How People in the Queer Community Think About Personal Finance

I married my wife last October in a backyard wedding that my parents hosted and covered for $5,000. My wife’s mother gave us an equivalent honeymoon fund to fly us to France, and our guests were also generous, giving us — to our surprise — a few thousand dollars to start our new lives.

Of course, I knew people were given money for their weddings, but this seemed like an abstract, heterosexual concept to me: free money, for loving someone? In my experience, nothing about being a lesbian came without, at minimum, a metaphorical price tag.

But that’s just my experience. In June, which is Pride Month, many people honor the history, struggles and joys of L.G.B.T.Q. people. It’s also a time to celebrate the ways we are different and how we relate to the world around us — which got me thinking about money.

L.G.B.T.Q. people must navigate many systemic disadvantages: disproportionate student loan debt, a wealth and savings gap, less access to our blood relatives’ generational wealth, food insecurity, and incalculable losses related to housing, hiring and workplace discrimination. Marginalized identities like race, immigration status and disability compound the financial disadvantages.

Financial planners are overwhelmingly older, white men who may not be equipped to deal with the concerns of L.G.B.T.Q. people. Most bank accounts require a legal name, which can be difficult for L.G.B.T.Q. people who have different, chosen names.

I wanted to dig into how other L.G.B.T.Q. people think about personal finance. Money in the queer community can be fleeting, communal and scarce, which can have an impact on our financial planning decisions.

Carla and Claire Sherman live in St. Louis with their 4-year-old son, Linus. Carla, 49, works at a warehouse, making $34 an hour, and Claire, 37, works in nonprofit fund-raising, earning $52,000 a year. Both spouses feel they should have more savings, but between high inflation and monthly costs of $1,200 for the mortgage, $1,400 for tuition at Linus’s Montessori program, $400 for two leased cars and $600 for groceries, the family is just staying afloat.

Carla, who already works six days a week, is considering taking a second job to pay off a credit card. “But the thought of her working the third shift six days a week and then taking care of Linus for a chunk of the day and then doing some other job seems insane to me,” Claire said.

The family receives financial support from Claire’s parents, who helped cover living expenses when Carla took off a year and a half during the pandemic to care for Linus. They also helped pay off Carla’s student loans. Carla has had a different experience with her parents. They have not given her the same level of support, and she believes they have iced her out because she is a lesbian.

“Back in the ’90s when I came out, it was so much different, and it seemed like it was still OK to not be OK with having a child who’s gay,” Carla said, adding, “They didn’t even offer to give any money for our wedding.”

Linus was born in 2018, and the couple estimate they spent $7,000 on six vials of sperm, a few hundred dollars on fertility testing and $250 to $500 (with insurance) on each of their three pregnancy attempts. They were unable to save ahead of time and used credit cards throughout the process.

Still, the Shermans got pregnant relatively cheaply through intrauterine insemination, which is usually the first and least expensive stop in assisted reproduction. With insurance, the birth was another $12,000 in out-of-pocket costs.

While in the hospital, Claire, who carried their child, was offered paperwork with no option for same-sex partners. On the form, she crossed out “father” and penciled in “second mother” before writing their names.

“My grandma used to tell me that me and my dad had holes in our palms,” Yassin Adams, 36, said. Growing up in Egypt, he watched his father, nicknamed “the poor millionaire” by his mother, taking care of family, friends and neighbors. Mr. Adams has taken after his father, making sure the people in his life are looked after.

“It doesn’t matter if we are friend or foe, this is community work,” he said.

Mr. Adams graduated from an Egyptian medical school in 2010 before going to Ohio in 2015. He applied for political asylum in the United States as a former Muslim and a queer person, before coming out as transmasculine and nonbinary and starting his medical transition.

Mr. Adams now lives in San Diego and earns $90,000 a year as a clinical research associate for a private company. Even so, he lives paycheck to paycheck.

“Because I make that salary, I feel a moral responsibility to take care of other people in my life that are my chosen family, essentially,” he said.

Four members of his chosen family (close relationships that L.G.B.T.Q. people form apart from their biological relatives) currently depend on him, Mr. Adams said. It can be difficult for his friends to accept help — they don’t want to receive handouts or to feel like a burden — so he invites them to help him with small household tasks in exchange for money.

But Mr. Adams is also struggling. Alongside typical expenses like $1,500 in rent and $500 car loan payments, he owes tens of thousands of dollars to a rehabilitation facility he visited for addiction issues, has $5,000 in credit card debt and owes $4,000 in medical debt. Mr. Adams also pays $5,000 every three months for hormone care.

