The LGBT Health & Development Program

Research Blog—LGBT Women and Poverty

Posted on January 19th, 2016 by IMPACT in Featured, Research Blog. No Comments

Written by Kitty, IMPACT intern.

Queer female couple sitting on a couch

Image credit: Dale Stein, “Winter Party,” March 4, 2010

While LGBT individuals in general are at a greater risk for poverty than straight and cisgender people, research shows that this risk is even more marked for LGBT women. According to the Williams Institute, 29.4% of bisexual women and 22.7% of lesbians ages 18-44 live in poverty [1]. Transgender women are almost four times more likely to live in poverty than the general population [2]. A report by MAP highlights three areas in which queer women face financial challenges: jobs, health, and family recognition [3].

While queer women are affected by the wage gap, they also face workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity. They may see barriers in advancement within their schools and companies and often receive lower pay [3]. Discrimination from professors, students, and coworkers leads to hostile or unsafe school and work environments [3], which discourages women from trying to advance or reporting discrimination.

LGBT women also experience higher medical costs and discrimination from healthcare providers [3].  Pregnancy, abortion, reproductive technology, and birth control can be costly, and LGBT women might delay seeking medical treatment if they do not have insurance benefits or fear discrimination.

Establishing legal ties to children and partners can be challenging for LGBT women [3]. This can prevent access to benefits, such as health insurance, tax credits, retirement programs, and paid leave when a family member falls sick. The result is higher costs for LGBT women. For instance, the Affordable Care Act imposes tax penalties on women who do not have health insurance, even though their partners may have insurance through their jobs.

It is important to remember that the poverty risk is even higher for women of color and transgender women.  For LGBT women of color, financial issues are worsened by the impact of racial and ethnic discrimination. This discrimination can be seen at work, in school, during police interactions, and in the legal system. Undocumented LGBT women of color have little to no legal protection, resulting in wages that fall below the legal minimum, lack of access to benefits, and limited recourse for workplace discrimination or harassment [4]. LGBT people of color are also more likely to be raising children, and are therefore more deeply affected by lack of family acknowledgement [4].

Transgender women experience the added challenges of securing accurate identification, facing insurance exclusions and inadequate healthcare, and enduring discrimination from coworkers, healthcare providers, and housing officials. Fifty-five percent of transgender women report being denied jobs because of their gender identity and 24% of transgender women report being refused healthcare [3]. Poverty risk is more marked for transgender women of color, as seen in the graph below.

Graph of transgender women in poverty compared to general population

Movement Advancement Project, “Transgender Women of Color More Likely to Report Extremely Low Incomes,” March, 2015.

Because of the three factors discussed above, LGBT women are ultimately facing lower incomes and higher costs. Suggestions for combating the resulting poverty include introducing anti-discrimination laws in schools and the workplace, expanding healthcare options to include transgender healthcare, and expanding the legal definition of family and the benefits that go along with it.

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[1] Badgett, M.V.L., Durso, L.E., & Schneebaum, A. (2013). New patterns of poverty in the lesbian, gay, and bisexual community. UCLA: The Williams Institute. Retrieved from

[2] Grant, J.M., Mottet, L.A., & Tanis, J. (2011). Injustice at every turn: A report of the national transgender discrimination survey. National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Retrieved from

[3] Movement Advancement Project. (2015). Paying an unfair price: The financial penalty for LGBT women in America. Retrieved from

[4] Movement Advancement Project. (2015). Paying an unfair price: The financial penalty for LGBT people of color. Retrieved from

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