KB Bjerk (they/them/theirs) joins us to discuss some of the unique financial challenges that impact LGBTQ+ individuals and communities..
KB is an Entrepreneurship & Personal Finance Educator from Wisconsin. They are passionate about economic equity, personal & professional development, and LGBTQ+ workplace issues. They work as a Financial Specialist and serve as the LGBTQ+ Professional Support & Development Chair at UW Credit Union in Milwaukee, WI.
Quality of life in a capitalist society is largely intertwined with personal financial outlook and systemic economic opportunity. To survive and thrive, we all need opportunities to earn income, develop professionally, provide for family needs, care for our physical and mental well-being, engage in community, and retain wealth. For the LGBTQ+ community, these opportunities are far less accessible. Our unique needs, culture, and challenges have yet to be widely recognized by financial services, healthcare, government and other institutions. The financial barriers we face diminish our path toward upward mobility as individuals and as a community. Please note that very little research on the LGBTQ+ community has been performed or published, so the findings may be more pervasive than they are currently reported as.
Poverty rates in the LGBTQ+ community are double that of society as a whole (U.S Census Bureau, 2021). Transgender people are three times more likely to live in poverty compared to the national average.
When LGBTQ+ folks are employed, they are more likely to have unpredictable income (Center for LGBTQ Economic Advancement, 2021). Queer folks have been and continue to be the backbone of service industries such as restaurants, entertainment, hospitality and tourism, gig work, and sex work. This is because these roles allow for more individualism and autonomy. They also involve less gatekeeping — thus, reducing the chances of discrimination. However, these industries rarely produce high income and almost never include the comprehensive benefits that come with careers in other industries.
Many LGBTQ+ folks feel the need to “cover” or “closet” themselves at work to avoid harassment and discrimination at work. In recent years, nearly 40% of LGBTQ+ employees reported experiencing harassment in the workplace, and nearly 50% are not out to their supervisors (Conron et al., 2022). Over 30% of queer people have left a job for being mistreated by their employer (Conron et al., 2022). Nearly half of all transgender employees report being fired or not hired because of their gender identity.
Workplace protections for queer folks are still new. Many companies lack initiatives, competencies, policies, and values that foster an inclusive and equitable work environment for LGBTQ+ employees. If we do not have safe and conducive professional environments, we cannot predictably earn a stable income, much less advance professionally or build wealth. Workplace discrimination and bias are devastating financial barriers for the LGBTQ+ community (Gruberg & Madowitz, 2020).
Cost of Healthcare and Family Planning
The LGBTQ+ community also faces health disparities, which affect the affordability and accessibility of healthcare (Bosworth et al., 2021). LGBTQ+ people are more likely to have chronic health conditions, which cost more to treat. Healthcare providers and systems are still severely flawed, ignorant, and neglectful of the unique needs of the LGBTQ+ community. Queer folks are less likely to fill prescriptions, more likely to delay getting care, more likely to be refused by healthcare providers, and more likely to be harassed by healthcare providers (Cruz, 2022). All of which contribute to higher costs when health issues become severe.
Transgender folks are acutely affected by healthcare costs, as the cost for continuing care without insurance coverage can cost hundreds of dollars per month. Additionally, trans people are five times more likely to seek ongoing mental health care and medication, and gender-affirming surgeries can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Some insurance plans cover costs related to gender-affirming care, but it is still an imperfect and developing resource for trans folks.
Family planning is extraordinarily costly for LGBTQ+ folks, too. Only 15 states cover medical costs related to fertility services, and the average price for one round of in vitro fertilization (IVF) is $12,000 (Cruz, 2022). Multiple rounds are typically required for success. Additionally, if a couple uses a surrogate, their prenatal care will not be covered under insurance because they are not related to the policy holder (Cruz, 2022). Societal factors such as discrimination and prejudice can impact health and become an additional burden on minoritized communities. QueerDoc has discussed some of this in previous blogs, including Testosterone and Cardiovascular Disease Risk.
Un or Under-banking
Banking is essential for financial wellness. People without bank accounts rely on alternative financial services such as money orders, check-cashing services, payday loans, and unsecured credit cards. These services often engage in predatory lending, have unethical interest rates, and charge arbitrarily high fees. These services also lack the enduring support and opportunity for financial education that come with banking at a financial institution. All of these factors are detrimental to building and retaining wealth.
The LGBTQ+ community is more likely to rely on alternative financial services (Center for LGBTQ Economic Advancement and Research, 2021). Thus, we are more often subjected to products and services that are not in our financial best interest. This is called being “underbanked” or “unbanked” and is generally tied to low-income status or transient living situations. There are various reasons one may not have a bank account, but the most common is the inability to meet minimum balance requirements.
