When we talk about jobs, taxes, or revenue in Louisiana – anything that involves any kind of money, really – we’re usually carefully talking around the issue of poverty. According to Census data, Louisiana has the second-highest poverty rate in the country, the third-highest rate of uninsured residents, and the fourth-lowest median income. Anyone privileged enough to read this blog post is probably not at the rock bottom of our income distribution, but you cannot help but notice that people are hurting here. Our policymakers may not always like to admit that our people are in trouble, but you can’t live in Louisiana and not see this on some level.
If we don’t pay enough attention to poverty overall in this state, it shouldn’t be a surprise at all that the economic problems that LGBT people face aren’t even a blip on the radar of most of our state lawmakers. (Although some, like Rep. Alan Seabaugh, seem to take pleasure in making them worse.) Even members of our own community aren’t always aware that we often face economic hardships worse than our heterosexual, cisgender peers. According to a Williams Institute report, same-sex couples are significantly more likely to be poor than married heterosexual couples, children of same-sex couples are twice as likely to be poor than children of married heterosexual couples, and African-Americans and lesbians are much more likely to live in poverty than LGB whites or gay men.
In the transgender community, the figures are even more tragic. According to the recent National Transgender Discrimination Survey, transgender people are nearly four times more likely to live in extreme poverty than the general population, they experience twice the national unemployment rate, they almost universally experience discrimination at work, and 26% have been fired from a job just for being transgender or gender non-conforming.
Obviously, a large number of factors go into determining any individual person’s economic situation, but both the Williams Institute report and the NTDS identify structural anti-LGBT bias and racism in the workplace as major contributors to the high rates of poverty and joblessness in the LGBT community. Even in 2013, 29 states still have no state-level prohibitions on employment discrimination (including, of course, Louisiana), and it’s been years since the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act has come up for a vote in Congress. A significant number of LGBT people in the United States have to live in work in places where it is perfectly legal to fire them from their job because of who they are or whom they love, and the research shows that as long as this kind of discrimination is still legal, it will take its toll on our community.
Louisiana, of course, is one of those states where it’s still acceptable to fire LGBT people because of the mere fact of their identity. We have legislation on the table right now, HB 85 by Rep. Austin Badon, that would forbid this kind of discrimination for public sector jobs. Although this would only cover state workers, which we know is not an ideal situation, its passage into law nonetheless would represent a significant step forward for equality in our state, and would set a clear example for private companies who want to do business here that Louisiana is a place where we treat our neighbors fairly. Please join us in calling for its passage so that we can begin to address the economic injustice being done to our state’s LGBT community.
by Matthew Patterson
Legislative Co-Coordinator, Equality Louisiana