Health care is a big-ticket item for anyone, but it can be especially challenging for the L.G.B.T.Q. community, said Josh Andreasen, director of financial planning at Edelman Financial Engines.

“With such a patchwork of laws from state to state regarding health care, it can be extremely difficult locating and paying for the services you might need,” Mr. Andreasen said in an email. “Gender-affirming surgeries for trans individuals can be exceedingly expensive, costing upwards of $100,000.”

“I would pay all the money in order to be a trans queer person,” he said. “I have time to spend, you know what I mean?”

There’s a communal approach to money, and a responsibility to provide, that Mr. Adams feels is common in queer and transgender circles. It’s an insider’s joke, a little glib, but reflects fierce pride: Queer and trans people pass around the same few dollars back and forth, over and over again, to help one another out. Because, as Mr. Adams put it, who is going to fund trans people if not themselves?

Bex Mui and her fiancée, Cheryna Guzman, are a lesbian couple living in Oakland, Calif. Ms. Mui, 38, is a self-employed equity consultant and L.G.B.T.Q. inclusion advocate, while Ms. Guzman, 31, works in event production as a video technician. Together, they make about $155,000 a year and want to start a family, but the financial barriers feel significant.

The couple struggle to come up with a realistic time frame for parenthood, Ms. Mui said. Mentally and emotionally, they’re ready for children, “but that’s not how we can bring a baby into this world,” she said.

Ms. Mui often reflects on how much easier it is for heterosexual couples to have children. Instead, for her and Ms. Guzman, trying looks like endless appointments and strategic planning: seeking a sperm donor, navigating legal fees and parental rights, fertility testing, and in vitro fertilization.

It’s a frustrating challenge, Ms. Mui said, because the pair believe they make less money as women of color. The couple don’t have any savings for family planning because they are saving for a wedding.

On average, intrauterine insemination can cost $300 to 1,000 per cycle, and in vitro fertilization costs an average of $12,400 per cycle; with medication, the cost can rise closer to $25,000. With either option, most people need multiple cycles of treatment, and it’s not unusual for families to spend tens of thousands of dollars.

In their worst-case scenario, Ms. Mui said, these financial barriers may prevent them from having a child.

Access to clinics and doctors with experience in L.G.B.T.Q. health also factors into the couple’s financial equation. “We’re very fortunate to live in California,” Ms. Mui said. Despite the cost of West Coast living — the couple pay $2,200 for their apartment and estimate another $1,000 a month for food, gas and other bills — family planning feels easier in a liberal state.

Mikah Amani, 22, is a singer-songwriter living in Miami. His rent is just $500 a month, mostly because he lives in a queer house with four roommates. Mr. Amani had a full-time job as a barista, earning $13 an hour plus tips, but he left it last month because, he said, customers were constantly misgendering him and he had a racist encounter with a co-worker.

Black transgender people like Mr. Amani are particularly vulnerable to workplace harassment and economic insecurity. A report from the National LGBTQ Task Force, an advocacy group, found that Black transgender people had an unemployment rate of 26 percent, four times the national rate and twice as high as the rate for the general transgender population.

Leaving his job was a relief, but it left Mr. Amani with no income. He’s relying on support from his parents and grandparents.

Financial precarity has affected Mr. Amani’s access to gender-affirming care. He had a date scheduled for top surgery this month but knew even before quitting his job that he wouldn’t be able to afford it. Through crowdfunding — a strategy that many L.G.B.T.Q. people use while relying on their community — he raised about $1,400, but that money was diverted to immediate expenses. With insurance from his old job, the surgery would have cost about $5,600 out of pocket.

“Being in survival mode right now is kind of my focus,” he said. “I can’t latch on to the fact that I can’t get top surgery right now, because it’s just not practical.”

Noelle Soncrant, a financial adviser at Northwestern Mutual, said in an email that “financial planning is a critical component of closing the financial gap the L.G.B.T.Q.+ community faces.” But until homophobia and transphobia are dealt with systemically, financial savvy alone is unlikely to ever close the gap.

Transphobia has had a ripple effect on Mr. Amani — it’s why he left his barista job, losing his health insurance, and why he has had to pass on other opportunities. Mr. Amani was offered a paid gig playing music at an elementary school, but declined because of Florida’s anti-L.G.B.T.Q. legislation.

Mr. Amani does go to his mother, a midwife, and his father, a private equity consultant, for financial advice, but he’d also like to see a financial adviser who can relate to his experiences. He hopes a financial adviser can help him build the life he wants: full of music, gender euphoria, travel and the ability to support his younger siblings.

“I’d like to see someone who’s trans, someone who’s Black and someone who maybe has been in a similar position to me,” he said.

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