Kayla’s experiences are far from unique. LGBTQ people of color face higher rates of mistreatment in employment, the criminal justice system, and their personal lives than their white LGBTQ counterparts. Recent data from the Center for American Progress shed light on the prevalence—and effects—of discrimination against LGBTQ communities of color. (see text box below) In the year prior to the survey, LGBTQ people of color reported experiencing some form of discrimination at a rate 12 percentage points higher than white LGBTQ respondents—43 percent compared with 31 percent. The respondents reported that these experiences were most common in public spaces, places of work, housing communities, and at school. Using these data, this column outlines the areas with the most evident disparities between respondents of color and white respondents: health care, housing, their economic status, and avoidance behavior in public spaces and when seeking out services.
A note about the survey data
Data throughout this column are from a nationally representative survey of 1,528 LGBTQ+-identifying individuals, jointly conducted in June 2020 by the Center for American Progress and NORC at the University of Chicago, which has been weighted to account for both U.S. population characteristics and survey nonresponse. Unless otherwise indicated, all comparisons between white respondents and respondents of color are significant at the 0.05 level. For the purposes of this survey, people of color include Black, Hispanic, Asian, and multiracial individuals as well as those identifying as “other, non-Hispanic.”
People of color, particularly Black people, have experienced a long history of discrimination and mistreatment at the hands of the American medical system. To this day, doctors are often less willing to acknowledge symptoms, and are less knowledgeable on how to diagnose and provide care, for patients of color, leading to significant health disparities. Doctors often lack awareness of LGBTQ patients’ needs as well, in large part because more than half of medical school curricula do not have information about the unique health issues and treatment of LGBTQ people beyond work related to HIV. This leaves LGBTQ people of color facing compounded forms of stigma at the doctor’s office, and they often encounter substandard care, harsh language, and even physical mistreatment. These concerns are evident from CAP’s survey:
- 24 percent of LGBTQ people of color reported some form of negative or discriminatory treatment from a doctor or health care provider in the year prior; 17 percent of white LGBTQ respondents reported the same.
- 18 percent of LGBTQ people of color had to teach their doctor about their sexual orientation to get appropriate care; 8 percent of white LGBTQ respondents reported the same.
- 10 percent of LGBTQ people of color had a doctor refuse to see them because of their sexual orientation, and 19 percent had a doctor who was visibly uncomfortable due to their sexual orientation; 4 percent and 11 percent of white LGBTQ respondents, respectively, reported the same.
Transgender individuals face particular concerns when interacting with health care professionals. Many report doctors asking unnecessary and invasive questions about their transgender status, having to teach their health care provider about transgender people to get appropriate care, or even verbal or physical harassment. According to CAP data:*
- Among transgender people of color, 68 percent reported negative or discriminatory treatment from a doctor or health care provider; 27 percent of white transgender respondents reported the same.
- 28 percent of transgender people of color had a doctor refuse to see them because of their gender identity; 8 percent of white transgender respondents reported the same.
- 29 percent of transgender people of color reported that a doctor used harsh or abusive language while treating them, and 38 percent reported that a doctor was rough or physically abusive; 8 percent and 5 percent of white transgender respondents, respectively, reported the same.
More than half of states still lack laws that explicitly ban discrimination against LGBTQ Americans in housing, and LGBTQ individuals often face discrimination when working with real estate agents, when requesting loans for housing, and when seeking shelter while experiencing homelessness. Meanwhile, people of color regularly encounter mistreatment in housing: They face high levels of discrimination when seeking loans and searching for homes and are regularly the victims of residential segregation. According to CAP’s survey data:
- 44 percent of LGBTQ people of color report that discrimination has affected their ability to rent or purchase a home to some degree; 32 percent of white LGBTQ respondents reported the same.
- 26 percent of LGBTQ people of color report experiencing discrimination in an apartment community; 14 percent of white LGBTQ respondents reported the same.
Centuries of systemic discrimination have made it extremely difficult for people and families of color to build generational wealth, limiting their ability to attend quality schools, find high-paying work, or escape cycles or poverty. Meanwhile, LGBTQ individuals are overrepresented in service industry jobs, struggle against high rates of unemployment, and are more likely to live in poverty—concerns that have been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. CAP data confirm these experiences:
- 15 percent of LGBTQ respondents of color have no high school diploma; 9 percent of white LGBTQ respondents reported the same. Meanwhile, 30 percent of respondents of color have a college degree; 36 percent of white LGBTQ respondents reported the same.
- 48 percent of LGBTQ respondents of color have an income below $40,000 a year; 41 percent of white LGBTQ respondents reported the same.
- 32 percent of LGBTQ respondents of color reported receiving assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); 20 percent of white LGBTQ respondents reported the same.
High levels of mistreatment in everyday life can lead to changed behaviors and decision-making, as individuals avoid settings that will cause further painful or traumatic experiences. For people of color, this can mean avoiding particular locations while on road trips, limiting their interactions with banks or financial institutions, or even steering clear of national parks to remove themselves from potentially discriminatory encounters. For LGBTQ people, it can look like hiding parts of their identity in public spaces to reduce the likelihood that they will be targeted for discrimination. CAP’s survey results show the effects of such discrimination:
- 36 percent of LGBTQ people of color reported avoiding public spaces such as stores or restaurants to avoid discrimination; 32 percent of white LGBTQ respondents reported the same.**
- 21 percent of LGBTQ people of color reported avoiding getting necessary services for themselves or their family to avoid discrimination; 17 percent of white LGBTQ respondents reported the same.
- 21 percent of LGBTQ people of color reported avoiding travel to avoid experiencing discrimination; 16 percent of white LGBTQ respondents reported the same.
- 16 percent of LGBTQ people of color reported postponing adding children to their family to avoid experiencing discrimination; 8 percent of white LGBTQ respondents reported the same.
LGBTQ people of color regularly face compounded levels of discrimination—particularly in access to quality health care, education, and housing—leading to elevated rates of homelessness, avoidance of needed services, and poor health outcomes. CAP data bolster prior research shedding light on these experiences and underline that any advocacy efforts aimed at assisting LGBTQ Americans must take an intersectional approach that considers the specific concerns and needs of LGBTQ communities of color.
Lindsay Mahowald is a research assistant with the LGBTQ Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress.
* CAP survey results include 57 transgender people of color, a relatively small sample size for statistical comparisons. All comparisons presented are still significant at the 0.05 level.
** Comparison significant at the 0.1 level.