LGBT Americans face greater social, economic disparities in the South

LGBT Americans face greater social and economic disparities in the South, Midwest, and Mountain states, according to a new Williams Institute report sponsored by Credit Suisse, a longtime partner of the Williams Institute. The report reviews social climate, demographic, economic and health indicators, and highlights disparities between the 21 states that currently have non-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation and the 29 states without such laws.

“In states where legal climates are less supportive of LGB people, social stigma toward them is also higher,” said co-author, and Williams Public Opinion Project Director, Andrew Flores. “Social and legal climates are generally intertwined such that supportive laws and social acceptance run hand in hand."

“While there has been a lot of focus on the social and legal inequalities that LGBT people face in the South, the inequities for those living in the Midwest and Mountain states are sometimes overlooked,” said Amira Hasenbush,  co-author and Jim Kepner Law and Policy Fellow.  “These data point to severe disparities with respect to HIV infection rates in the Mountain states and economic vulnerability in the Midwest.”

Key findings include:

LGBT Americans in the 29 states without state laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (non-state law states) consistently see greater disparities than in the 21 states with such laws (state law states), including in the following areas:

  • Social Climate: An LGB social climate index, which measures the level of social acceptance of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, found that the 21 state law states have a much warmer climate towards LGB people than the 29 non-state law states, with average index scores of 70 in the state law states and 52 in the non-state law states.
  • Economic Vulnerability for African-Americans: African-American LGBT individuals live in higher concentrations in the 29 non-state law states (18%) than in the 21 state law states (12%), leaving nearly 900,000 African-American LGBT workers with limited legal options to address experiences of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace.
  • Household Income: While same-sex couple households enjoy a $14,000 income advantage in the 21 state law states, that shrinks to $5,300 in the 29 non-state law states.  In contrast, same-sex couple households with children face an income disadvantage when compared to their different-sex married counterparts with children.  That income gap widens from $4,300 in the state law states to $11,000 in the non-state law states.  

LGBT Americans in the South face increased disparities compared to LGBT people in other regions in the country in the following areas:

  • Household Income for parenting same-sex couples: Same-sex couples raising children have a household income that is nearly $11,000 lower on average than their different-sex, married parent counterparts who are raising children.
  • Health: More new HIV infections among men who have sex with men (MSM) have come from the South than any other region in the country.  Southern LGBT individuals also have the lowest insurance rates in the country, with nearly one in four lacking insurance. In contrast, 16% of non-LGBT individuals in the South do not have health insurance.

LGBT people and same-sex couples from the Midwest find themselves facing some of the greatest inequities in:

  • Education: LGBT individuals in the Midwest are less likely to have completed a college degree by age 25 than non-LGBT Midwesterners, while LGBT individuals in other regions of the country tend to have similar or higher levels of education than their non-LGBT counterparts.
  • Household Income: LGBT individuals in the Midwest are substantially more likely to report having a household income below $24,000 than their non-LGBT counterparts (35% v. 24%, respectively).  Same-sex couples have a statistically significant income advantage in all regions of the country, except the Midwest, where the advantage nearly disappears.  Among same-sex couples raising children, Midwesterners have a household income nearly $20,000 less than their different-sex couple married parent counterparts.

LGBT people and same-sex couples in the Mountain states face regional differences in:

  • Household Income: LGBT individuals in the Mountain states are much more likely to report having a household income below $24,000 than their non-LGBT counterparts (33% v. 22%, respectively).
  • Health: MSM in the Mountain states currently have the highest incidence of HIV in the country at 61.6 new infections per 100,000 MSM.  They also have the greatest disparity among the regional population as a whole.  The new HIV infection rate among MSM is nearly six times the regional population rate, and the MSM HIV prevalence is more than 50 times the regional population prevalence.
  • Adoption: Same-sex couples in the Mountain states have the lowest adoption rates of same-sex couples throughout the country, even though different-sex married couples in the same region have the highest adoption rate in the country, among different-sex married couples.

“It's not just that LGBT people in the Midwest and South are poorer because people in those regions tend to be poorer overall,” said Gary Gates, co-author and Blachford-Cooper Distinguished Scholar.  “In some cases the economic disadvantages that LGBT people have relative to non-LGBT people markedly increase in those regions.  In others, the advantages that you see for LGBT people in other parts of the country either disappear or reverse.”

“While the nation seems on the verge of full marriage equality, most states still have not adopted non-discrimination laws protecting LGBT people,” said Brad Sears, Executive Director of The Williams Institute. “This report sheds light on important differences between LGBT people who live in the states that have moved ahead on LGBT rights–mainly on the coasts—and those who have not.”

“This study clearly identifies the financial disparities faced by members of the LGBT community,” said Pamela Thomas-Graham, Credit Suisse’s Chief Marketing and Talent Officer and head of the bank’s New Markets business. “We partnered with Williams on this research for the same reason we created the Credit Suisse LGBT Equality Index and Portfolio: better information and more transparent data leads to smarter decisions for investors, policy makers, and our society.”

The report is entitled, “The LGBT Divide: A Data Portrait of LGBT People in the Midwestern, Mountain & Southern States.” It is co-authored by Williams Institute Jim Kepner Law and Policy Fellow, Amira Hasenbush; Public Opinion Project Director, Andrew R. Flores; Williams Policy Analyst, Angeliki Kastanis;  Executive Director, Brad Sears; and Blachford-Cooper Distinguished Scholar, Gary J. Gates. It is sponsored by Credit Suisse’s New Markets business, led by Pamela Thomas-Graham, the bank’s Chief Marketing and Talent Officer and the first woman and African-American to sit on its Executive Board.

A full version of the report is available here.



See also:

Marriage equality will not solve sexual orientation discrimination issues



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