Moving Toward an LGBTQ Economic Justice Agenda

Over the next few weeks, Equity Blog will feature posts about the newly-released series of 13 issue briefs from PolicyLink and the Marguerite Casey Foundation. This series highlights the economic imperative of equity for the policy planks of the foundation’s Equal Voice Campaign National Family Platform.

This week, the staff from the National LGBTQ Task Force spent the day with service providers, advocates, and local Washington DC activists, brainstorming about our movement’s economic justice agenda. 

It’s a complicated question to tackle, but the issue we struggled with most was how to prioritize our strategies for progress.  Should we be focused on the ways our community is differently impacted by economic systems?  Or should we be thinking about the ways that members of our community are disproportionately impacted by systems of oppression?

A new policy brief released by our partners at PolicyLink and the Marguerite Casey Foundation helps to highlight what we think might be the answer: tackling both at the same time.  We have to think about the ways that our community has been targeted for discrimination by existing systems.  We lack explicit, nationwide non-discrimination protections in areas like employment, housing, and public accommodations.  Even where non-discrimination protections exist, enforcement is difficult, so in practice we continue to face discrimination at work, in shelters, and in bathrooms across the country.  Discrimination is felt particularly acutely by those members of our community impacted by multiple oppressions – people of color, transgender and gender non-conforming people, people living with HIV and AIDS, and undocumented immigrants are among those who struggle to succeed where non-discrimination provisions are nonexistent or nominal.

Yet where LGBTQ people are meaningfully integrated into economic systems, communities see significant benefits.  As this brief explains, inclusion of LGBTQ people can lead to increased economic activity (up to $64 billion per year), increased public savings, workforce stability, and healthier and more productive workers.

Still, adoption of non-discrimination provisions won’t solve all the problems of the LGBTQ community any more than our historic victory on marriage last year provided protections for every LGBTQ family.  Our community is disproportionately represented in a host of systems that are desperately in need of reform.  We are disproportionately poor.  We are disproportionately likely to experience homelessness and housing instability.  We face family and community rejection at astronomical rates.  We are bullied in schools and made invisible in education curriculums.  We’re disproportionately likely to become involved with the criminal justice system.  All of these systems – and countless more – impact the lived experience of so many marginalized members of our community.  We must engage in systemic reform on issues that impact all marginalized people if we hope to work toward an equitable society.

PolicyLink recognizes this dichotomy in their strategies for LGBTQ inclusion.  In addition to the more traditional call for explicit non-discrimination protections on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity, their report calls out the need for anti-poverty legislation, protections for young people in public schools, better treatment for LGBTQ people who are incarcerated, and meaningful investment in LGBTQ-inclusive health care and social services.  It is these types of systemic responses that will change the lives of LGBTQ people in a sustainable way.  Our movement’s economic justice agenda will reflect that intersectional perspective.  Stay tuned.