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Tuesday 23 April 2013

World Bank examining LGBT poverty globally

LGBT people in the West have an image of being a comparatively well-off group. Since the early 1990s, LGBT media and marketeers have promoted dubiously sourced statistics on supposed average earnings and created the idea of the 'Pink Pound/Dollar'.

Here's a recent corporate example promoted unquestioningly by Queerty: ' SURVEY: The Gays Earn More Money, Have Less Debt Than Average Americans.'

This idea has then been used by the opponents of LGBT rights, including in court cases, to portray LGBT people as a privileged and powerful group. It has "great long term costs", wrote the great Australian activist Rodney Croome back in 1996:
One cost is the way the anti-gay movement uses our claim to consumer power to portray us as greedy whingers. The hate rhetoric, designed so well to tap into lower middle class and blue collar economic insecurity, goes something like "they've got the jobs, they own the businessess, they've got all the money and they still want more". Another cost is when funding bodies use our supposed disposables as an excuse to leave us out in the cold. One of the chief reasons given by Tasmanian Legal Aid for refusing to help fund our current High Court appeal was that the gay and lesbian community is rich enough to pay for its own litigation. But worse of all, is the way the pink dollar has obscured lesbian and gay poverty leaving economically disadvantaged gays and lesbians a hidden and voiceless minority.
Actual studies of economic well-being for LGBT people are rare. It is hard to study a group of people whose boundaries are fuzzy and where many of its members are pretty invisible and practically no one has even tried.

Croome quotes an Irish study from 1995 which found poverty rates double that of the general population. It's not hard to imagine why this might be. Studies of homeless youth in the US has found very high numbers are LGBT. 320,000 to 400,000 is a conservative estimate of the number of American gay and transgender youth facing homelessness each year. Discrimination, job segregation, and subsequent issues like higher rates of drugs and alcohol abuse might have something to do with higher poverty rates. As might other health issues.

"The majority of people with HIV and AIDS in San Francisco are living in extreme poverty," says Brian Bassinger, executive director of the San Francisco AIDS Housing Coalition:
There's this mythology that gay men are wealthy. The reality is that gay men living in poverty are twice the national average. We are poor. And poor people see marriage equality as a middle class and upper class issue.
Bassinger's clients, and those of LGBT homeless charities in cities like New York, are struggling for attention and support.

A 2009 University of California study of same-sex families -- reputedly a first -- found extremely high poverty rates in sub-groups like rural couples and African-American couples. But it also found that white urban gay couples had poverty rates similar to the general population. Perhaps this explains why certain LGBT issues have prominence and financial support and others less so?

Global LGBT poverty

As in Western countries, in the so-called 'Global South' LGBT people also suffer discrimination and marginalisation and hence higher poverty rates.

Albert Ogle reports on a new survey of almost 6,000 men who have sex with men (MSM) from 165 countries by MSM Global Forum.
20% of younger MSM surveyed had no income and 30% had no stable housing, which have both been linked to greater HIV vulnerability and reduced access to HIV services. Compared to older MSM in the 2012 GMHR sample, younger MSM experienced significantly higher levels of homophobia and violence. Among all MSM surveyed, homophobia was significantly associated with reduced access to condoms, lubricants, HIV testing and HIV treatment.

“This data shines light on our collective failure to ensure that YMSM have the resources they need to keep themselves healthy,” said Dr. George Ayala, executive director of MSM Global Forum. “Moreover, it is a powerful reminder that HIV among MSM is an international development issue, inextricably linked with housing, health, education, and security. Donors and policy makers must treat HIV among MSM of all ages with the same level of urgency afforded to other international development priorities, and they must take concrete steps to ensure that the unique needs of YMSM are accounted for.”
Ogle just attended a first, a meeting at the World Bank featuring international gay activists. It included Victor Mukasa, who founded the rights organisation Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) but has been forced to claim asylum in the US. A charity which Ogle in involved with, he writes, supports HIV testing for Ugandan gay men who are simply denied health services elsewhere -- services which are often funded by foreign governments and international bodies.

Meetings such as this one as well as the efforts of bodies such as MSM Global Forum and the pressure of activists on bodies such as USAID are beginning to change the approach of funders on discrimination such as that seen in Uganda. Writes Ogle:
Every institution from the family, the church, the World Bank and governments are failing the LGBT community right now. The presence of this panel was seen as a positive step to begin to address the appalling neglect of this community in heath, education and employment opportunities.
And Ogle reports that the World Bank is funding a ground breaking study on the 'economic impact of homophobia globally', to be published later this year.

The Bank is a controversial partner for any civil rights movement or for those promoting health, given its history. But given the paucity of basic research on LGBT poverty this study has to be welcomed.

Whether such a study can get any resonance in the international LGBT movement or the media is another matter.
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