New Democracy Maps

Upon Entering Education System, LGBT People of Color Face Lifelong Risk of Living in Poverty

Washington, D.C., April 23, 2015 — A new report released today documents how systemic failures to protect certain students, recognize modern families, and protect people from discrimination drive and trap lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people of color into a devastating cycle of poverty.

Paying an Unfair Price: The Financial Penalty for LGBT People of Color examines the economic insecurity experienced by LGBT people of color compared to their white LGBT counterparts and non-LGBT people of color. The report details the ways in which a wide array of legal failures, combined with the disparities faced by people of color, result in higher poverty rates and increased economic insecurity for LGBT people of color.

Co-authored by the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) and the Center for American Progress (CAP), in partnership with Center for Community Change, Center for Popular Democracy, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), National Association of Social Workers, the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC,) the National Education Association, and the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA), the report is a companion to Paying an Unfair Price: The Financial Penalty for Being LGBT in America and is available online at

An overview infographic summarizing the report’s findings is available at

LGBT people are more likely than non-LGBT people to be poor–and for LGBT people of color, rates of poverty are even higher. The report presents the latest demographic information about LGBT people of color, including:

  • One in three LGBT people, an estimated three million LGBT adults, identify as a person of color.
  • Same-sex couples of color are more likely to be poor than white gay and lesbian couples. Children raised by same-sex couples of color are also at greater risk of poverty compared to children raised by white same-sex couples. For example, children raised by black same-sex couples are more likely to live in poverty than children raised by black married opposite-sex couples (52% of children living with black male couples and 38% living black female couples compared to 15.2% living with black married opposite-sex couples).
  • Transgender people of color are more likely to live in extreme poverty than non-transgender people of color. Asian and Pacific Islander (API) transgender people are six times more likely to report extreme poverty compared to non-transgender API people, while 34% of black transgender people have incomes at this level, compared to 9% of non-transgender black people.

Upon entering the education system, bullying, harassment and violence together create a key barrier to education for LGBT students of color. Barriers of race, sexual orientation, and gender identity are compounded in ways that can make it more difficult to obtain an affordable, quality education. The key education-related challenges facing LGBT youth of color are:

  • Lack of Nondiscrimination Protections in Education: A variety of federal laws prohibit discrimination in education based on race, color, national origin, language, sex, religion, and disability. However, federal law and the laws of 37 states do not explicitly protect LGBT students from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.
  • Bullying: No federal law explicitly prohibits bullying of LGBT students, and the majority of states lack laws protecting LGBT students from discrimination and bullying in education based on sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
  • Higher Rates of Harassment and Violence:LGBT youth of color reported higher rates of harassment and violence because of their race and ethnicity compared to white LGBT youth. Multiracial LGBT students reported higher rates of physical harassment based on sexual orientation and gender expression than all other LGBT students.

“Unsafe school environments not only harm LGBT youth of color, but they also create barriers to higher education, including difficulties obtaining financial aid and unsupportive campus environments,” said Sharon Lettman-Hicks, Executive Director and CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition. “Studies show that graduating from high school and earning a college degree increases employment opportunities. All young people should have the opportunity to learn, thrive, and succeed without the threat of violence and harassment.”

Anti-LGBT laws that harm the financial well-being of LGBT people disproportionately affect LGBT people of color, resulting in lower incomes and making it harder to save for the future or cover basic necessities. These same legal inequalities can also burden LGBT people with higher costs for essentials like housing, healthcare, health insurance, and education.

  • Employment discrimination leads to lower wages, higher unemployment rates, lower lifetime earnings, and overall reduced savings.
  • Housing discrimination leads to longer, more costly, and more limited housing searches; fewer housing options; and increased loan and insurance costs.
  • Healthcare discrimination leads to denial of quality healthcare, higher out-of-pocket expenses for crucial medical care, lost productivity, and more time away from work.
  • Credit discrimination leads to unfavorable and more expensive lending, as well as difficulty obtaining credit.
  • Denial of accurate identity documents that reflect transgender people’s lived gender leads to challenges in securing employment and public assistance.

LGBT people of color are more likely to be raising children than white LGBT people; for example, women of color in same-sex couples are nearly twice as likely to raise children as white women in same-sex couples. And so the denial of marriage and legal parenting ties particularly harms LGBT families of color and undermines their financial stability. Among those harms: higher healthcare costs or the unfair denial of health insurance, lack of access to safety-net programs, higher taxes, the inability to access Social Security retirement and disability programs, and more.

“Disproportionate numbers of LGBT people of color live in places that lack any explicit state-level protections for LGBT people,” said Ineke Mushovic, Executive Director of the Movement Advancement Project. “This means that LGBT people of color face a high risk of economic harm from anti-LGBT laws. Based on the connection between poverty and an individual’s race or ethnicity, many LGBT people of color are less able to absorb the financial penalties created by anti-LGBT laws when compared to white LGBT people. It requires financial resources to try to mitigate the effects of these unfair laws, such as paying for an attorney to draw up a will or to obtain a second-parent adoption.”

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MAP's mission is to provide independent and rigorous research, insight and communications that help speed equality and opportunity for all. MAP works to ensure that all people have a fair chance to pursue health and happiness, earn a living, take care of the ones they love, be safe in their communities, and participate in civic life.

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.


Center for Community Change,
Center for Popular Democracy,
League of United Latin American Citizens,
Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund,
National Action Network,
National Association of Social Workers,
National Black Justice Coalition,
National Education Association,
National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance,

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Sexual Orientation Policy Tally

The term “sexual orientation” is loosely defined as a person’s pattern of romantic or sexual attraction to people of the opposite sex or gender, the same sex or gender, or more than one sex or gender. Laws that explicitly mention sexual orientation primarily protect or harm lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. That said, transgender people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual can be affected by laws that explicitly mention sexual orientation.

Gender Identity Policy Tally

“Gender identity” is a person’s deeply-felt inner sense of being male, female, or something else or in-between. “Gender expression” refers to a person’s characteristics and behaviors such as appearance, dress, mannerisms and speech patterns that can be described as masculine, feminine, or something else. Gender identity and expression are independent of sexual orientation, and transgender people may identify as heterosexual, lesbian, gay or bisexual. Laws that explicitly mention “gender identity” or “gender identity and expression” primarily protect or harm transgender people. These laws also can apply to people who are not transgender, but whose sense of gender or manner of dress does not adhere to gender stereotypes.

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