By Kathleen Connell and Jaye Whittaker
As we write, a few conservatives on the Supreme Court are still wringing their hands about the idea of the ruling that marriage equality of LGBT citizens is indeed covered under the Constitution.
Some Justices take a misty-eyed backward look, with fondness, at “millennia” of denial of this basic human right for LGBT families. In addition to lack of fairness, if they decide marriage is only between a male/female heterosexual dyad, then 1,400 economic and legal rights will be denied to millions of spouses and their families across the United States. In other words, the LGBT community will still stand on the losing end of an unlevel economic playing field, compared to their heterosexual counterparts.
Research shows that many of us are already behind on every economic index that matters. Add the double, triple and quadruple jeopardy of being African American, Latino, Female and say, Transgender, then the likelihood that one will live teetering on the edge of a life-long economic depression massively increases.
LGBT wealth is largely a misconstrued myth, except for the very top earners in the community. Outside of the United States, the further we go towards the equator, it is easy to see that LGBT people living in developing countries are struggling even more with LGBT phobia, racism and unequal economic development.
The same is true south of the I-8 in San Diego.
The Center for American Progress, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) and others provide some memes to show what we mean about LGBT economic inequality in America. Here are two examples:
1. “The Transgender Community And Unemployment By Racial and Ethnic Group”
2. “LGBT Youth: Jails Not Jobs”
LGBT: Struggling to Thrive, Way Behind
The cost of being LGBT today shows up in polling as well. A credible poll shows that, on a financial basis, “the LGBT community falls furthest behind the non-LGBT population.” In the Gallup-Healthway’s Well-Being Index survey, the report provided some very revealing findings:
“LGBT Americans are 10 percentage points less likely to be thriving financially than their non-LGBT counterparts. For women, the difference is slightly above average, while for men it is slightly below. Financial well-being is made up of questions about standard of living, ability to afford basic necessities, and financial worry.”
Furthermore, in a majority of the United States, LGBT people lack the overall protection of employment non-discrimination laws in the workplace. It is still legal in 29 states to fire someone for being Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual and still legal in 32 states to fire someone for being Transgender. Nationally, the Federal Employment Non-Discrimination law, ENDA, shows no signs of passing soon in Washington, D.C. As citizens, LGBT individuals are still second class.
Economic Empowerment: The Third Side of The Pink Triangle. A Brief History.
We became acutely aware of economic powerlessness when our gay male friends, once youthful and robust, died before our eyes in abject poverty and misery at the onset of AIDS in San Francisco. When the fog of the AIDS war cleared, and the HIV inhibiting “cocktail” arrived, we felt that a window of opportunity existed to introduce economic empowerment, a strategy well understood in the African American, Latino, Asian and other marginalized communities of color.
We became early leaders of a new LGBT Economic Empowerment initiative, making the topic visible in San Francisco by organizing town halls, offering testimony before the Board of Supervisors, being featured in the local LGBT press, conducting extensive community outreach and distributing a white paper we wrote at our kitchen table about Economic Empowerment as the “Third Side of the Pink Triangle.”
To kick off an LGBT economic movement, we were trying to interpret and act on our own experience and observations, as well as early research by economist Dr. Lee Badgett. We wrote and talked about our view that there is an economic cost to being LGBT, and that economics forms the “third side of the pink triangle,” along with social and legal issues. Our view is that all three elements must work together to create true equality.
It became increasingly impossible to ignore this issue, the many voices and issues that emerged, and articulate allies such as global Transgender leader Jamison Green. As a result, we were invited to join and help form a new task force of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission.
Together with the Human Rights Commission, we were pleased in what resulted in a hearing with hundreds testifying before the San Francisco Human Rights Commissioners, a Findings and Recommendations report, and ultimately new public policy in the City and County of San Francisco and a new economic empowerment program at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center.
Throughout the process of creating this movement, we were inspired by earlier attempts at economic self-reliance in the Stonewall era, with the founding of Olivia Records, the LGBT business chambers of commerce and small business movement, and later at the formation of organizations such as the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and its Corporate Equality Index (CEI) and Out & Equal (workplace equality advocates). We were particularly moved by the stories of economic hardship from Transgender friends, which we wrote about in our white paper, long before it was commonly discussed in the LGBT community.
Today, economic empowerment has migrated from San Francisco to New York and now includes a full week of LGBT Economic Empowerment activities in both cities. It is only natural that a comprehensive and sustainable LGBT economic empowerment initiative begin in San Diego and be inclusive of all in the community, both north and south of the I-8. We think ultimately that the LGBT Community Centers in San Diego are the natural home for new 21st Century sustainable economic empowerment programs and services.
Climate Change “Changes Everything,” As Does Unsustainable Economic Inequality for the LGBT Community
As both LGBT and sustainability advocates, we believe, that in the era of climate change, every LGBT grassroots organization must now assess and adopt sustainability and green economic empowerment goals as part of its mission in the community, as mirrored in Naomi Klein’s latest book entitled “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate.”
The New York Times kicks off their review of Klein’s work as follows:
“Every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable.” Thus spoke President Kennedy in a 1961 address to the United Nations. The threat he warned of was not climate chaos — barely a blip on anybody’s radar at the time — but the hydrogen bomb. The nuclear threat had a volatile urgency and visual clarity that the sprawling, hydra-headed menace of today’s climate calamity cannot match. How can we rouse citizens and governments to act for concerted change? Will it take, as Naomi Klein insists, nothing less than a Marshall Plan for Earth?” (emphasis added)
The notion of a World War II-sized Marshall plan to transform the planet from carbon-based to renewables-based is something we heard from climate change thought leader Bracken Hendricks in 2006 at a solar energy conference here in San Diego. It resonated then, and does again today, as Klein scopes the huge effort required to turn back climate change, if not even for us, but for future generations. The externalization of problems like pollution and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere has been an unchallenged modus operandi of the industrial and post-industrial economies. Cradle to cradle strategies, and a return to ownership economies and entities may be a key to induce the structural changes needed in the current economic system that is doing damage to the environment.
