Tackling LGBTQ Poverty and Food Insecurity

with Tyrone Hanley of the National Center for Lesbian Rights

A report by The Williams Institute reveals that more than one in four LGBTQ adults lacked the funds to feed themselves or their families in 2016. Tyrone Hanley, Senior Policy Counsel at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, shares his experience being raised by a single, LGBTQ parent and how his organization is working to eliminate poverty and food insecurity in the LGBTQ community.

Posted on:

May 29, 2019

Hosted by: Paul Lisnek
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Lisnek: Although the gay-rights movement has seen huge progress, especially in the last couple of decades, there's research that highlights a bleak reality. LGBTQ people are more likely than their peers to live in poverty. Access to food, affordable housing, employment -- they're all impacted by a person's socioeconomic status. Hi. Welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Paul Lisnek. A group of experts took a close look at this issue, resulting in the first national LGBTQ poverty agenda. And one of the authors of this research is Tyrone Hanley, the senior policy counsel for the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Tyrone, so good to see you.

Hanley: Nice to see you. Thanks for having me.

Lisnek: I want to talk about the study. But I got to tackle one thing right up front, because the name of your organization is National Center for Lesbian Rights. So, for people who are gay or trans, you're there for everybody.

Hanley: Yes, we are definitely there for everyone. We started as an organization fighting for the rights of nonbiological mothers in custody cases, but we work for all the issues, LGBTQ and plus.

Lisnek: You know, Tyrone, it's one thing for somebody to be part of an organization that's doing important work, but for you, your life experience has made a difference and really brings value to the work you do. Talk to me about where you grew up, which was outside the city of Chicago. Talk to me about that.

Hanley: Sure, I did. I grew up in Aurora, Illinois, a wonderful city to grow up in. My mother raised us, me and my two brothers. She was open, for most of my life, about her sexuality. And it was really amazing, but I also saw her struggle. You know, she worked living-wage jobs. Sometimes she had to have a job and a half. You know, she had to work the third shifts or work overnight so she can be there for us for any activities that we may have. But I also saw she was really exhausted. And it was also really important that we had access to various public benefit programs, from public housing, public education, cash assistance, and food stamps. All those things were vital to make sure that she could provide us with a loving and stable home, because otherwise, she couldn't have done it on her own.

Lisnek: You know what your story proves? Right off the bat, some people have the wrong image of somebody who is on assistance -- SNAP programs, food stamps, that kind of thing. They think, "Well, if they're doing that, they're not working. They're just living off the dole," all that kind of thing. Your family, history says nothing could be further from the truth.

Hanley: That is very correct. Unfortunately, there are too many people in this country that are working very hard but just can't make ends meet. And so that's why we see a movement to increase the minimum wage to a living wage, because, you know, everyone should be able to have access to the basic needs, from housing and from food, to education and transportation. And so it's been really exciting to see that movement really growing.

Lisnek: While we're in the mood for tackling stereotypes and wrong impressions, another one is, when people are getting assistance of some sort, "Well, they're fine. They don't have to work, because that's just enough to make ends meet." Your experience tells you that's not true, either.

Hanley: No, not at all. I mean, throughout my childhood, we were receiving various forms of assistance. But without it, you know, we wouldn't be able to survive. And my mom worked very hard, you know, the point where we didn't sometimes see her very often. And sometimes we may go to work with her and clean office buildings with her or school buildings she may clean, because she wanted to spend time with us. But she also had to, you know, make sure that we were getting all of our needs met, and so it was really important to have access to those programs. And so when you see people attacking these programs, it's really upsetting to me because I know how many people -- hardworking people -- really depend on them or really need them. And so, rather than attacking these programs, I think what we should be doing is really strengthening them.

Lisnek: Why is it that this notion of food insecurity or housing insecurity fall so disproportionately on the LGBTQ community, versus, you know, straight people, whatever? Why?

Hanley: I think that's a very excellent question. You know, obviously, one big one is discrimination. LGBTQ people, despite all the advances that we have made throughout the years since Stonewall, we're still experiencing discrimination in housing, in employment, in education. In addition to that, bullying, so you have young people that are being pushed out of school, whether it be they're being bullied and decided not to go to school. Or maybe they get so frustrated and they lash out, and they end up getting kicked out. Then, of course, family rejection. You know, a lot of economic support comes through our family. And so your family is pushing you out, then you're left to your own and to support yourself. And so these are the ways in which LGBTQ people are specifically being pushed into poverty. And what we also see is that because we can't turn to traditional jobs, that many of us have to turn to an industry such as the sex trade and the drug trade in order to make basic ends meet.

Lisnek: And that triggers the need for reformation in the justice system, right? You guys addressed that, as well, in the study.

Hanley: Yes, and so, in addition to economic justice and addressing poverty, criminal justice reform is a big part of my work because what we see is that LGBTQ people are more likely to be in the criminal legal system. Which I think is shocking for a lot of people, because when you hear stories around the criminal justice system, LGBTQ people tend not to come up, although we're disproportionately represented in that system. And so one of the things we're trying to do is to highlight that and to make sure that people are talking about it and addressing the ways that we experience discrimination and violence in the system.

Lisnek: Well, congratulations on the study. It's so important, the information that you are sharing with us. And what I really am impressed about, with you, to be honest with you, is it's one thing to have the job, it's another thing to have lived the need for this job. You're making a difference.

Hanley: Great.

Lisnek: And thank you.

Hanley: Thank you.

Lisnek: Tyrone Hanley. He's from the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Thanks for joining us. And thank you for joining us, as well. If you want more great conversations with leaders in your community, across our country, all you got to do is go to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Paul Lisnek. Thanks for watching.

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