Being Counted—Poverty in the LGBTQ Community

More than 1 in 4 LGBTQ people in our community go hungry at least once per year.

Imagine for a moment what this looks like: a lesbian couple in rural Montana assembling the small amount of food they have left for the week for their two children’s dinner, while taking great efforts to make sure their kids don’t notice that they aren’t eating with them. A trans person in Seattle having to decide between buying food for breakfast and using that money for bus fare to get to his job.

Recently, a headline in the New York Times about the hunger crisis in the LGBTQ community caught my eye—it is not something you read about every day. Partly, this is because it is the first time we’re being counted in such statistics. While numbers don’t tell the full stories of those in our community who aren’t eating on any given day, this data is so incredibly important.

Simply put, “you don’t count, unless you are counted,” as noted by Gary Gates of the Williams Institute.

Incomplete data about the ways in which hunger impacts LGBTQ people has serious implications, including whether our community has access to essential services. The reality is that research informs the data-driven strategies of more and more donors and foundations, government agencies, and providers as they determine where to invest, in whom to invest, and what services to offer.

The lack of LGBTQ-specific data also fuels a public narrative and set of false assumptions implying that issues of poverty don’t impact our community. This belief makes some of our struggles invisible, which has harmful consequences, including severe underfunding of these critical issues in our community.

When you take the time to digest this data, the reality is quite alarming: 27% of LGBTQ people in this country are forced to skip a meal, compared to 17% of non-LGBTQ people. This translates to roughly 2.2 million LGBTQ people who face challenges of hunger and poverty each year.

It is important to also acknowledge that “food insecurity is not distributed evenly in the LGBT community,” according to a recent Williams Institute report. “Among LGBT people, certain racial and ethnic minorities (42% among African-Americans, 33% among Hispanics, and 32% among American Indians and Alaskan Natives), women (31%), unmarried individuals (30%), and those raising children (33%) are particularly likely to report not having enough money for the food that they or their families needed at some point in the last year.”

What do we do?

There is no denying that the answer can be overwhelming and complicated. On a daily basis, as we navigate our lives, we encounter stark reminders of this crisis in the public spaces that we share with people who are struggling with these issues.

Fortunately, thanks to reports like these, there is a growing recognition that LGBTQ people, especially LGBTQ people of color, are impacted by poverty. In response, a group of researchers, legal and policy advocates, and funders have come together to form a national LGBTQ Poverty Collaborative. This effort aims to transform relevant policies and practices in order to reduce the structural barriers faced by LGBTQ people who live in poverty.

The Collaborative has developed a comprehensive reform agenda, which it has presented to the Obama Administration and a number of federal agencies. The recommendations range from consistent demographic data collection by government agencies and providers, to uniform federal discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, greater agency and service coordination, and increased funding.

At Pride Foundation, we launched our Homeless Youth Initiative more than four years ago as a direct response to how issues of poverty were playing out in our community, particularly the lack of housing security for youth and young adults, many of whom face family rejection. In many ways, the investments we have made through this effort mirror the LGBTQ Poverty Collaborative’s recommendations.

This is reassuring, knowing that many of the necessary and innovative solutions are already being advocated for and implemented by caring, smart local service providers. Yet, as this first-time data makes clear, it will take a commitment from each of us to ensure that no LGBTQ youth, adult, or family goes hungry or experiences homelessness.

As a community that so often has been made invisible and made to feel less than, this data brings us one step closer to showing even the most vulnerable among us that they matter.

Because, ultimately, not only do we need to be counted—our lives must count.

Kris Hermanns is CEO of Pride Foundation. Email Kris

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