By the numbers (part 2): A new financial survey reveals that being LGBTQ+ is expensive

colorful waving Pride flag on an American dollar money background
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According to the Center for LGBTQ Economic Advancement and Research (CLEAR), LGBTQ+ people in the United States face many economic and financial disparities compared to their straight peers, often driven or exacerbated by experiences of discrimination.

Existing research shows that LGBTQ+ people face consistently higher rates of poverty, food insecurity, unemployment and job discrimination, among other disparities. Those inequities are often even worse for transgender people and people of color.

Yet a historical lack of data collection among these groups by the government and other organizations has contributed to a shortfall of empirical information regarding the financial health, well-being, access and security issues that face LGBTQ+ Americans. According to CLEAR, this limits public understanding of the experiences of the LGBTQ+ population, and the causes of, or contributors to, the obstacles they face.

It also hampers the effectiveness of policies or interventions intended to improve lives and economic stability.

Now, for the first time, a new survey sponsored by CLEAR and the Movement Advancement Project offers a comprehensive look at the financial well-being of LGBTQ+ communities. The first “LGBTQI+ Economic and Financial (LEAF) Survey” illustrates the power of inclusive data collection to illuminate the unique experiences of LGBTQ+ people and support informed decision-making.

In Part One of our look at the LEAF Financial Survey, we broke down respondents’ financial well-being, including income, savings and debt.

In Part Two, we examine the survey results regarding Financial Priorities, including the costs of building a family and a new identity.  

Financial Priorities

LEAF survey results, graph of LGBTQ+ people's financial priorities

As the Financial Well-Being section of the LEAF Survey revealed, LGBTQ+ respondents reported smaller incomes and savings than their straight counterparts, demonstrating the greater economic insecurity facing LGBTQ+ people nationwide.

It makes sense then that financial priorities center on just getting by.

With only half of respondents reporting they could pay all of their monthly bills in full at the time of the survey, the overwhelming financial priority for LGBTQ+ people is paying bills on time, by a whopping 72%. Add paying bills as an important priority, and the number climbs to an overwhelming 92%.

But other “top” priorities fill in the financial picture of LGBTQ+ people, including saving for retirement (22%), saving for a big purchase like a home (16%), saving for adoption, fertility, or conception-related costs (8%) and for children or a child’s college fund (10%).

For trans respondents, saving for gender-affirming care or related services came in at 27%.

Saving for a big event like a wedding came in at 5% as a “top” priority and 17% as “important.”

While becoming a parent is costly for anyone starting a family, it’s especially expensive for LGBTQ+ people, who are more likely to utilize adoption, foster care or assisted reproductive technology.

Among LGBTQ+ people who were not yet parents but said they wanted to become parents, nearly one in four (23%) said that saving for family formation (including adoption, fertility, or conception-related costs) was a top or important financial priority for them.

The Cost of Family Formation  

Graph of LGBTQ+ people's planned methods to become parents based on LEAF survey

Parenting elicited about a three-way split between LGBTQ+ respondents who are currently parents (36%), those who don’t intend to become parents (34%), and the rest who would either like to be parents or aren’t sure (18% and 12%).

Among those who are already parents, most (78%) had their children through biological birth without fertility treatments, which is consistent with existing research that shows many LGBTQ+ parents have had children in the context of previous, different-sex relationships (i.e. before they came out), and that many bisexual people are in different-sex relationships and are raising children.

Fewer LGBTQ+ parents reported having had their children through biological birth with fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (8%), adoption (8%), fostering (6%), use of a surrogate (1%), or some other means (9%).

As would be expected, the experience of bisexual respondents differed from those of gay or lesbian individuals. While 36% of all LGBTQ+ respondents were parents, that number was 46% among bisexuals and 24% among gay men or lesbians. Bisexual parents also reported becoming parents through biological birth without fertility treatments at higher rates than gay or lesbian parents (84% vs. 60%).  

Among the 18% of aspiring parents, respondents reported different strategies for forming a family than those who are already parents: 43% expected to use biological birth without fertility treatment, 30% said they expected to adopt, and 12% said biological birth with fertility treatments.

One consideration for aspiring LGBTQ+ parents: 21 states currently lack nondiscrimination protections for both sexual orientation and gender identity in the cost of adoption or foster care.

LGBTQ+ parents were asked how much they had spent out-of-pocket on legal and healthcare costs related to their family formation. Legal costs can include court proceedings for adoption, contracts for surrogacy, formal documents to protect parents’ marriage and parenting relationships, lawyer fees and more. Out-of-pocket healthcare costs can include those not covered by health insurance, traveling to or from medical appointments, the purchase of “genetic materials” (e.g. sperm or eggs), among others.

Four in ten parents reported having out-of-pocket legal costs related to family formation. Overall, 28% of LGBTQ+ parents have spent $1,000 or more on legal expenses related to family formation, including 20% of parents who have spent $5,000 or more.

Nearly six in ten parents (57%) reported out-of-pocket healthcare costs related to family formation. Overall, 43% of LGBTQ+ parents have spent $1,000 or more on out- of-pocket healthcare costs related to family formation, including nearly a third (32%) who have spent $5,000 or more, and 3% of parents who have spent $50,000 or more on healthcare costs.

Financial strategies to pay for family formation, name or gender marker changes, and gender-affirming health care

Graph of LGBTQ+ strategies to cover costs of family formation, name or gender marker changes, and gender-affirming health care.

Respondents reported using various financial strategies and tools to cover the costs associated with family formation, as well as name or gender marker changes, and gender-affirming health care.  

Health insurance was the most common financial tool LGBTQ+ parents used to pay for family formation — 43% said they used health insurance to pay for at least some of the costs, though other strategies were commonly employed. Personal savings were used by 36% of respondents, while 34% relied on a combination of credit cards or personal loans. Friends and family helped at 9% and 16% respectively, while 3% crowd-sourced family formation with a GoFundMe page.

By contrast, when it comes to gender-affirming healthcare for trans people and changing names or gender markers, respondents reported personal savings were the most common financial tool used to pay for both. 55% of respondents who had obtained gender-affirming care and 57% of transgender people who had changed their name or gender marker reported using their personal savings to do it.

The inequities of health insurance coverage for trans people from state to state are revealed by the percentage of trans respondents using health insurance to pay for at least some of their gender-affirming care: just 34%. Not coincidentally, the highest reported credit card usage was for gender-affirming care, with 39% of those who had received care reporting having to use credit cards to do so.

If you missed it, check out Part One of our look at the LEAF Financial Survey, where we break down respondents’ financial well-being, including income, savings and debt.

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