While still trying to shake off economic discrimination, LGBT people are already at risk again from the new menace of climate change. What then happens to the tenuous grip LGBT people have on economic and legal equality in a hotter, disrupted and more difficult world? We are barely on the economic map and now the map must radically transform, Klein says. How do we manage all of this change?
We do not have a pat answer. We do see that as the LGBT community becomes more adept at sustainable practices, more integrated into and welcome in the green economy and climate movement, we are increasing our chances of staying on the agenda and building alliances that support the planet and our rights, simultaneously.
The LGBT community is largely generous and progressive. As busy as we are acquiring basic legal rights, we must find the energy to take up the climate change challenge as well. Progressive, savvy and generous by nature, the LGBT community is a natural ally with most of the views of the progressive climate change advocacy movement. Likewise the LGBT community needs the new, well-paying jobs that the green economy promises.
It is not lost on straight climate advocates that it is our LGBT elected leaders who are in the vanguard of environmental public policy in San Diego and around the nation. It is time, we think, for a culturally competent fusion of LGBT interests with the work needed to roll back climate change. This is a fusion that must work both ways. Heterosexual climate advocates can also step up loudly for LGBT rights, open up the green economy to LGBT entrants, as workers, sustainable business owners, climate advocates and allies.
We have made strides. In San Diego, the LGBT community was instrumental in turning away a right wing, Koch Brothers-backed gay male candidate for Mayor and assuring his defeat. That same determination and unity would go a long way to support climate action policy plans with teeth and community choice energy.
Obviously, LGBT community has excellent organizing skills, and if we embrace the climate change issue, then we can massively advance the climate movement, in addition to pursuing our own liberation. Because if the LGBT community fails to thrive even in good times, compared to others as the research shows, then a new green economy will be a welcome economic and political opportunity. However, the growing green sector and activists actively reach out to and include the LGBT community in their efforts.
Together, as citizens in the commons, both the LGBT community and the climate movement must find an end to the erosion of our democracy, brought on by income inequality, decisions like Citizens United, and the climate denial anti-science movement. The LGBT community is quite capable in this regard, as at an earlier juncture we taught ourselves the science and policy of medicine to save our own lives at the onset of AIDS. Thus, we understand quite a bit about how science and public policy works and why they are important.
In fact it is critical that we take up climate change mitigation as a community priority to stay at the table. It is hard to imagine that LGBT civil rights will remain a top social priority when we find our communities inundated by sea level rise, drought, and survival-level issues, all of which are ahead of us.
Civilization as we know it, as experts and others say, is at risk itself of collapse, as is the biosphere that supports us. The concept of Pride in our differences must now fuse our equality mission with efforts like climate change divestment, renewable energy alternatives, such as rooftop solar and community choice aggregation, climate action planning, environmental justice and evolving the marketplace to an equitable one.
We must do double or triple duty, demanding civil rights and economic empowerment for all, while demanding protection of society from sea level rise and climate disasters at the same time.
This means we need to expand not just our “gay agenda” but also our self-perception, as not just advocates for our own rights, but also for sustainable economic empowerment for all, and stewardship of the planet.
The fight to save ourselves from HIV / AIDS and the fight for legal equalities and marriage equality is something the LGBT community has led and done for decades. As time has progressed, we have more and more allies to help in our struggle. Now we must help humanity with our collective struggle with climate change.
After our leader Harvey Milk was murdered, as our friends died in the Castro in San Francisco and in communities in San Diego, we all looked around at each other and realized…either we save ourselves or we are all dead and our movement obliterated.
That existential knowledge is something we share with the maturing climate movement. As Klein wrote:
“It really is the case that we are on our own and any credible source of hope in this (climate) crisis will have to come from below.”
“Below” includes us, the LGBT community, in coalition with a global grassroots movement that will settle for nothing less than a complete transformation of the economy to a sustainable one, creating and working in green jobs, environmental justice and much more. We have been here before. It’s time to be loud and proud about being LGBT and green, or suffer the unthinkable consequences.
Professor Kathleen Connell is the CEO and Founder of the Green Startup Institute in San Diego and is the Chair of the Public Policy Committee, San Diego Democrats for Environmental Action. She also is a board member of the San Diego Chapter of the US Green Chamber of Commerce. Kathleen is a founder of the science of Astrobiology and served as a senior scientist and Associate Director at USRA/RIACS at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). She has worked as a Congressional Advisor to NASA Headquarters, and as The Policy Director of the Aerospace States Association. She received the NASA Public Service Medal, is an expert on sustainability issues, and has advised the White House, California local governments, and the private sector on a variety of public policy issues. She is the former Vice Chair of Equality Professionals Network (EPN) in San Diego.
Jaye Whittaker is an expert in finance, financial analysis and management in corporate, non-profit and start up organizations. She has a Bachelors and MBA degree in Finance and an MA in non-profit Performing Arts Management. She is the former Chair of Equality Professionals Network (EPN) in San Diego, a workplace equality organization, and co-founder of EQ Development Group with Connell, advocating for the LGBT Economic Empowerment movement in San Francisco.