Seminars in the City: Gay Economics

Iclearly recall, as I began grappling with what to make of my desires, coming across
statistics about gay and lesbian income and wealth. Relative to the national average, the
difference was staggering! Of course, I did not understand that there is no connection
between a gay gene and a big income. Of course, I began to think (or hope) that ‘that guy’
makes a fortune, a roll of dough he wants to spend on me. But, at that point, I didn’t have
a clue when it came to understanding politics and economics, let alone the relationship
between lesbians and gay men and political and economic issues. Little did I know that,
while I was smiling at the thought of an edge in chances for upward mobility relative to my
straight peers, the myth of lesbian and gay wealth, and therefore power, was wielded by our
anti-gay adversaries in Colorado. The myth even found its way into Justice Scalia’s dissenting
opinion when the Supreme Court overturned Amendment 2. Almost 10 years later, from
personal experience and some reading, I now know that lesbian and gay men’s economic
situation is much more complex picture. (But, irrationally, I am still looking for ‘that guy’
with a lot of money…)
The Fall 2000 Seminars in the City took up several of the many intricate issues of “Gay
Economics.” Our monthly discussions at the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center
on Little West 12th Street, moderated by Kay Diaz and Jeffrey Escoffier, centered on readings
from Homo Economics, eds. Gluckman and Reed. In September, Lee Badgett, labor
economist and the former Executive director of the Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic
Studies, helped us to understand the ways in which research methods, and (biased) samples
in particular, can lead to distortions in determining the actual economic status of lesbians
and gay men. During our October disucssion, Richard Burns, from The Center, gave insight
into the sometimes precarious economic situation of gay and lesbian community organizations.
Jeffrey Escoffier brought us back in time to “The Political Economy of the Closet”
before Stonewall in November, which paved the way for a better understanding of the
present “gay marketing moment,” discussed by Kay Diaz in December. Also, drawing on
Alexandra Chasin’s recent Selling Out: The Gay and Lesbian Movement Goes to Market, Kay
was able to lay before us the strange predicament it seems the LGTBQ community and
movement is in.
As the market (and media) are increasingly snuggling up to us as one of its latest (and
cutest) niches, from our readings and discussions in these several seminars, we have to ask
whether and to what degree our community and movement has decided to pursue political
ends through economic means. In other words, do we act more as consumers than as
citizens? The paradox seems to lie here: while our own consumption and our being
consumed, inasmuch as ‘things gay’ are hot, have in many ways helped the movement,
perhaps limiting our conception of citizenship to that of consumer will hurt us in the long
run, if it doesn’t already. The recent mainstream positions and high visibility of lesbians and
gays in culture along with flawed statistics on gay and lesbian economic wealth — statistics
that certainly do not account for lesbians and gay men across lines of race and class — might
give an impression of progress at the cost of ignoring the political realm. The Gay
Economics seminar showed how erroneous – and dangerous – that can be.

Edward Gallagher is working towards his PhD in sociology at Fordham University.