Jason E. Miczek/ HRC / AP

Report: LGBT people of color at high risk of poverty

Discrimination and lack of legal protections put LGBT minorities at a financial disadvantage

LGBT people of color face a high risk of suffering from poverty because of discrimination and lack of strong legal protections, according to a new report released on Thursday.

An estimated 3 million American adults identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people of color, according to the report co-authored by the left-leaning Center for American Progress, a think tank, and the LGBT-focused advocacy group the Movement Advancement Project.

Black, Latino, Native American and Asian LGBT people are more likely to be poor than white LGBT people, the report said, with transgender people suffering from poverty most of all.

“Disproportionate numbers of LGBT people of color live in places that lack any explicit state-level protections for LGBT people,” Ineke Mushovic, executive director of the Movement Advancement Project, said in a release. “This means that LGBT people of color face a high risk of economic harm from anti-LGBT laws.”

While the report (PDF) said research in this area is limited, LGBT people of color are more likely than white LGBT people to suffer from poverty. For example, black Americans in same-sex couples are more than twice as likely to live in poverty than those in opposite-sex married couples. 

While the average unemployment rate among the general LGBT population in the U.S. hovers around 8 percent, according to the report, the number reaches 15 percent among that population who are black, 14 percent among those who are Latino, and 11 percent among those who are Asian/Pacific Islander.

But transgender people of color are most threatened by extreme poverty: Some 28 percent of Latino trans people, 34 percent of black trans people, 23 percent of Native American trans people and 18 percent of Asian or Pacific Islander trans people are extremely poor, with annual household incomes of $10,000 or less. That’s compared with 15 percent of the trans population as a whole that suffers from extreme poverty.

Being an LGBT racial minority has an even stronger impact when it comes to wage discrimination, the report said, because black and Latino workers make between 17 to 43 percent less than white and Asian workers.

“Additionally, workers of color, and likely LGBT workers of color, are heavily concentrated in low-wage jobs that lack opportunities for advancement or benefits,” the authors wrote.

The federal Civil Rights Act protects against workplace discrimination based on “sex,” the report points out, but it may not be specific enough to apply to gay, bisexual and lesbian workers.

In absence of a federal law explicitly protecting LGBT people against job discrimination, those living in the 22 states and the District of Columbia that do have laws protecting LGBT people against employment discrimination have better luck. However, just 19 of those states protect against employment discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity expression, and in the rest of the country, LGBT employees can be fired based on their sexuality or gender identity.

When it comes to health care, LGBT people of color are less likely to have health insurance than whites and more likely to experience discrimination from health workers. For example, while 82 percent of white LGBT people are insured, just 61 percent of Latino LGBT people, 71 percent of Asian LGBT people and 79 percent of black LGBT people have health insurance.

The report, citing a survey from Lambda Legal, (PDF), a civil rights organization, said that 7 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual people of color have experienced physically rough or abusive treatment in health care settings, 11 percent have been denied care and 14 percent were spoken to harshly. Among transgender people of color, it was far worse — 29 percent were denied care, 25 percent were spoken to harshly, and health care workers would not even touch 18 percent of them.

The authors of the report recommended that lawmakers strengthen federal and state-level laws to explicitly protect against housing, employment and public accommodation discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. They also recommend that government agencies and other researchers who do population surveys should include questions about gender identity and sexual orientation so they can have a better idea about how to better serve the needs of the LGBT population.

“Eliminating the injustice and the financial penalties facing LGBT Americans of color simply requires that they, and their families, be treated equally under the law,” the report said.

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