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Why Building Wealth Can Be so Hard for LGBTQ Women

  • I’m a queer cis woman, and I always thought certain financial milestones were out of reach.
  • Over time, I learned that was partly because I didn’t see people like me achieve my dreams first.
  • Imagining possibilities is a big part of planning; I want LGBTQ women to be able to imagine success.
  • This article is part of Women of Means, a series about women taking charge of their finances.

I’ll never forget the day when I was walking by a beautiful brownstone in my neighborhood in Brooklyn. I thought to myself, as usual, “I’ll never have a nice place like that.”

Unusually, my next thought was, “Maybe, but someone does — and if it’s possible, what would it take for me to do it, too?”

This line of thinking was new. As a queer cis woman embedded in do-it-yourself culture and from a white working-class family, I wasn’t used to walking around imagining that financial achievements were possible for me. My friends’ and my finances came into play in things like our jobs, low savings, and absent safety nets, as well as our having no idea where the heck a down payment was going to come from.

Why might there be people whose take on possibility is dampened to the point of not imagining possibilities? The answer lies in observed and experienced realities. 

LGBTQ women rarely see themselves reflected in the wealthiest groups 

Data on both LGBTQ people and women of all orientations evidences economic precarity for many people within these lived experiences.

PayScale‘s 2021 gender-pay-gap report found that women earned, on average, $0.82 for each dollar men made for the same work. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics 2021 wages report found that “women had median weekly earnings of $930, or 84.3% of the $1,103 median for men.” The Human Rights Campaign’s 2021 wage-gap study found LGBTQ workers earned 90% of the US median and LGBTQ women got $0.87 for every dollar the average worker earned.

Transgender women have an even higher likelihood of experiencing life on a low income. McKinsey reported last year that cisgender people took home 32% higher wages for the same work transgender people did. A 2019 study from the Williams Institute of the University of California, Los Angeles, found that “among LGBT people, transgender people have especially high rates of poverty.” Elsewhere, the study said: “Those who identified as transgender men have the highest poverty rate (33.7%), followed by transgender women (29.6%) and gender nonconforming people (23.8%).” It found a 17.9% poverty rate for lesbians, compared with 15.7% for all straight cisgender people.

This matters because anyone who struggles to earn enough money and/or doesn’t observe other people earn sustainable incomes is going to struggle practically as well as conceptually. 

Before you can plan for a dream, you have to imagine it

My shift — to curiosity about a path forward instead of assuming it didn’t exist — is a core perception shift that I apply in my work as an innovation facilitator. Over the past few years, it’s led me to experiment with “fancy” jobs and negotiate higher wages. I’ve now achieved several financial milestones: I earn five times my 2015 income, and I saved a down payment, buy organic food, donate regularly, support my parent, and have laid a path to retirement.

I want more people in LGBTQ communities to have a frame of reference for what is possible. This is why I share my story and skills in my other work as a money coach and educator. I’ve been able to help over 1,000 people make plans and take action toward their dreams.

Imagining positive possibilities is a huge factor in planning. You reasonably won’t make a plan if you observe and have experienced evidence there’s little opportunity if you do. What’s the point? Planning from a place of marginalization is hope labor, as the author Sarah Jaffe calls it, but it’s also required to create the conditions to change one’s reality.

For me, I had to first imagine that buying a house was possible — for someone — and then work backward into the requirements to make it real for me: Credit: How high? Savings: How much? What kinds of jobs pay enough to save that much in under five years?

I acted with specificity, perseverance, and creativity — tactics learned from my economic and social experiences. 

Success doesn’t look the same for everyone

Being a low-income person inspires creativity to both get your needs met and live the life you want. I learned to be thrifty from growing up without money for new things, but I learned to strategically apply being thrifty to make accessible community art events and, later, to save toward my goals.

LGBTQ women and others tend to resource stability and community outside social norms. I see people buy homes with a friend or three instead of with a single romantic partner. Many put money aside to donate to mutual aid and fundraisers. Others start businesses to hire one another and evade workplace discrimination. All this requires creatively imagining the possible.

This is not a story that ends with me owning a brownstone, though my wife and I did buy a house in the fall, as did several of my clients. Achieving alongside others makes it more satisfying.

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