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Web Event 2: Classism and the Queer Community

EP's picture

            When most people think of issues facing the LGBT community, they think of issues such as gay marriage. Few can see a major problem that is found both inside and outside of the community. This problem ignores the needs of many people in the community. It excludes people from a community where they were told they were safe. The problem is classism, which finds its way into the queer community to better fit a capitalist structure. Classism within the queer community as a result of the commercialization of queer culture causes exclusion of LGBT people of lower socioeconomic status and ignorance of their needs.

            Economic challenges are a significant issue for many people in the LGBT community. According to Brad Sears and Lee Badgett, in addition to “the same socio-economic challenges that other people who share their sex, race, ethnicity, age, and disability face,” they must deal with “a higher risk of being homeless when they are young, harassment and discrimination at school and at workplace, and being denied the economic benefits of marriage,” (Sears & Badgett, 2012). However, we rarely see these issues faced in portrayals of queer people in the media. We often see white, upper-middle class same sex couples in shows such as Modern Family who do not face these economic issues. This is commonly referred to as the “myth of gay affluence.” Joseph N. DeFilippis explains the origin of the myth when he says “The myth of gay affluence gained prominence in the 1980s, due in no small part to highly publicized marketing surveys of the readerships of gay magazines like the Advocate. The existence of gay people with lots of disposable income was an appealing pitch to make to advertisers,” (DeFilippis, 2011). The main problem with this is that it was only representative of “predominantly white affluent gay men” (DeFilippis, 2011), and did not accurately represent the LGBT community, ignoring the issues faced by queer people of color, queer people of lower socioeconomic status, transgender people, queer people in non-urban areas, and many other people in the queer community. The myth of gay affluence originated as a result of the commercialization of queer culture, specifically the gay community, as a way to benefit a capitalist institution.

            The harm that this myth of gay affluence causes for people in the queer community is an ignorance of the needs of LGBT people who struggle economically. Poverty is a serious problem for many people in the LGBT community, though it often goes ignored. “The myth that same-sex couples are more affluent has been used to argue against passing laws and policies that support LGBT people and families,” (Fricano, 2013).  Though the myth of affluence seems to be the dominant view in popular culture, the statistics on LGBT poverty tell a different story. According to New Patterns of Poverty in the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Community by Lee Badgett, Laura E. Durso, and Alyssa Schneebaum, “Data on couples suggests that same-sex couples are more vulnerable to poverty in general than are different-sex married couples,” (Badgett, Durso, and Schneebaum, 1) and “one in five LGBT people who live alone report an income at or below the poverty level,” (Badgett, Durso, and Schneebaum, 2). Socioeconomic issues also very much affect the transgender community. According to National Transgender Discrimination Survey, out of “6,450 transgender people” (National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 1) that were surveyed “more than 27% reporting incomes of $20,000 or lower and more than 15% reporting incomes of $10,000 or lower” (National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 2). With these statistics in mind, it is obvious that to ignore the issues of poverty within the LGBT community is to ignore the issues of a large portion of the community.

            Eli Clare, in his book Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation, reflects on how “the most visible queer identities” are often “urban,” “middle-class,” and “consumer-oriented” (Clare, 39). Clare’s introduction of the idea of “urban” queer identity being “the most visible” is significant to the discussion of classism within the community as Joseph N. DeFilippis states “People in same-sex couples who live in rural areas have poverty rates that are twice as high as those for same-sex couples who live in large metropolitan areas, as well as being poorer than people in different-sex married couples who live in rural areas” (DeFilippis, 2011). Clare recalls his experience with “Stonewall 25, media shorthand for New York City’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion” (Clare, 39). Clare did not attend, saying “Who could afford the benefit dance at $150, the concert at $50, the t-shirt at $25?” (Clare, 39). This is just one example of ways in which the queer community itself alienates people of lower socioeconomic status through a focus on commercial benefit. Clare continues “Stonewall 25 strikes me not so much as a celebration of a powerful and life-changing uprising of queer people, led by transgendered people of color, by drag queens and butch dykes, fed up with the cops, but as a middle- and upper-class urban party that opened its doors only to those who could afford it” (Clare, 39). The commercialization of queer culture breeds an environment that excludes LGBT people of lower socioeconomic status from participating in their own queer community, making it more difficult for them to find a supportive community. They must split their lives into different worlds: the world that is created by their class, the world that is created by their queer identity, and, in many cases, the world that is created by their race and ethnicity, and the world that is created by any disability they may have. The classist environment that is created in the queer community makes intersectionality of identities difficult.

