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Beyond Bullying: Race, Poverty and LGBT Rights

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One of the most pernicious but least discussed stereotypes of LGBT persons portrays them as a highly privileged population. According to the legend, the average LGBT person is white, wealthy and highly educated.

Opponents of LGBT rights frequently point to these so-called privileges in order to advocate against progress on questions of sexual orientation and gender identity. For example, during the campaign to pass an amendment to the Colorado constitution that banned the implementation of laws protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination, the group Coloradans for Family Values circulated the film "Gay Rights/Special Rights." The video depicts gays and lesbians as white, upper-class and sexually debauched. The narrator questions the need for LGBT rights measures on the grounds that gays and lesbians have not suffered discrimination to the same extent as Blacks and Latinos.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia echoed this sentiment in his dissenting opinion in the case Romer v. Evans. In Romer, the Supreme Court invalidated the Colorado constitutional amendment because it denied gays and lesbians of Equal Protection. In protest, Justice Scalia argued that "those who engage in homosexual conduct tend to reside in disproportionate numbers in certain communities. . .have high disposable income. . .[and] possess political power much greater than their numbers, both locally and statewide." Accordingly, extending them civil rights protection would amount to "special rights."

The gay-as-wealthy stereotype is patently false. The notion of LGBT wealth often rests on statistical data that uses very skewed samples of "out" persons who make contributions to political organizations and who subscribe to LGBT-related periodicals. Using the stereotype as a way of comparing Blacks and LGBT persons is also bankrupt. Social groups can have different experiences, but they can each suffer from unjustifiable mistreatment. Furthermore, many Blacks are also LGBT individuals. Thus, the comparative approach falsely assumes a separability of the two groups.

Two Recent Reminders of the Intersection of Race, Poverty and LGBT Status

Vicious Attack on Damian Furtch

The intersection of race, poverty and LGBT status has very tangible effects. Several studies have indicated that LGBT persons of color are more vulnerable to hate crimes than whites. This is likely due to them lacking adequate safe spaces to express their identities openly. Also, poor LGBT people cannot afford to move to low-crime neighborhoods, thus, exacerbating their susceptibility to violence.

Despite their greater vulnerability to antigay violence, the national media typically does not make connections between race and homophobic violence. For example, Damian Furtch, a 26-year-old black gay male was recently severely beaten in New York City. His attackers called him a "faggot." Police have labeled the incident a hate crime. As of today, the only detailed news about this crime appears on another blog. Although the media has given antigay "bullying" massive amounts of attention in recent months, the type of street violence that disproportionately impacts poor LGBT persons of color remains virtually unexamined and uncriticized in the general media.

New York State Budget Cuts Imperil Homeless LGBT Youth

Carl Siciliano, the Executive Director of the Ali Forney Center, has written an "open letter" to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo asking him not to slash state funding of emergency shelters for homeless youth in New York. The Ali Forney Center provides shelter to homeless LGBT youth in New York City. Most of these kids have been kicked out of their homes because they are LGBT. Most of them are also very poor and typically persons of color.

These youths are statistically quite vulnerable to suicide and abuse. While the media has devoted a lot of attention on the issue of suicides among LGBT individuals, it has focused attention primarily upon suicides resulting from bullying -- rather than examining the massive difficulties that poor LGBT youth face when their parents refuse to accept their identities.

Moving Forward

There are many reasons why poor LGBT persons of color are invisible in the media. The media rarely produces serious journalistic accounts of the personal effects of discrimination upon the most vulnerable persons in society. Also, homophobia within communities of color and racism within LGBT populations compounds the discrimination LGBT persons of color already face. Placing these issues on the forefront of social justice movements, however, is necessary for real progress to occur.

This article originally appeared on the blog Dissenting Justice