3 Ways to Protect You and Your Partner from the LGBTQ Wage Gap

two st. pete gay pride attendees with gay pride flags
Attendees at Pride St. Petersburg. Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder

I was out of the closet for nine years before I came out at work. I don’t remember what I said, but I do remember my pounding heart and shaky hands as I tried to be casual. I also remember the burden that lifted after I told my coworkers on a morning bakery shift that I was queer.   

No one cared — this was San Francisco, and I wasn’t even the only gay baker on staff — but nonetheless, I’d crossed a boundary that over half my peers have not. A 2014 HRC survey found that 53 percent of LGBTQ Americans remain closeted at work.

Caught in limbo between being proud of who they are and being practical about finances, queer Americans face risks unaddressed by the personal finance community. While LGBTQs are vulnerable at work, it’s critical to explore ways to increase financial stability.

LGBTQ Workers Face Discrimination in 28 States

Transgender workers can legally be fired in 30 states and lesbian, gay and bisexual workers can be fired in 28. While some municipalities protect workers at the local level, many LGBTQs remain vulnerable to office politics.

An LGBTQ employee navigating a job search must decide whether to come out in the interview or on the job, knowing this decision could affect everything from being hired to getting promoted or receiving raises.

While not coming out could mean censoring stories when asked personal questions, coming out means fielding invasive questions from colleagues (like “how do two women have sex?”).  

Transgender women suddenly find themselves on the losing side of the wage gap. Software developer and a member of Executive Pride, Abby Malson said, “[I experienced] a pay decrease after I transitioned, from… around $80K to unemployment to $65K, all within a period of six months… One of my friends who transitioned at work tried to find another position within her field and spent almost two years getting her pay up to the market rate.”

In 2012 and 2016, Prudential undertook a groundbreaking survey of LGBTQ financial needs. The 2016 survey found 41%of LGBTQs are unable to “make ends meet,” about 10% more than in 2012. As LGBTQ Americans worry less about their basic human rights, Prudential suggests, they can focus on other essential concerns (namely, self-sufficiency).

On average, lesbians earn $45,606 (straight women earn $51,461) and gays earn $56,936 (straight men earn $83,469).

Where a straight married woman’s low wage is offset by her higher-earning male partner, a lesbian couple earns $43,718 less per year than a heterosexual couple — or nearly a whole other gay woman’s salary.

These numbers surprised me. Were LGBTQs being offered lower salaries, perhaps as a penalty for gender nonconformity in corporate America? Were they self-selecting into lower-earning careers than their straight counterparts? Or were they settling for less-than-dream jobs and lower salaries, in fields where they felt safe?

3 Ways LGBTQ Workers Can Protect Their Financial Interests

Underpaid and worried about their job security, LGBTQs must take steps to empower themselves financially.

Here are three tips that can increase queer Americans’ financial independence and options.

1.  Learn About Personal Finance

LGBTQs often self-identify as spenders, perhaps a flawed response to high rates of trauma and depression. Why save for a future you don’t believe you’ll have?

Smarter money management and good saving habits are needed — and education is the first step. Many queers resist this because they’re under-earning and underrepresented in the personal finance sphere, and it can be easy to feel like the rules don’t apply to you.

Straight couples aren’t better at planning for retirement because they’ve figured out life goals, they’re better at planning for retirement because they hit a life milestone that forced tough conversations.

Of the LGBTQs Prudential surveyed, 49% were single — and no one’s forcing you to sign up for life insurance to protect a family you don’t have.

PridePlanners and GuideVine make it easy to search for LGBTQ-friendly financial advisers who can help with milestone decisions, from life insurance to college savings. I stumbled on the podcast Queer Money recently, another relevant resource for LGBTQ financial topics.

2. Get a Side Hustle

Side hustles are a ready source of extra cash if you’re between jobs or need to leave a toxic workplace. However, sharing economy gigs can place you in close quarters with homophobic people, increasing risk.

Former rideshare driver Evan Kail initially came out to any ride who asked whether he had a girlfriend — until he learned the downside of being open with customers who could rate him on his service. “I depended upon my rating… to keep my account active,” he stated.

Worried low ratings could cost him his gig, he began disclosing on a case-by-case basis, judging from the appearance and behavior of his rides whether to come out. For instance, a drunk dude in a Confederate flag shirt who made inappropriate comments (one of Kail’s rides) wouldn’t learn the truth, both for Kail’s personal comfort and his side gig security.

I came out on AirBnB for my personal safety while traveling. I figured being upfront about my sexuality would reduce the odds I’d fall victim to a homophobic host’s physical or verbal attack. I remain out as a host to deter homophobic guests, who wouldn’t be comfortable in my home. While I’ve had no negative experiences, I worry anytime travelers without reviews book my room.

3. Learn Your Rights & Resources

Knowing your rights at work can ease stress.

The National Center for Transgender Equality has a concise guide on employment discrimination, from resolving matters within your company to obtaining legal aid.

If you have an emergency financial need, social service agencies may be able to help. 2-1-1, a United Way Project, lets you search for emergency food, shelter or help paying utilities, among other services.

Lambda Legal provides confidential legal rights information on everything from coming out in a job interview to handling workplace discrimination.  

If things don’t change, LGBTQs will be in crisis as they navigate retirement and aging. Secure your future first by developing better money habits and building a safety net, then do what you can to help the queer community rise up, whether it’s coming out at work or being a strong ally to your LGBTQ friends.

Lindsey Danis (@lindseydanis) is a writer living in the Hudson Valley who covers food, LGBT, travel, essays & commentary.