            The damage that commercialization of the queer community has done against LGBT people who do not fit the commercial demographic is evident, and now we ask the question: how can this be changed? There are many organized efforts to both change the commercial structures within the queer community and to change economic structures to encourage economic equality for LGBT people. One such effort is an organization called Queers for Economic Justice, whose “goal is to challenge and change the systems that create poverty and economic injustice in our communities, and to promote an economic system that embraces sexual and gender diversity” (“About Queers for Economic Justice,” n.d.) and recognizes that “although poor queers have always been a part of both the gay rights and economic justice movements, they have been, and continue to be, largely invisible in both movements” (“About Queers for Economic Justice,” n.d.). It is significant to have an organization that recognizes that both visibility and economic issues are important to address for poorer LGBT people who are ignored by the community. It helps to get rid of the division that poorer LGBT people must make between their lives in the queer community and their socioeconomic reality.

            The Barnard Center for Research on Women, in cooperation with Queers for Economic Justice, produced the “Desiring Change” project, which was “dedicated to enhancing our ability to name and claim uniquely gendered bodies and sexual desires” as well as “amplifying our ability to connect movements for social justice across class and race” (Hollibaugh, Jakobsen, and Sameh, 3). This exploration of the interactions between intersectional identities (gender, sexuality, race, class, etc.) is crucial to understanding and defeating classism within the LGBT community. Projects such as this are important in bringing visibility to issues of class and race for LGBT people into the eyes of the public so that action can be taken to change the structures in place that cause these issues. The authors of the report make note that “Desiring Change does not provide a plan in the sense of a blueprint, but it does provide a sign-post; it suggests that we follow the impetus provided by desire” (Hollibaugh, Jakobsen, and Sameh, 30). Awareness, however, is the first step in solving the larger problem of classist institutions against LGBT people.

            The interactions between class and queer identity are constant, and the commercialization of queer culture complicates the relationship between the two.  As Eli Clare states, “My loss of home, my exile, is about class” (Clare, 34). Class is a defining factor in each of our lives, and even more so for those in the LGBT community. LGBT people of lower socioeconomic status have to divide their lives into separate spaces, each of these spaces neglecting their needs as a whole person. The commercialization of queer culture makes the mainstream LGBT community exclusive against those of lower socioeconomic status. In their daily lives, many LGBT people face workplace discrimination among other economic and social challenges that make it difficult to live and work in non-LGBT spaces. Though there are movements to bring the economic issues of LGBT people to light, the mainstream LGBT movement has a tendency to ignore these issues. However, as criticism of the commercialization of the queer community becomes more present, the classism that results from this will become more apparent in the public eye.


Works Cited

"About Queers for Economic Justice." Queers for Economic Justice. Queers for Economic Justice, n.d. Web. 04 Nov. 2013. <>.

Badgett, Lee, Laura E. Durso, and Alyssa Schneebaum. New Patterns of Poverty in the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Community. Rep. The Williams Institute, June 2013. Web. 3 Nov. 2013. <>.

Clare, Eli. Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation. Cambridge, MA: South End, 1999. Print.

DeFilippis, Joseph N. "Introduction." SF Online. Barnard Center for Research on Women, Fall 2011. Web. 3 Nov. 2013. <>.

Fricano, Mike. "Dispelling the Myth of Gay Affluence." UCLA Today. University of California, Los Angeles, 13 June 2013. Web. 03 Nov. 2013. <>.

Hollibaugh, Amber, Janet Jakobsen, and Catherine Sameh. Desiring Change. Rep. Barnard Center for Research on Women and Queers for Economic Justice, n.d. Web. 3 Nov. 2013. <>.

National Center for Transgender Equality, and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. National Transgender Discrimination Survey. Rep. The National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Nov. 2009. Web. 3 Nov. 2013. <>.

Sears, Brad, and Lee Badgett. "Beyond the Stereotypes: Poverty in the LGBT Community." Momentum. Tides, June 2012. Web. 3 Nov. 2013. <>.