However, in my experience as both a queer person and a Financial Specialist at UW Credit Union, I have found that banks can be particularly anxiety-inducing for queer folks. Firstly, your legal name and sex assigned at birth are documented on your bank accounts. Every time you go to the bank, get a debit card, or apply for a loan — you risk being dead-named, misgendered, or micro-aggressed because the information on your accounts may not represent who you are. Additionally, the financial industry has yet to address the unique financial needs of the LGBTQ+ community, such as financial products for family planning. Lastly, the financial industry is one that was built for white, heterosexual, wealthy people. Like many institutions, it is one that can be intimidating for anyone outside of that demographic. Although anti-discrimination laws exist, there is a ton of work for the financial industry to do in terms of having appropriate financial conversations with queer folks.
Eliminating the biases and assumptions that are built into finance will be no small feat. However, I have hope because of the work I do at UW Credit Union. We are an organization that not only supports LGBTQ+ employees, but we also support our LGBTQ+ members. We have made changes to our systems and software to be more inclusive of chosen names. Gender-neutral language is the standard when referring to members, their families, etc. We even allow folks to have their preferred name printed on their debit and credit cards instead of defaulting to their their legal name.
Ultimately, we have a long way to go in LGBTQ+ economic empowerment. The systems involved with financial wellness are not LGBTQ+ friendly, and very little has been done to address this. I believe access to reliable income is the foundation for LGBTQ+ financial wellness, and that cannot be done unless queer folks are welcomed and supported in the workplace. I also believe we need solutions to the gaps in healthcare coverage that ignore the needs of LGBTQ+ individuals and families. Otherwise we will continue to be disproportionately affected by healthcare costs. Lastly, inclusive policies, procedures, and values must be instilled in our financial institutions if we are going to support the financial wellbeing of LGBTQ+ people.
More on KB
Their passion for financial wellness was sparked by their upbringing. They come from a low-income, single-parent household, and are a first-generation college graduate. While navigating higher education, career, and professionalism, they made many financial mistakes that lead to pivotal moments of change. They realized that if they did not educate themselves on wealth building and personal finance, they were likely to repeat their family cycles of poverty and miss out on their dreams.
Besides being a personal finance nerd, KB also enjoys reading personal development books, playing sports, travelling with their partner, and spending time outdoors with their dog. They also enjoy cooking, volunteering with LGBTQ+ youth, and watching nature documentaries.
Where you can connect with KB: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kb-bjerk/
Bosworth, A., Turrini, G., Pyda, S., Strickland, K., Chappel, A., De Lew, N., & Sommers, B. D. (2021). (issue brief). Health Insurance Coverage and Access to Care for LGBTQ+ Individuals: Current Trends and Key Challenges. U.S. Office of Health Policy. Retrieved June 2022, from https://aspe.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/2021-07/lgbt-health-ib.pdf.
Caporal, J. (2021, June 4). The financial health of same-sex couples and LGBTQ Americans: The Ascent. The Motley Fool. Retrieved June 8, 2022, from https://www.fool.com/the-ascent/research/financial-health-same-sex-couples-lgbtq/
Center for LGBTQ Economic Advancement & Research. (2021, July 30). The economic well-being of LGBT adults in the U.S. in 2019. LGBTQ Economics. Retrieved June 8, 2022, from https://lgbtq-economics.org/research/lgbt-adults-2019/
Conron, K., Andrew R. Flores, Mallory, C., & Sears, B. (2022, January 12). LGBT People’s experiences of workplace discrimination and harassment. Williams Institute. Retrieved June 8, 2022, from https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/publications/lgbt-workplace-discrimination/
Cruz, I. (2022, March 7). 5 financial factors impacting the LGBTQ+ community. MoneyGeek.com. Retrieved June 8, 2022, from https://www.moneygeek.com/financial-planning/lgbtq-financial-challenges/#:~:text=In%20a%202018%20survey%20by,and%20lack%20of%20career%20advancement.
Gruberg, S., & Madowitz, M. (2020, May 5). Same-sex couples experience higher unemployment rates throughout an economic recovery. Center for American Progress. Retrieved June 8, 2022, from https://www.americanprogress.org/article/sex-couples-experience-higher-unemployment-rates-throughout-economic-recovery/
United States Census Bureau. (2021, November 2). Income, poverty and health insurance coverage in the United States: 2020. Census.gov. Retrieved June 8, 2022, from https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2021/income-poverty-health-insurance-coverage.html#:~:text=Policy%20Directive%2014).-,The%20official%20poverty%20rate%20in%202020%20was%2011.4%25%2C%20up%201.0,million%20more%20than%20in%202019