Television programs like Modern Family and Glee often portray gay people as affluent, but a new report by the Williams Institute finds that contrary to these depictions, LGBT people make up a disproportionately high number of those receiving help for food poverty.
As of 2012, around 49 million Americans, or 16 percent of the total U.S. population, found themselves “food insecure.” That means they had limited or uncertain access to nutritionally adequate or safe foods, or that they were uncertain whether they could acquire food in socially acceptable ways. Of them, 2.4 million adults identifying as LGBT reported that at some point in the past year they found themselves without enough money to feed themselves or their families.
By using three different national population-based surveys that together identify LGBTs or same-sex married couples alongside rates of food insecurity or their participation in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Gary J Gates of the Williams Institute was able to get an insight into how food poverty affects LGBT people and compile those findings in a report titled Food Insecurity and SNAP (Food Stamps) Participation in LGBT Communities.
Speaking in broad terms, Gates found that bisexuals and LBT women suffer particularly with food insecurity and are more likely to need SNAP. This is also true of LBT women of color. Briefly, the data showed that about 25 percent of bisexuals required food stamps, and that 34 percent of all LBT women were food insecure in the last year. The rates among racial minorities were particularly staggering, with Native Americans and Native Hawaiians who identified as LGBT needing assistance at rates of 55 percent and 78 percent respectively.
“These data provide the first opportunity to understand the extent to which LGBT people in the U.S. experience some aspects of food insecurity and use food stamps,” said Gates. “The farm bill Congress passed [on February 4] cut food stamps, and we now know that LGBT communities will be disproportionately affected by that legislation.”
In more specific terms, Gates found that more than 1 in 5 LGB-identifying adults aged between 18-44 relied on the SNAP program during the last year. In addition to this, more than 4 in 10 LGB adults who are raising children–about 650,000 individuals–participated in SNAP.
All this adds up to significantly higher rates of food insecurity among the LGBT population when comparing to heterosexual adults. As touched on above, this fact held true across racial/ethnic, gender and age divides, as well as in terms of level of education.
For instance, LGBT adults were about 1.7 times more likely than non-LGBT adults to find themselves without enough money to feed themselves or their families. Unsurprisingly then, same-sex couples were about 1.7 times more likely to need food stamps than different-sex couples. The rate increased among same-sex couples raising young children under the age of 18, with same-sex parent families about 2.1 times more likely to need food stamps than similar different-sex couples.
Gates gave a stark summary of the findings in comments made to the Atlantic: “I think we have this sense, borrowing from the campaign, that ‘it gets better’ and that’s true: It is getting better, but it’s not getting better everywhere all the time. Things in rural Alabama look very different from Seattle, and as more LGBT people come out, they are disproportionately more likely to come out in Alabama than Seattle.”
The research largely supports what we’ve known for a long time: contrary to the Religious Right’s assertions, gay people aren’t necessarily more affluent than their straight counterparts. While it may be true that there are some very rich LGBT people, they do not represent the vast majority of LGBT people are living their lives like most other Americans but most also deal with the added pressures of job discrimination, housing insecurity and more.
This highlights why legislation like the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act is so important. With improved job security and the threat of employment discrimination guarded against there comes an increased chance for food security which in turn raises health and standards of living. With the House of Representatives refusing to move ENDA, an executive order by the President could go some way to helping on this issue.
And make no mistake, this issue is an important one. Getting across the message that “gay affluence” is a myth allows us to tear up those illusions and start helping to remedy the situation. It also allows us to recognize that when we talk about food insecurity we’re also talking about a broad spectrum of intersecting factors. Taking action, then, on the federal Employment Non Discrimination Act, as well as on other pieces of legislation like the Student Non Discrimination Act, can ensure that LGBTs in America are able to access the full range of opportunities that are already open to heterosexuals and, by doing so, it can help LGBT parent families rescue themselves from food poverty and financial hardship.
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