Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Anti-Gay Laws Drive Significantly Higher Rates of Poverty for LGBT People
Press Release

RELEASE: Anti-Gay Laws Drive Significantly Higher Rates of Poverty for LGBT People

Landmark report exposes how legal failures create financial penalties for LGBT Americans

Washington, D.C. — A landmark report released today paints a stark picture of the added financial burdens that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, Americans face because of anti-LGBT laws at the national, state, and local levels. According to the report, these laws contribute to significantly higher rates of poverty among LGBT Americans and create unfair financial penalties in the form of higher taxes, reduced wages and Social Security income, increased health care costs, and more.

The momentum of recent court rulings overturning marriage bans across the country has created the impression that LGBT Americans are on the cusp of achieving full equality from coast to coast. But the new report, “Paying an Unfair Price: The Financial Penalty for Being LGBT in America,” documents how inequitable laws harm the economic well-being of LGBT people in three key ways:

  • By enabling legal discrimination in jobs, housing, credit, and other areas
  • By failing to recognize LGBT families, both in general and across a range of programs and laws designed to help American families
  • By creating barriers to safe and affordable education for LGBT students and the children of LGBT parents

“Paying an Unfair Price” was co-authored by the Movement Advancement Project, or MAP, and the Center for American Progress, in partnership with Center for Community Change, Center for Popular Democracy, National Association of Social Workers, and the National Education Association.

“Unfair laws deliver a one-two punch. They both drive poverty within the LGBT community and then hit people when they are down,” said Ineke Mushovic, Executive Director of MAP. “While families with means might be able to withstand the costs of extra taxation or the unfair denial of Social Security benefits, for a family already struggling, these financial penalties can mean the difference between getting by and getting evicted. Anti-LGBT laws do the most harm to the most vulnerable in the LGBT community, including those who are barely making ends meet, families with children, older adults, and people of color.”

The report documents the often-devastating consequences when the law fails LGBT families. For example, children raised by same-sex parents are almost twice as likely to be poor as children raised by married opposite-sex parents. Additionally, 15 percent of transgender workers have incomes of less than $10,000 per year; among the population as a whole, the comparable figure is just 4 percent. To demonstrate the connection between anti-LGBT laws and the finances of LGBT Americans and their families, the report outlines how LGBT people living in states with low levels of equality are more likely to be poor, both compared to their non-LGBT neighbors, and compared to their LGBT counterparts in state with high levels of equality.

Discriminatory laws create a devastating cycle of poverty

How do inequitable laws contribute to higher rates of poverty for LGBT people? The report documents how LGBT people in the United States face clear financial penalties because of three primary failures in the law.

  1. Lack of protection from discrimination means that LGBT people can be fired, denied housing and credit, and refused medically necessary health care simply because they are LGBT. The financial penalty: LGBT people can struggle to find work, make less on the job, and have higher housing and medical costs than their non-LGBT peers.
  2. Refusal to recognize LGBT families means that LGBT families are denied many of the same benefits afforded to non-LGBT families when it comes to health insurance, taxes, vital safety-net programs, and retirement planning. The financial penalty: LGBT families pay more for health insurance, taxes, and legal assistance and may be unable to access essential protections for their families in times of crisis.
  3. Failure to adequately protect LGBT students means that LGBT people and their families often face a hostile, unsafe, and unwelcoming environment in local schools, as well as discrimination in accessing financial aid and other support. The financial penalty: LGBT youth are more likely to perform poorly in school and to face challenges pursuing postsecondary educational opportunities, as can youth with LGBT parents. This, in turn, can reduce their earnings over time, as well as their chances of having successful jobs and careers.

“Imagine losing your job or your home simply because of who you are or who you love. Imagine having to choose between paying the rent and finding legal help so you can establish parenting rights for the child you have been raising from birth,” said Laura E. Durso, Director LGBT Progress at the Center for American Progress. “These are just a couple of the added costs that are harming the economic security of LGBT people across the country. It is unfair and un-American that LGBT people are penalized because of who they are, and it has real and profound effects on their ability to stay out of poverty and provide for their families.”

Paying an Unfair Price” offers broad recommendations to help strengthen economic security for LGBT Americans. Recommendations include:

  • Instituting basic nondiscrimination protections at the federal and state level
  • Allowing same-sex couples to marry in all states
  • Allowing LGBT parents to form legal ties with the children they are raising 
  • Protecting students from discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity

“At a time when so many American families are struggling to make ends meet, the report’s findings point to an even bleaker reality for those who are both LGBT and people of color,” said Connie Razza, Director of Strategic Research at the Center for Popular Democracy. “Unchecked employment discrimination and laws that needlessly increase the costs of health care, housing, and child care are doing profound harm to our economic strength as a nation. This report offers real-life policy solutions that, if implemented, would protect some of our most vulnerable individuals and families.”

“Reducing the unfair financial penalties that LGBT people face in this country because they are LGBT is not that complicated. It is a simple matter of treating LGBT Americans equally under the law; for example, extending the freedom to marry, including LGBT students in safe schools laws, and ending the exclusion of LGBT people from laws meant to protect families when a parent dies or becomes disabled,” said Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change.



Founded in 2006, the Movement Advancement Project is an independent think tank that provides rigorous research, insight, and analysis to help speed equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Learn more at

The Center for American Progress is a nonpartisan research and educational institute dedicated to promoting a strong, just, and free America that ensures opportunity for all. We believe that Americans are bound together by a common commitment to these values and we aspire to ensure that our national policies reflect these values. We work to find progressive and pragmatic solutions to significant domestic and international problems and develop policy proposals that foster a government that is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Learn more at


Center for Community Change’s mission is to build the power and capacity of low-income people, especially low-income people of color, to change their communities and public policies for the better. Its focus areas include jobs and wages, immigration, retirement security, affordable housing, racial justice, and barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated individuals. The Center empowers the people most affected by injustice to lead movements to improve the policies that affect their lives. For more information, visit

Center for Popular Democracy, or CPD, works to create equity, opportunity, and a dynamic democracy in partnership with high-impact base-building organizations, organizing alliances, and progressive unions. CPD strengthens our collective capacity to envision and win an innovative pro-worker, pro-immigrant, racial, and economic justice agenda. For more information, visit

National Association of Social Workers, or NASW, is the largest membership organization of professional social workers in the world, with 132,000 members with 55 chapters in the United States and internationally. NASW works to enhance the professional growth and development of its members, to create and maintain professional standards, and to advance sound social policies. For more information, visit

National Education Association, or NEA, the nation’s largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA’s 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States. For more information, visit

For more information, please contact Tom Caiazza at 202.481.7141 or [email protected].