Serendip Visitor's picture

The vagueness of classism and racism in the gay community

Growing up in New York, my introduction to the gay community such as it is, was cold. I never imagined that the same social cliches that I encountered in the corporate world, and in my exposure to the gay club scene, would be so similar. Being as I am a bi-racial man of color, very articulate, well groomed and polished to a degree, you would probably imagine me as a star "so to speak", attraction in any gay club. Obviously, I did what I thought was an appropriate calling card for potential's in that bar, or night club, at that moment. To my surprise and disgust, I was given the look of death by some of the most attractive white men in the bar, some assumed I was a hooker, rent boy, or simply not approachable. Others who were somewhat friendly, were immediately taken aback by my straight forward, and masculine voice, and demeanor. I was dumbstruck, and puzzled at these situations. I found that the same stereotypical response I received in the club, was quite similar to the white men I worked with on Wall Street, the difference? I was always mentally prepared to deal with the ignorance on Wall Street, but not in a gay club. The bottom line for me, was simple, I was not a sissified enough, or docile enough, black enough, or white enough. I was looked at as a threat in some way. I'm tall and easy on the eyes, with a deep voice, but I don't live on Park avenue, and I have no pedigree that would invite a certain calling card of noted importance, yet, I evoked a mental and emotional standoff with certain gay men. Not every gay white man reacted this way, but for everyone who didn't, they were out numbered by four. Not cool at all.

EmmaBE's picture

While reading your paper, I

While reading your paper, I was very struck by the way what you described reflected what I have experienced as a queer person. I have often felt excluded from my own movement by the stereotype of - and people who fit the stereotype of - the affluent white gay man. I wondered if your paper you could branch out further into this idea of a priviliged identity within a nonpriviliged community: white gay affluent men are more visible in the LGBT+ movement and are better represented in the movement's political sphere (for instance, when political groups that purport themselves as supporting all queer identities focus on marriage equality, they are very much playing into the idea that the problems of the L and the G are more important than finding ways to help all identities) - you have already analyzed how their class plays into this power dynamic, but what about their gender? their race? Can someone be inherently 'more privileged' or 'more oppressed' because of the nature of their intersectional identity? I think these would be interesting questions that you could answer if you chose to expand this paper further.

Anne Dalke's picture

Gay Affluence

In our discussion after your last web event, I asked how women might overcome their fear of “feeling like a fraud,” and you replied, “feminist ideology, which asserts that women should be equal to those with more privilege,” helps women “ abandon their fear that their opinions are unimportant or that they do not belong in a certain space because of who they are.” I see you asking and answering a related question in this project: how might poor and working class LGBT folks address their exclusion and oppression? Is feminist ideology helpful here also? I’m surprised you don’t draw on Judith Halberstam’s work here. She would certainly say so--does say so in her critique of capitalist productivity as a guide to the normative life.

You do draw on a number of other compelling sources for your account of the affluence and commercialization of queer culture. At the Disability Studies conference I attended a few weeks ago, Eli Clare was one of the few voices speaking about accessibility issues outside the academy, reminding us repeatedly that the issues of accommodation we were addressing were couched in very affluent settings. You use his voice well in your essay, questioning the media portrayal (and queer experience) of the queer movement as “a middle- and upper-class urban party that opened its doors only to those who could afford it.”

Another thing that particularly heartens me here is your taking time to attend to questions of how the dynamic you describe might be changed.

As I mentioned to Maya, I taught an ESem a few years ago called InClass/OutClassed: On the Uses of a Liberal Education, which worked specifically to answer the question of whether schools function primarily as sites of socialization and normalization, reinforcing the status quo, or whether they might be explicit sites of intervention, mobility and change. So now I’m wondering how you see the role of education as a location for working with-and-through the questions you raise. How deeply do you think schools are embedded in capitalist structures, and/or/but how much might do you see them as sites for challenging such structures? (What is Bryn Mawr’s orientation, for instance, towards class im/mobility? Does the College imagine a certain class location for its students to eventually attain?)

For related explorations of class issues, see both EmmaBE’s description of the Posse program, and vhiggins on re-doing the structures of inner city schooling--please come to class having read their papers, and ready to talk!