The Hidden Financial Costs Of Being Queer

Photo by Violetta Davletbakieva/EyeEm
"I can’t take the night Tube and I still jump at the sound of loud men," says 28-year-old Tom, a non-binary drag performer and frequent writer for Refinery29 UK. "I sometimes wait for three Tubes to pass to avoid people who I see as a threat. Every step on the street is calculated and assessed – I have never known what it’s like to walk the world freely. That’s the same for so many of us."
Tom estimates that they spend between £150-£200 a month on Ubers and other taxis. What for some may be seen as an extravagance or perhaps a regular part of their (expensive) commute, is a lifesaving necessity for Tom and other LGBTQ+ people. This is because paying for private rides is the only way to ensure they get from A to B safely without, as Tom tells me, being "filmed/photographed/laughed at/screamed at/chanted at/physically avoided/physically threatened" for being visibly queer. 
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This is one of the many hidden costs of queerness – where the threat of harassment, bigotry and even violence forces LGBTQ+ people to spend more in order to protect themselves, or medicate themselves, or limits their access to the financial security more easily available to their straight counterparts.
For Samir, a 25-year-old femme-presenting queer person, it’s a matter of choosing between safety and presenting in the way they want to. "I feel like in order for me to be safe, I have to not be visible. I went through a struggle of trying to tell myself that I'm not going to hide but then it comes at a price. That cost is your safety. That's why safe spaces such as Pxssy Palace and other parties are really important for us." Pxssy Palace not only provides a safe space for people to be themselves but also has a taxi fund to help trans people of colour get home safely. It does, however, have limited funding.  

I have friends who, because of dysphoria and other factors, need to dress the way they feel [but] who can't afford cars, and the violence they endure is heinous and deeply distressing.

TOm Rasmussen
Samir and Tom acknowledge the privilege they have, both in being able to modify how they present without experiencing mental distress, and in being able to afford private transport. As Tom tells me: "I have friends who, because of dysphoria and other factors, need to dress the way they feel [but] who can’t afford cars, and the violence they endure is heinous and deeply distressing." Samir also emphasises the privilege they have in being able to be out at all: "I come from Lebanon so I always remind myself that I am very fortunate and privileged to be in somewhere like London where at least I can be queer." These are relative privileges, though – in an ideal world, they both say that the sense of safety that private travel affords them should be the safety they feel on public transport, presenting as themselves.
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Housing

The expenses related to safe spaces extend beyond travel and into housing. Samir tells me how they feel stuck still living at home and can’t afford to move out (London, as we all know, is expensive) but this restricts their ability to create a home that feels safe and comfortable for them and somewhere they actually want to be. "I can't stay at home with my parents. I'm always out looking for somewhere else to go... It's definitely something that affects me emotionally on a day-to-day basis."
They are far from alone in their struggle to access suitable housing. According to Stonewall in 2017: "One in 10 LGBT people (10%) who were looking for a house or flat to rent or buy in the last year were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity." There is a lack of safe, affordable accommodation, which leaves many young people vulnerable to insecure housing or homelessness when homophobia or transphobia has driven them from their homes.
The charity AKT works directly with those young people to help them find safe accommodation and aims to reduce the recurrence of homelessness. According to AKT, 24% of the youth homeless population in the UK identify as LGBT, and 77% of them believe coming out to their parents was the main factor in their homelessness.
Lucy Bowyer, AKT’s director of services, explains that there is often a loss of familial support. "A lot of LGBT people will find that they're in services for a lot longer: the impact of homelessness is pretty traumatic, but if you have the additional aspects like loss of family and loss of community support, that can make you quite socially isolated and have a mistrust of services." If it was coming out that resulted in their homelessness, that makes coming out again and again to figures of authority a big ask, and then the authorities cannot give them the kind of help they need. "When young people approach the local authority to get help, they might not necessarily feel comfortable disclosing their sexuality or their gender identity so they probably don't get as much of a service as they would have done if people really understood what was happening for them."
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24% of the youth homeless population in the UK identify as LGBT.

