Experts say lesbian poverty woes significant

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A higher percentage of lesbian couples live below the poverty rate than married heterosexual couples and even coupled gay men, according to a new study from UCLA law school's Williams Institute.

That, Pittsburgh-based experts say, may be the real-world disadvantage of being both lesbian and female -- forced to deal with financial and legal roadblocks faced both by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender -- or LGBT -- community and by the fact that women across the overall population tend to earn less than their male counterparts.

The UCLA study researchers looked at four data sets, including a 2010 survey of same-sex couples, a 2007-09 California health interview study and a Gallup tracking poll done last year.

The study found that 7.6 percent of lesbian couples live in poverty, which is higher than the 5.7 percent rate for married heterosexual couples and the 4.3 percent for coupled gay men.

In 2012, the poverty line for a two-person household was $15,079, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Building financial security has extra challenges for many in the LGBT community.

In Pennsylvania, for an example, an employee can be fired for his sexual orientation in about 70 percent of the state, driving people not to be themselves at work resulting in less success and productivity, said Betty Hill, director of the Persad Center, a human service organization serving the LGBT community with offices in Garfield, Erie and Washington, Pa.

In the other 30 percent of the state, some municipalities have adopted anti-discrimination laws.

"They live in a heterosexual world," Ms. Hill said. "Benefit packages are not equitable for same-sex couples. There is already the culture where women make less, and now there are two ways to be discriminated against."

Additional costs such as a 15 percent inheritance tax contribute to the increasing number of the LGBT community living below the poverty line, said Ted Martin, executive director of Equality Pennsylvania, a Harrisburg organization advocating for LGBT rights in the state.

"All that money that could be used to make life better goes to taxes, so it penalizes them," Mr. Martin added. "That would improve someone's life pretty dramatically."

State Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, is working toward a banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, credit and public accommodations with House Bill 300.

The bill currently has 102 sponsors. He has been pushing similar legislation for many years.

"The whole issue of not having equal status under law contributes to the poverty rate in the LGBT community," he said. "This study adds fuel to the urgency in the need to act quickly in Pennsylvania and not discriminate."

The Williams Institute study is available online at http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/LGB-Poverty-Update-Jun-2013.pdf

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Claire Aronson: caronson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1964 or on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.


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