June 30, 2020

Pride month (June) can be an important time for anti-hunger and anti-poverty advocates to reflect on the disparate rates of poverty and food insecurity among LGBTQ people, and think about work that can be done to address these disparities.

FRAC’s Senior Special Projects & Initiatives Associate, Susan Beaudoin, spoke with Tyrone Hanley, Esq., Senior Policy Counsel at the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), to learn about the progress that has been made for the LGBTQ community and the challenges that remain. Tyrone co-convenes the National LGBTQ Anti-Poverty Action Network, of which FRAC is a member.

Q. How did the National LGBTQ Anti-Poverty Action Network come into being?

A. A few years ago, Urvashi Vaid convened the LGBTQ Poverty Collaborative, including NCLR, to create the first LGBTQ Poverty Agenda. After its release in 2018, I knew a coalition was needed to bring together folks working in the LGBTQ space with anti-poverty organizations to elevate the issues identified in the agenda. I reached out to Urvashi about creating a group with a cross-section of organizations who shared the belief of a need for this effort. In October 2018, we hosted a group of local and national advocates from LGBTQ and anti-poverty organizations in Washington, D.C., to establish the National LGBTQ Anti-Poverty Action Network.

The hope is that the National LGBTQ Anti-Poverty Action Network can help create a bridge between the LGBTQ community and the anti-poverty community.

There is a lot of incredible work happening on the ground in communities, particularly with local transgender and queer Black and POC groups — such as SnaP Co and the Okra Project — when it comes to addressing poverty in our communities. But there’s been a lack of leadership on LGBTQ anti-poverty work at the national level. While some national LGBTQ groups are working on anti-poverty issues, it’s not necessarily framed with an economic justice focus. There’s a need for more work from the movement and a need for reframing the conversation about LGBTQ poverty.

For anti-poverty and anti-hunger organizations, if they are serving low-income people, then they are also undoubtedly serving LGBTQ individuals due to the high rates of poverty in the LGBTQ community. Because of this, they need to be talking about LGBTQ people and not making LGBTQ people invisible in these spaces. There’s been some movement, such as sessions on LGBTQ hunger at the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference, and the Coalition on Human Needs taking the position to support the Equality Act. I hope that the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on Title VII protecting LGBTQ individuals from workplace discrimination will bring more awareness to the lack of non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people in other areas — such as housing, education, and public accommodations — and how that relates to poverty.

Q. Why is addressing food insecurity central to the work of the National LGBTQ Anti-Poverty Action Network?

A. Fighting food insecurity is critical because we know there is a major issue with food insecurity in the LGBTQ community.

Many LGBTQ people struggle to survive, and factors like employment discrimination and family rejection can put people more at risk. Even in communities with strong non-discrimination laws, LGBTQ people, particularly transgender individuals, still face higher rates of poverty than the general public. It is clear that it takes more than laws to ensure economic security.

Having food is a human need and so we all need to be talking about food access as an LGBTQ issue. It’s an absolute must for our movement.

Q. What can anti-hunger advocates do to engage in this work?

A. The most important step that anti-hunger advocates can take is to educate themselves on LGBTQ-specific poverty issues.

They must also ensure that their spaces are LGBTQ inclusive — not having those safe spaces can be a huge barrier because of the fear of discrimination.

When people are already dealing with the vulnerability of being poor, and then on top of that adding worries about being discriminated against based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, that can prevent people from receiving the services they desperately need. Sometimes this means having dedicated programs for LGBTQ people. For example, some legal aid organizations have LGBTQ-specific programs that meet that specific need and address barriers to entering spaces.

LGBTQ people face even more fear while attempting to access services at faith-based organizations because so many LGBTQ people have trauma rooted in non-inclusive faith-based organizations. Many of these organizations can — and often times do — provide LGBTQ-welcoming programs and services. However, too many do not. If anti-poverty service providers are not doing the critical work of creating LGBTQ-affirming programs, then it’s time they start.

Partnering with LGBTQ organizations and communities is key overall and it’s important to helping create inclusive spaces.

And cultural competency is critical, such as how to have an LGBTQ outreach program in a way that people can access the services without fear of discrimination, especially in small and/or rural communities.

Q. During the COVID-19 pandemic, how have LGBTQ people been impacted and what can we do to address it?

A. One of the primary things we need to focus on during the COVID-19 pandemic is ensuring the people most impacted by the health crisis are being prioritized, including immigrants, sex workers, and those who may not be in the traditional labor sector and thus are not able to get the CARES Act stimulus payments.

Housing is critical. Here in D.C., we’re fighting for housing programs in the D.C. budget. Housing is vital for having stability in your life.

LGBTQ people are more likely to use SNAP benefits, so making sure SNAP is well-funded and well-run also are absolutely critical.

Additionally, support is needed for organizations around the country that are providing services on the ground. For example, in D.C., No Justice, No Pride is currently working to provide housing for trans folks. You can also support mutual aid programs specifically for LGBTQ people, young people, immigrants, sex workers; all of whom are among those who are the most impacted by the pandemic.

The National LGBTQ Anti-Poverty Action Network has a COVID-19 resource list with information on mutual aid groups and many other resources to help LGBTQ individuals navigate the myriad of issues during the pandemic.

Q. What motivates you to do this work?

A. As someone who grew up in poverty and was raised by a Black lesbian mother, I know intimately the challenges that low-income people face. It’s such a personal issue for me: It’s what motivates and inspires me daily.

It’s critical that people with lived experiences are leading on these issues. As Representative Ayanna Pressley said “The people closest to the pain should be the closest to the power.” I went to law school knowing that I wanted to do anti-poverty work because I didn’t see people leading the mainstream LGBTQ movement who were doing that important work.

As advocates, we’re most powerful when we share our experiences. That’s why I talk about my own experience. This is not just something I learned about in class; I have actually lived it. I want to use my voice to highlight these issues until everyone is talking about it.

Learn more about and join the National LGBTQ Anti-Poverty Action Network.