 PM

  19. "Looking" like most tv shows is a fantasy.

    Posted by: jarago | Mar 27, 2014 5:49:40 PM

  20. It's gaycheck to gaycheck for me.

    Posted by: kodiak | Mar 27, 2014 5:56:20 PM

  21. What blows my mind is how Richie on Looking can afford an apartment in SF at all. Unless its a condo he inherited from a family member.

    TV does always tend to skew wealthy though. Look at Modern Family. The "Average middle class everyday" Dunphy's house, in real life, just sold for 2.5 million dollars! Yet that house is portrayed as nothing special on the show.

    Posted by: brandon h | Mar 27, 2014 5:57:51 PM

  22. Well yeah Brandon, no one really wants to watch a show with poor, struggling people, especially in sitcom format. FOX in the 90s had a sitcom called "South Central" that depicted a poor single mother-headed family that was cancelled after the first episode aired. And that very same year came "Friends" with struggling young attractive people but living it up and somehow affording a nice large apartment in Manhattan. Very realistic!

    Posted by: SpaceCadet | Mar 27, 2014 6:19:03 PM

  23. Sharon (Rick) - your obsessions over Trans people, and your active investment in bringing them misery is seriously unhealthy. Get some help.

    Posted by: Tyler | Mar 27, 2014 6:24:53 PM

  24. "The "Average middle class everyday" Dunphy's house, in real life, just sold for 2.5 million dollars! Yet that house is portrayed as nothing special on the show"

    That house WOULD BE nothing special in most of America and would sell for less than $200K, It has gotten to the point that you have to be out of your mind to live in the Northeast or in California any more, when you can live much, much more cheaply almost anythere else--with nicer neighbors and not as much congestion. And living in the Heartland is not the cultural "challenge" that it used to be in an era of Netflix, Metropolitan Opera performances in HD live at your local movie theater, and digital recorded music.

    As for the point of the article, for what it is worth, I have never encountered another senior-level exexcutive in 30 byears in the business world who I really thought was gay....and 98% of my peers are married (to a woman) I have to believe, myself, that gay affluence is nothing but a myth.

    Posted by: Rick | Mar 27, 2014 6:37:19 PM

  25. I've neer been comfortable for the way gay people are portayed in movies and TV shows. Whateer it may have accomplished, MAKING LOVE was a fairy tale, and LONGTIME COMPANION is far inferior to PARTING GLANCES, which was at least a bit closer to reality.

    Posted by: gregorybrown | Mar 27, 2014 6:39:04 PM

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