For LGBT Groups, Institutions Often a Losing Numbers Game

As Pride Month begins, public policy professor Eiko Strader talks about her research tying labor market discrimination to poverty risks across the global LGBT community.

May 31, 2023

Pride Month

By any measure, stigma and discrimination continue to shadow many within the LGBT community through societal settings like the job market and the workplace. Even given some legal protections in the United States and the European Union, threats still loom—from higher poverty risks and unfair hiring practices to fears of violence and daily microaggressions.

And each instance of discrimination ties into a bigger picture—one that puts LGBT people at greater risk of economic vulnerability.

But that picture only tells part of the story. Too often, noted Assistant Professor of Public Policy in the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration and in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Sociology Eiko Strader, researchers fit all LGBT people into one data basket, ignoring the often vastly different social conditions and economic impacts faced by trans and gender-nonconforming people.

“There are complexities on top of complexities,” Strader said. “When you lump everybody together, all of those complexities get lost.”

But Strader is drawing a more nuanced research picture in her work. Using data from the world’s largest multi-country survey of LGBT people, she is disentangling the ties between economic well-being and sexual orientation and gender identity. Her research may result in the most complete analysis of poverty-risks and links to institutional discrimination throughout all LGBT groups.

Her goal is to find “new ways of thinking about gender and sexuality in relation to income inequality,” she said, “so we can have better policies and social protection mechanisms.”

Complicating the narrative

An expert in comparative research, Strader’s work often involves deep dives into datasets to find the complicated narratives within the statistics. Her past studies on inequality in work and family policies went beyond a comparison of men and women to consider a spectrum of experiences.

“I’m always looking for ways to complicate what we think is a simple understanding of race, gender or class,” she said.

In researching economic vulnerability and labor market discrimination, she noted that many studies compared gay and lesbian people to heterosexual people. That approach, she said, ignored gender-nonconforming or transgender people, essentially squeezing all LGBT people under one umbrella.

Digging deeper, she received a special license to access a trove of LGBT-specific data collected by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (EUFRA) across the then-28 E.U. countries. (The data was collected before the U.K. left the E.U. in 2020.) The detailed surveys freed her to “examine gender nonconformity among sexual and gender minority groups—without using straight cisgender people as the reference group.” 

Eiko Strader
Assistant Professor of Public Policy, WGSS and Sociology Eiko Strader

Globally, LGBT people are vulnerable to economic insecurity. Strader’s research revealed a high-poverty likelihood among LGBT people in the E.U., with more than 15% reporting household incomes in the bottom 25% of the EUFRA surveys. In the United States as well, people who identify as LGBT have higher rates of poverty collectively compared to cisgender heterosexual people—22% to 16%, according to a 2019 report from the Williams Institute in the UCLA School of Law.

But the data becomes more complicated when looking deeper into sexual orientation, gender identity and visible gender nonconformity, Strader said. The Williams Institute survey, for example, revealed cis bisexual women and transgender people both experience average poverty rates around 29% in the United States, with trans men at 33.7%, trans women at 29.6% and gender-nonconforming people at 23.8%.

Likewise, Strader’s initial E.U. numbers indicate that gender nonconformity exacerbates economic vulnerability. Transgender people and cisgender men who identify as gay or bisexual and appear feminine are more likely to be in the bottom 25%, she said, with the biggest income disparity coming between cisgender men who identify as gay or bisexual and assigned-female-at-birth trans people.

Non-disclosure at work counters some of that vulnerability, but, as Strader noted, that isn’t an option for some nonconforming people. Indeed, the EUFRA surveys found that more than one in three trans respondents felt discriminated against while looking for employment, and 27% reported experiencing discrimination at work. For trans women, these figures are even higher—60% and 39% respectively.

“Sex assigned at birth continues to matter,” she said.

The E.U. trends present their own complicated landscape. Roughly 6% of Europeans identify as LGBT—compared to about 4.5% within the United States—but E.U. nations vary widely in their policies to combat discrimination. Still, Strader maintained that a more complete picture of economic risks can be a framework for greater social protections. “I do this to help develop more inclusive policy schemes,” she said.

In fact, when she presents her data to students in her graduate-level Gender, Welfare and Poverty class, Strader said it often provokes an inspiration among them to make positive changes. “It gives them new ways of thinking about how we can fix problems.”

Pride Month in the D.C. area

A number of events in Washington, D.C., and at GW celebrate LGBTQ+ life, history and stories this month, capped by Capital Pride, a beloved parade, festival and concert held in various D.C. locations the weekend of June 10. Other Pride Month events in the area and at GW this month include:

June 1

June 3

June 4

June 5

June 9

June 10

June 11

June 14

June 17

  • Pride Bar Crawl, 4 p.m., Howl at the Moon, 900 7th St. NW ($20). Must be 21.

June 19

June 21

June 25

June 29