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Tuesday, March 17

Ending the DINK myth

Forthcoming article for

For around twenty years the perception of lesbian and gay people has been biased. And it's the fault of our own.

There is a overwhelming myth about gays and lesbians which is tied to their public profile, particularly of well-known people, that gay=better-off. But this idea of gay=better-off has been deliberately fanned by gay commercial business — because it's in their interests. DINK (double income no kids) = Will & Grace = yuppie = market!

When I worked for a gay newspaper in Australia we used some of the earliest marketing data about the so-called 'Pink Dollar' to attract then reluctant advertisers. Of course we did, and, shamefully, we also bought into the myth.

We did it because I'd read some early marketing studies which sampled gay magazine readers - and showed what they thought advertisers would want to hear: there was a well-off market which you're ignoring.

I've learnt since that gays and lesbians come in the most rainbow of varieties and most are not very visible. They are the ones affected by factors like poor educational outcomes due to harassment at school, and vulnerability to employee discrimination. They are the ones represented disproportionately in the ranks of the homeless.

I'd also suggest that a certain 'ghettoisation' into accepting jobs - such as lower paid social work or working in service industries - would play a role.

Of course it's even worse for transgender people who just cannot get jobs in the first place (except in sex work).

Unfortunately this DINK information has been used by our enemies to suggest that LGBT are not a group that needs protection, precisely because we're supposedly already well-off. Handed to them on a plate by gays-after-a-buck have been powerful political arguments to use against their fellow gays.

I'm not blaming them, I'm just pointing this out.

The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law survey about LGBT poverty, which will be presented to the US Congress on Friday, has been described as the first of its kind.

It's getting PR but it's not a first. There have been similar studies, though very few, going back years, which have shown the same issues which this one apparently does.

"This first [sic] analysis of the poor and low-income lesbian, gay and bisexual population reveals that LGB adults and families are as likely - and, in the case of some subgroups, more likely - to be poor than their heterosexual counterparts, contrary to the popular myth of gay and lesbian affluence."

The review will include a discussion of the social and political factors that may lead to higher rates of LGB poverty, including vulnerability to employee discrimination, inability to marry and higher numbers of those who are uninsured.
This is talking about Americans but has reported previously that around 20% of Brighton and Hove's homeless people are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
The research suggests the LGBT community is over-represented in the homeless population and has negative experiences of local authority homelessness applications.
There is little UK research however American figures show up to 40% of homeless young people are gay or lesbian.

A study by Brenda Roche for the homeless charity Crisis said:
Sexuality issues are often over looked for homeless people. Yet we know that issues related to sexuality and sexual identity can play a key role in the onset of homelessness.

Questions emerge quickly for individuals who are GLBT about disclosure issues within services. Sexual identity can be viewed as a marker of difference in some settings, opening up the individual to greater scrutiny and harassment. The open identification or disclosure of sexual identity may be interpreted as forcing the individuals to categorise themselves or to feel that they are a minority under a greater surveillance.

For many GLBT youth, migration to urban centres typically occurs shortly after leaving (or being forced out of) home. Moving to larger city centres may be prompted by the idea that within this new context there will be greater exposure to a more visible gay community or at least a community more appreciative of diverse identities. At the same time, this transition also exposes the individual to new situations of risk and potential exploitation.

Difficulties due to intolerance and homophobia can contribute to the loss of stable housing or exacerbate periods of homelessness, particularly amongst those who are most vulnerable, such as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (GLBT) youth. Beyond the experiences of GLBT youth though, we have a limited understanding of how the issues of homelessness and sexuality intersect. Only recently has interest emerged about the needs of adults and older people who are GLBT and homeless.

The failure to recognise issues of sexuality means that within systems of care the assumption is one of heterosexuality. For GLBT homeless people this creates one more area in which they feel marked or different in a negative way. This may contribute to or exacerbate the degree of isolation and distress for an already highly marginalised and vulnerable group.

The loss of home for GLBT youth, as a runaway or as a result of being thrown out of their home is an all too common experience. Whether rough sleeping or part of the hidden homeless population (sleeping in temporary accommodation, squats, or relying upon friends, family or acquaintances) there is a continued sense of intolerance and isolation.
What does this amount to?
Estimates on the prevalence of GLBT persons amongst the wider homeless youth population have shown considerable variation. In the United States, national studies suggest that as many as 50% of all homeless youth may be gay or lesbian with estimates in the UK running as high as 30% in urban centres, whereas current broader estimates of population-wide figures of homosexuality in the UK are roughly between 5-7%.

The data on sexual identity and homelessness likely underestimates the situation, reflecting underreporting by individuals and a lack of monitoring by researchers and service providers.
This is to a background of educational underachievement because of systemic discrimination in schools:
Research carried out in 2003 found that 51% of gay men and 30% of lesbians reported being bullied physically at school, compared with 47% of heterosexual men and 20% of heterosexual women. (Mental health and social wellbeing of gay men, lesbians and bisexuals in England and Wales , Royal Free College and University College Medical School, 2003)

Almost two thirds (65 per cent) of young lesbian, gay and bisexual people experience homophobic bullying in Britain’s schools (Stonewall, School Report 2007).

Seventy five per cent of young gay people in faith schools experience homophobic bullying and are less likely than pupils in other schools to report it (Stonewall, The School Report 2007).

Of those who have been bullied, 92 per cent have experienced verbal homophobic bullying, 41 per cent physical bullying and 17 per cent death threats (Stonewall, The School Report 2007).

Half of those who have experienced homophobic bullying have skipped school because of it and one in five has skipped school more than six times. A third of gay pupils who have been bullied are likely to miss school in the future (Stonewall, The School Report 2007).
Why would all the well-documented barriers which other minorities have experienced (e.g glass ceiling barriers for, majority, women) not also result in greater poverty for LGBT? This is the logic but where is the proof?

The earliest study I am aware of about LGBT poverty was Irish. Conducted by the Combat Poverty Agency in Dublin in 1995 it found:
21 per cent of respondents were living in poverty and over half (57 per cent) of respondents said they found it difficult to make ends meet. The findings also outlined clearly the range of effects of harassment and discrimination, and the extent of social exclusion experienced by lesbians and gay men.

A large number of respondents suffered from social exclusion. Participants reported problems with harassment, discrimination or prejudice at many stages of their lives - for example, in revealing their sexuality to family and friends; in school, college or while on training courses; in employment. Problems of isolation and loneliness at school or in continuing their education were not uncommon, and exclusion was evident in the area of service provision, for example housing and insurance.

Many had not revealed their sexual orientation to others, particularly in the work place, for fear of rejection or recrimination. 21% of respondents avoided work for which they were qualified through fear of discrimination and a further 39% avoided categories of work for the same reason. 7% reported being dismissed from a job because they are lesbian or gay and a further 14% had resigned from a job because they found it too difficult to reconcile their job with their sexuality.

A third of respondents said they had left home at one time or another with no certainty as to where they were going to live next. 41 percent of respondents said they had been threatened with violence because they were assumed to be lesbian or gay, and 25 per cent said they had been punched, beaten, hit or kicked because they were assumed to be lesbian or gay. The vast majority (84 per cent) of respondents knew somebody who had been verbally harassed, threatened with violence or physically attacked because they were assumed to be lesbian or gay.
Everything about this should ring true with the lived experience of LGBT - most LGBT are far from well-0ff. But it says something for the power of the DINK myth that:
In the UK it is truly time for a study to bust this myth. Stonewall?


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