There are costs both to the government and to the individual in the case of LGBTQ+ youth homelessness. Added to this, the homophobia and transphobia that put many of AKT’s clients in vulnerable positions in the first place also makes it difficult for them to get back into safe, affordable housing. "If you're a young queer person it's magnified because you have to make sure that it's a safe environment you're moving into," says Lucy. "So many young people that come to us are in privately rented shared accommodation and they're in fear and they're not out, or they feel like people know or people have got something over them. Actually finding that safe accommodation can be a bit more expensive because you're waiting around a bit longer."
A lot of the accommodation that young people can afford is in the outer reaches of London, for example, and as Lucy tells me, "some parts of that are not very friendly for LGBT people". Somewhere that is affordable may not be safe; likewise, somewhere that’s safe and not isolating may be too expensive. To try and counter this AKT has a rent deposit scheme, providing a bit of a support system for those who have no one to ask for help. Many of the people they work with don’t even have the basics, like a toothbrush, clothes and somewhere to store them, all of which AKT helps with.
Lucy emphasises how these things become even harder with the intersection of identities. "It compounds if you're a person of colour as well and there's multiple discriminations that people experience, particularly in accommodation. For trans people who are trying to access mainstream services it can be really difficult, particularly for trans women. We've had hostels ask really intrusive questions that were unnecessary about surgical procedures of people, which is against the Equality Act. If you're having to jump all those hurdles with no one to help you it creates an extra trauma. So the cost to the mental health services then goes up, and people can fall into substance abuse."
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Work

Being LGBTQ+ impacts access to financial independence through work. Stonewall’s 2018 LGBT in Britain work report found that almost one in five LGBT people (18%) who were looking for work said they were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity while trying to get a job in 2017. More than a third of LGBT people (35%) looking for work were worried about being discriminated against or harassed at work due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, and one in eight black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT employees (12%) had lost a job in the last year because of being LGBT, compared to 4% of white LGBT staff. There is also, according to YouGov, LinkedIn and UK Black Pride, a pay gap, with LGBTQ+ people earning on average £6,703 less than their straight counterparts.
Homophobia and transphobia can impact people in so many ways in the workplace, meaning young people flip from job to job to avoid unsafe or deliberately uncomprehending situations – from not conforming to people’s gendered expectations in dress or presentation to feeling pressured to disclose gender identity either at an interview or in a workspace, to normalised homophobic or transphobic work environments. One example Lucy gives that can drive people out of workspaces either directly or indirectly is a lack of understanding around trans medical care. "A young person was saying to me yesterday how there's not always acceptance from employers around trans people's health issues specifically. If you need time off for an operation if that's the route that you choose to go down, an employer might not be very sympathetic or you might have to disclose a lot of information that you ordinarily wouldn't... That's a conversation that might be really traumatic for you and bring back dysphoria."
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Healthcare

Access to healthcare for LGBTQ+ people, particularly trans and non-binary people, is yet another area where queer people take the hit – financially, physically, emotionally or, in many cases, a combination of all three. The waiting time for an initial appointment at gender identity clinics across the UK has reached two years – an all-time high – and Stonewall reports that "almost half of trans people (47%) who want to undergo some form of medical intervention, but have yet to have it, say that long waiting times prevent them from accessing medical treatment. Nearly half (45%) say they don’t have the financial means to afford it (e.g. costs for treatments they’ve been unable to access on the NHS or travel expenses)."
Paired with the fact that the NHS doesn't cover many procedures like facial feminisation surgery, this has driven the rise in trans and non-binary people fundraising for their medical procedures. This runs alongside the fact that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to deal with mental health problems (Stonewall reported in 2018 that half of LGBT people (52%) have experienced depression, while three in five (61%) reported having episodes of anxiety). At a time when NHS waiting lists for mental healthcare run from six months to two years, LGBTQ+ people are once again expected to suffer, or pay for private medical care.

People think, 'We've got equal marriage so I'm sure everything's fine,' and that's just not the case.

Lucy Bowyer, AKT
There are many who misguidedly presume direct, violent homophobia, queerphobia and transphobia doesn’t happen, because they don’t see it. As Lucy puts it: "People think, We've got equal marriage so I'm sure everything’s fine, and that's just not the case." Charities like AKT or crowdfunders or even club nights like Pxssy Palace are providing the financial help and advice that are otherwise not afforded. In a climate where transphobia is worse than ever and two thirds of LGBT+ people don’t feel safe expressing themselves or their love in public, it is not enough just to show support through social media. Where possible, direct monetary support is the difference between isolation and distress and safety, security and acceptance. 
The feeling of safety that Samir and Tom get in taxis should be affordable and available to as many LGBTQ+ people as possible, whether that means feeling safe in your body, safe in a space of your own, or secure in your job. This can only change when services are better supported by the government. Currently it comes at our own expense, if we’re lucky enough to afford it, or if you’re not lucky, at the expense of your physical and emotional wellbeing, as well as your sense of security. It’s a price we should not have to pay.
If you would like to help keep young LGBTQ+ people safe and supported, you can donate to AKT here.
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