The Unique Challenges of LGBTQ Hunger: A Conversation with Tyrone Hanley
Tyrone Hanley is Senior Policy Counsel at the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Tyrone was interviewed by the Alliance’s Michelle Nikfarjam of the Congressional Hunger Center’s Emerson National Hunger Fellowship program
Q: What does pride mean to you personally? And are you and your family doing anything special to celebrate?
Pride is my favorite time of the year. I love pride because it is a time when the LGBTQ community celebrates who we authentically are. I am extremely excited coming out of the pandemic to be able to be back in the community. I know everyone is feeling a greater sense of community having been away from each other for so long. I think that pride has taken on a whole new meaning for many of us this year.
Q: Can you tell me about your work with the National LGBTQ Anti-Poverty Action Network? How did it come into being where are you at now?
In my role at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, I focus on the criminalization of gay and trans sexuality. I also focus on LGBTQ poverty issues. As someone who grew up poor, I went to law school knowing I wanted to work on LGBTQ poverty issues. I didn’t see the issues I grew up with, and still in some ways deal with, being reflected in broader discussions on LGBTQ issues and advocacy. I wanted to do my part to change that. In May 2018, the LGBTQ Poverty Collaborative released the first National LGBTQ Poverty Agenda. I was excited about this agenda because for the first time the LGBTQ movement had a blueprint on how to address LGBTQ poverty on the national level. After the release, I reached out to Urvashi Vaid about creating a group of anti-hunger, anti-poverty, and LGBTQ rights advocates to actually push this agenda.
In October 2018, we convened here in Washington, DC with national and local LGBTQ leaders and folks representing anti-poverty and -hunger organizations. At this meeting we established The National LGBTQ Anti-Poverty Action Network. The network currently has over a hundred organizations and individual members. We focus on public education, advocacy, and research to elevate LGBTQ poverty issues within movement spaces and before lawmakers and the general public.
Q: How does poverty and food insecurity vary across different demographics such as racial and ethnic lines, immigrant status, and education? And why is it important that we take an intersectional approach addressing these issues?
Broadly speaking, LGBTQ people experience higher rates of discrimination. LGBT people are statistically more likely to experience poverty than their same-race cisgender straight counterparts. In addition, LGBTQ people face higher rates of food insecurity (27%) and challenges with access to many public benefit programs. There are certain groups that are particularly impacted at higher rates. These include, but are not limited to, trans people, people of color, women, especially those who are bisexual, people with disabilities, immigrants and people in rural areas. When we’re talking about LGBTQ poverty, it is important to be specific about who is being impacted the most. It is also important to understand how other forms of oppression intersect with this issue of LGBTQ poverty.
A recent study by the Williams Institute found that key pathway to poverty for LGBTQ people is childhood poverty. If we’re going to address LGBTQ poverty, we ultimately need to address childhood poverty and more generally poverty itself. We need to think structurally about the systems and things that are causing poverty, including capitalism.
And so that means that we, the LGBTQ movement, must be a part of a broader economic justice movement if we want to ultimately ensure that gay and trans liberation is achieved. I believe that we need to do better at supporting the leadership of individuals who are most impacted by poverty, amplifying their voices, and listening to what they’re telling us about what in their lives needs to change.
Q: How does raising the visibility of LGBTQ needs and challenges parallel the work that a lot of anti-hunger and anti-poverty communities do to raise awareness of hunger and poverty?
I have found in my work that it’s important for us to explicitly name LGBTQ poverty. The anti-hunger and anti-poverty movements have not traditionally discussed LGBTQ poverty until several years ago. If these organizations are advocating for and serving low-income people, then they are supporting LGBTQ individuals; it is important to make people visible.
Hunger and poverty have always impacted us. It is a major issue in the LGBTQ community and intersects with other disparities including housing discrimination and family rejection. There is a stereotype that our community does not suffer from poverty, and that we’re all financially well off. I think this is in part due to the way that we are portrayed in the media, often being reflected as predominantly white, male, cisgender and people with economic means. To address this gap in knowledge, the LGBTQ movement needs show up in anti-poverty and anti-hunger spaces and these movements need to support LGBTQ issues. We also need more diverse representations of what the LGBTQ community looks like, such as, the historic show Pose. Visibility in the community and media are vital to increasing awareness of LGBTQ poverty in addition to telling our stories as LGBTQ people who have experienced or are experiencing poverty.
Q: How do we ensure benefits are more accessible to LGBTQ people and also bring focus to specific outreach that targets LGBTQ people?
We need to expand and make programs easily accessible to ensure those who need to utilize these services and programs can do so. I think it also means disentangling benefits from marriage itself.
We have to talk about reformation in other areas that impact LGBTQ poverty, such as housing and policing. LGBTQ people are six times as likely to be stopped by the police. If you are convicted of certain crimes, you can’t access programs, such as, SNAP and public housing. You also can’t get a job because you have a criminal record. This further marginalizes people. We should all have access to food because we are human beings, it is a human need and right.
Q: What do we need to do as advocates and as advocacy organizations? How can organizations within anti-hunger and anti-poverty spaces themselves work to become more internally equitable?
In addition to doing LGBTQ specific outreach, it is just as important that organizations look at their policies procedures and educate themselves on LGBTQ specific issues. Organizations should examine if people are being called by the right pronouns and by their correct names, even though it may not be their legal name. Organizations should also not assume people’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
LGBTQ specific programs are important, but there are also other ways to be vocal and show solidarity, like participating in the local pride parade or having an LGBTQ flag outside of your food distribution center. Organizations need be explicit about their support of LGBTQ people because that is absolutely necessary to ensure that people are getting the services that they need.
Another important thing to consider is that gay and trans people have experienced a lot of trauma and discrimination. This is especially compounded when you layer things like being a person of color or a woman. Consequently, many LGBTQ people expect based on previous experiences that they’re going to be discriminated against. Because of that I think that organizations, particularly those that are faith-based, have a responsibility to actively to say: we’re here for you. That is why NCLR founded the We Serve with Love campaign. The campaign raises awareness of LGBTQ-welcoming faith-based service providers, educates faith-based direct service providers on how to offer LGBTQ welcoming services and programs, and increases understanding in the faith-based direct service provider community of how poverty impacts LGBTQ people.
Q: The National LGBTQ Poverty Agenda was put out during a different administration. What are you looking forward to with the new administration and how you might plan on working with them to decrease disparities among LGBTQ people?
I’ve been really excited to see the Biden administration from the start make the connection between poverty and LGBTQ people. The bulk of our work is getting people to see the connection and this administration is already there; they understand that intersection. While things like the American Rescue Plan are not LGBTQ-specific, they will help LGBTQ people, particularly those living in poverty.
Additionally, we are hoping to build on the LGBTQ poverty working group that was initiated during the Obama administration. We want to bring together different agencies so they can have cross agency conversations about how to ensure LGBTQ people living in poverty are supported. I’m feeling very hopeful this administration will make this inter-agency working group a reality.
Q: Do you have any resources or reports for people that are looking to learn more about these issues? Any concluding thoughts?
- Williams Institute
- LGBTQ Poverty Initiative
- Transition Memo
- The National LGBTQ Anti-Poverty Action Network fact sheet
- We Serve with Love campaign
It is really exciting to see non-LGBTQ organizations really take on issues of LGBTQ poverty and hunger. In the last few years I’ve seen us building those bridges and making our individual movements stronger. Collectively, we are becoming a stronger movement as we advocate together. Together we will win economic justice for all!