The Consequences of Pitting Race Against Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity

Our guest bloggers are Melissa Dunn, an LGBT Research and Communications intern at the Center for American Progress and Aisha Moodie-Mills, advisor of LGBT Progress’ FIRE Initiative for racial equality.

Last week’s insensitive rant by Kevin Naff of the Washington Blade which trivialized race-based hate crimes, and the recent revelations of the National Organization for Marriage’s race-baiting tactics, have shed much needed light on the fallacy of the gay versus race debate. Both of these instances, ironically from opposite sides of the ideological spectrum — NOM being a conservative anti-gay organization and the Washington Blade an LGBT publication — promote the same disparaging myth. That gay = white, and that race and sexuality are mutually exclusive and diametrically opposed.

A new issue brief by the FIRE Initiative of the Center for American Progress suggests that this misguided pitting of race against sexual orientation and gender identity has long-lasting consequences for LGBT communities of color who live at the intersections of these identities, and are among the most vulnerable in our society. The brief, entitled “The State Of LGBT Communities of Color in 2012” argues that LGBT people of color have worse economic, educational, and health outcomes than both their heterosexual counterparts and white LGBT people.

For example, the average Latina/ Hispanic lesbian couple earns $3,000 less than Latino/Hispanic oppose-sex couples and black same-sex male couples earn more than $20,000 less than white same-sex male couples. And although white lesbians have a poverty rate of just 4.3 percent, black lesbians have a rate of 21.1 percent, Hispanics 19.1 percent, Native Americans 13.7 percent, Asian Pacific Islander 11.8 percent.


LGBT communities of color also face tremendous health care concerns and challenges accessing culturally competent health care that leads to poor health outcomes. Black lesbians for example are the most likely demographic to be obese, transgender women of color face elevated stress levels, and Latino gay men have dangerous rates of eating disorders. Further, LGBT youth of color have lower levels of educational attainment than white gay students or straight students of color. They are more likely to be bullied in school than their white peers and are more likely to think their teachers will not adequately address their concerns. They are also more likely to end up homeless and living on the streets.

These disparities stem from the compound effect of societal stigma and bias due to race and sexual orientation and gender identity that LGBT communities of color endure. These communities arguably suffer most at the hands of inequality, and have an equal stake in eradicating anti-gay policies. But they are rendered virtually invisible by the gay versus race rhetoric spread by NOM, and Naff, and a few others. Such divisiveness distracts from the real problems that many LGBT people of color of face and the real fight for equality that must be won.