If Americans thought the so-called fiscal showdown was over, they should think again. Unless Congress strikes a deal today, a series of across-the-board cuts to the federal budget will go into effect that would reduce funding for federal programs by a whopping $85 billion by the end of the year. These automatic spending cuts—which would occur under a process known as sequestration—were intended to force both parties to agree on an alternative deficit-reduction plan out of a mutual desire to avoid swallowing such a painful pill.
Millions of hardworking Americans, however, once again find themselves at the precipice of a fiscal showdown that, if left unresolved, will impose real and significant financial harm. Among those Americans who will be hit hardest by sequestration are gay and transgender Americans.
Last November the Center for American Progress, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and a coalition of 23 national gay and transgender advocacy organizations released “Caught in the Budget Battle,” a groundbreaking report examining how the sequester would cut funds from federal programs that are crucial to the health, wellness, and livelihood of gay and transgender Americans and their families.
Revisiting the report, here are six reasons why sequestration still poses a significant threat to gay and transgender Americans.
Sequestration hurts gay and transgender workers
Studies have confirmed that gay and transgender workers face extraordinarily high rates of discrimination in the workplace—for example, 42 percent of gay people report having experienced discrimination on the job at some point in their lives. Remarkably, 90 percent of transgender people report some form of harassment or mistreatment on the job or report having taken some action such as hiding who they are to avoid it. While gay and transgender workers continue to be forced out of their jobs and into the ranks of the unemployed, it remains perfectly legal in a majority of states and under federal law to be fired for being gay or transgender.
Sequestration turns a precarious situation into a dire one for gay and transgender workers. Broad cuts to nondefense discretionary spending, for example, weaken the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s ability to investigate claims of discrimination against gay and transgender workers. With reduced and severely limited budgets, the commission may be forced to delay or even halt investigations of employment discrimination, exacerbating the problems facing these Americans.
Sequestration compromises gay and transgender health and safety
Gay and transgender Americans suffer from a greater number of health disparities compared to their straight and nontransgender peers. They also disproportionately lack access to health insurance and culturally competent health care services, further worsening these health disparities and obstructing access to life-saving preventive care.
Fortunately, a number of federal programs are in place to support the physical and mental health of gay and transgender Americans. Those programs, however, will be slashed by sequestration. Severe cuts to Medicare-provider reimbursements may result in limited access to care to gay and transgender elders, and programs that help gay and transgender youth such as antibullying initiatives will also be on the chopping block. Moreover, sequestration could reverse progress on addressing the HIV/AIDS crisis by cutting funding to programs that help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and treat those living with the virus.
Sequestration exacerbates homelessness among gay and transgender youth
Gay and transgender Americans already experience higher rates of homelessness compared to the general population. Though gay and transgender individuals comprise 5 percent to 7 percent of all youth in America, they represent up to 40 percent of all homeless youth. Sequestration limits the progress toward fighting gay and transgender homelessness by reducing grant funds to community organizations addressing the issue and by limiting the government’s ability to fight housing discrimination.
One of these grant recipients is the Ali Forney Center, an organization that helps gay and transgender homeless youth in New York City. Under sequestration, the federal agencies that provide financial assistance to the Ali Forney Center would see their budgets slashed, which would severely limit the capacity of the center to help gay and transgender youth who are desperately in need of its services.
Sequestration makes higher education less accessible for gay and transgender students
Higher education is viewed as one of the premier pathways to economic prosperity in the United States. It is also a significant financial investment that many would not be able to achieve without the help of federal assistance. In short, many students, including gay and transgender students, regard federal financial aid in the form of loans, grants, and work-study programs as a lifeline to accessing higher education.
Sequestration, however, would result in significant cuts to federal work-study programs for gay and transgender students and a reduction in supplemental educational opportunity grants for low-income gay and transgender students. This would further intensify inequalities in accessing higher education and may disproportionately disadvantage gay and transgender students.
Sequestration limits the ability to prevent violence against gay and transgender people
Across-the-board cuts and spending caps will tremendously undermine the government’s ability to tackle the disproportionate levels of abuse, harassment, and violent crime suffered by gay and transgender Americans. Sequestration limits resources available to investigate, prosecute, and prevent hate crimes. Limits on the Department of Justice’s ability to investigate bias-motivated crimes would be caused by four main reasons:
- The Federal Bureau of Investigation will have fewer resources to investigate violent crimes committed against gay and transgender people.
- The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division will have restricted resources to federally prosecute bias crimes.
- Sequestration will impede the Department of Justice’s ability to collect data on hate crimes.
- Strained funding will make it far more difficult to train state and local law enforcement to help prevent hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Sequestration limits U.S. capacity to protect the human rights of gay and transgender people worldwide
The Department of State has taken the lead in promoting a comprehensive human-rights agenda aimed at protecting the human rights of gay and transgender people around the world. Eighty countries have laws or other legal provisions criminalizing sex between people of the same gender, and being gay is punishable by death in five countries. Sequestration will be detrimental to the public diplomacy efforts conducted by U.S. embassies to promote gay and transgender human rights and would deal a significant blow to support for global gay and transgender equality.
No time for games
If we are to cut spending, what we need is a scalpel, not a meat cleaver. Only then can we spare the most vulnerable communities—including those in the gay and transgender community—the pain and hardship that would come with sequestration.
It’s time for politicians in Washington to stop playing games and agree on a rational solution to reduce the federal deficit. Though the odds are slim that Congress will come to an agreement today and avert sequestration, developing an alternative plan to deficit reduction must remain a top national priority. It is only a matter of time before the effects of sequestration are felt in every household across the country.
Christopher Frost is an intern with the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress. Crosby Burns is a Research Associate with the LGBT Research and Communications Project. Katie Miller is a Special Assistant with the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center.
 In this column the term “gay” is used as an umbrella term to describe people who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual.
 Last spring the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a watershed decision determining that discriminating against transgender individuals based on gender identity falls within Title VII of the Civil Rights Act’s prohibition of “sex” discrimination, as does discrimination against gay people who break gender norms or sex stereotypes. Thanks to this ruling, gay and transgender people now have a resource when they are denied a job or fired based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.