QUEER VOICES
10/03/2014 09:12 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

How Being Gay 'Decimated' This Man's Life Savings

Danita Delimont via Getty Images

"Paul," a retail product developer whose story is included in a new report on the "financial penalty for being LGBT in America," says that being gay "decimated" his life savings.

In February 2012, Paul, who is 59 years old and asked that his real name be withheld out of fear that using it would further damage his career, got an attractive and lucrative offer from an outdoor sporting-goods company for a job in product development and sourcing, a field he has been in for about 30 years. Paul is an avid hiker and kayaker, and the move would allow him to focus on a part of the retail industry that he enjoyed and excelled at.

There was just one hitch. The job meant that he, his husband Peter and their teenage son James, who also asked that their real names be withheld, would have to leave Massachusetts and move to a small town in Nebraska, a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage and has no laws that restrict employers from firing an employee just because he is gay.

Paul did not hide his sexual orientation in the interviewing process. "The first thing they said was, they wanted to meet my wife because we'd be living in a very small community," Paul recalled. "I said, 'Well, I don't think that living in a small community is a problem. In fact, our family would like to live in a small community. And by the way, I don't have a wife, I have a husband.'"

The recruiter was not troubled by this revelation, Paul said. He told Paul that "we are a very affirming company."

Paul, Peter and James visited the town and all three liked it. They bought a house in the country on 32 acres of land, where they grew a large garden and raised chickens. "We thought it was going to be a beautiful life," Paul said.

The problems began soon after they moved in. First, the company denied health insurance to Peter after initially promising to take care of him. Then there were the homophobic jokes in meetings -- and the company's indifference to Paul's complaints. Someone began sending Paul anonymous emails at his company address, daring him to step out into the parking lot. Finally, the company decided to do something about it. His boss called Paul into his office and fired him.

"Within 10 days, people started to contact me from within the company, telling me that I was let go because of being gay, and that once they knew that I had come out in the building, it was all over for me," Paul said. "We haven't recovered."

Paul's story is not unique. According to the report -- released this week by the Movement Advancement Project, a Denver think tank with a focus on LGBT issues -- LGBT families in states without supportive laws face greater financial hardships and have less money than comparable families in more supportive states.

As the report acknowledges, gays everywhere earn less than their straight counterparts, but the gap is far greater in states like Nebraska than in places like Massachusetts. Specifically, the report found that in states where same-sex marriage is banned, same-sex couples with children have $8,912 less in household income than married opposite-sex couples. In states that allow same-sex marriage, that difference in household income is only $689.

The report outlines three major ways that LGBT people can suffer financial blows in states that don't support gay rights. Without marriage equality, couples often pay more for health insurance, taxes and legal assistance, and yet they may still find themselves without adequate protection should a crisis occur. Without protection from discrimination on the job, or when seeking housing or medical help, LGBT people can struggle to find work, and may earn less money and have higher housing and medical costs than their non-LGBT peers. And in the absence of anti-bullying laws or a broad culture of support, LGBT students may struggle in school and fail to achieve their full potential in the workplace.

Paul and his family say they had trouble on all three fronts. Before they moved to the Midwest, they spent about $1,400 ensuring that their legal papers, which they kept in a safe in the living room, were in order. But that turned out to be a minor expense compared to what the family would incur in Nebraska. All told, they estimate they lost about $124,000, or about 70 percent of their liquid savings, on their investment in the move. They had to sell their farmhouse quickly, at a steep loss. They had abandoned Peter's antique and art shop in town. After months of searching for a new job and living off his life savings, Paul finally found work again -- but he had to accept a 50 percent pay cut.

In some ways, the social losses were even tougher to bear. The church rejected the family's attempts to join. Colleagues at the sporting goods company made snide jokes about what gays did on camping trips. Paul mentioned an incident where one of his son's football teammates announced in front of the other players that James had two dads. Paul recalled what his son said then: "Yeah, I have two dads, that's common in Massachusetts." "Well, it's not common here," the teammate replied.

One day, after losing his job, Paul heard from the company's lawyer, who asked him the same question that his boss had already raised. "'What did you think was going to happen in this community?'" Paul recalls the lawyer saying. "'We're a Republican town, we're a conservative town and we're a Christian town.'"

"I told them I will never forgive them for this," said Paul.

Unable to sell their house, Paul moved on to Pennsylvania while his husband and son stayed behind. Nine months later, they were finally able to sell the house and Peter's business, and today the family is living together in Pennsylvania, where same-sex marriage was legalized this May.

Paul is working at another retail company now, and his husband is settling their new house and beginning to apply to jobs. Although they haven't recovered from their losses, Paul said, "we are determined to figure out a way to save our way back."

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