It has been a long road thus far for queer communities on the road to economic, political, and social equality. In spite of our victories, the long road to equality continues.
Nearly fifty years ago, rampant persecution of our communities ignited a movement which drove politics out of the cloistered bars and into the streets. Closet doors for queer folks across the country, particularly for gays and lesbians, were obliterated in a wave of political fury rejecting our longtime invisibility in greater society.
Nearly forty years ago, our community–especially our gay brothers–faced near-genocidal decimation at the hands of a practically unknown disease, coupled with our exclusion from full participation in civic, political, and economic life. Realizing our silence was equivalent to our death, we fought back against political and institutional bodies which would have simply allowed our communities, and loved ones, to perish.
A little over ten years ago, our community–particularly the gay and lesbian communities– set its sights on achieving fuller inclusion in greater society by winning equal recognition for our lovers and partnerships. Rather than settle for the inevitably separate-but-equal title of “domestic partnership,” political and legal organizers set to achieve our full inclusion in the institution of marriage. This author, for one, helped organize 2 vans of University of Colorado students to march in the National Equality March in 2009 – heady days for optimists seeking change from a Democratic legislature and President. Even though legislative action was not forthcoming, in 2015 litigation efforts won out, and the Supreme Court held that the institution of marriage would be available to all American citizens regardless of the applicant spouses’ genders’.
Despite all of these achievements–and in part due to political backlash against them–economic insecurity and discrimination persists for LGBTQ communities. More critically, many of the economic and social gains which have been won have not benefited our diverse community equally, leaving already marginalized members further on the fringe.
We need to do more than to come out, to end our silence, and seek the recognition of our problems within a heterosexual society. We need to develop economic and social organizations that can give us the recognition we deserve, today. We must develop innovative tools and technologies which can create new paths forward along this road for equality, and move our community–and the greater community—toward a future which is economically and politically inclusive of all sexes, genders, sexualities, and relationships.
The Need for Queer(er) Financial Services.
Current financial products and services do not meet the particular needs of LGBTQ individuals, and the customer service for these “traditional” services does not respect or recognize the validity of our identities, lives, or family structures.
Financial services organizations in general, and banks in particular, are notoriously risk-adverse and slow to change. Indeed, industry aversion to expanding “traditional” banking and lending products, especially “prime” credit, to lower income, riskier borrowers has led to the proliferation of a wide array of products to meet the needs of the economically vulnerable. Such lending products include “subprime” products as well as “alternative” financial products: payday loans, overdrafts, pre-paid cards, check cashing.
Concerningly, there are strong reasons reason to suspect that subprime products and alternative financial services are particularly targeted towards, and are particularly damaging to, minority communities.
As a consequence of longtime economic exclusion and discrimination, many minorities are at a disadvantage in applications for financial services and credit because of their diminished assets, earnings, credit history, and access to accepted forms of identification. These factors affect a wide number of communities: the LGBTQ community, communities of color, and immigrants especially.
Additionally, customer and product services are not designed to support the unique needs of queer individuals. In particular, issues with producing “valid” legal documentation to verify ones’ own identity or the legal status of family members can prevent LGBTQ individuals from obtaining the services they rightfully deserve. These obstacles could be easily overcome through more informed, competent staff persons trained to navigate LGBTQ needs both culturally and financially.
Insurance, another form of financial service risk-management, is rarely specialized or available to LGBTQ consumers for their unique medical needs. Hormone replacements, transition surgeries, and fertility treatments for example are frequently not covered by insurance companies.
Insurance gaps create particular challenges for trans* and gender non-conforming individuals, who are denied access to transformative medical services by their insurance and often lack means to pay for such services out-of-pocket. Too, gaps in insurance coverage can inhibit those seeking to obtain costly medications to treat or prevent HIV infections from obtaining these life-saving medicines.
In the context of fertility and adoptions, LGBTQ families are placed at financial disadvantage in starting their families as compared to heterosexuals. While there are numerous low-or-no interest lending options available to straight Christian couples (at times through credit unions) no such options exist for LGBTQ families seeking to add children to their families. At times, these services even break fair lending laws by requesting specific information from both “husband” and “wife” applicants: a violation of application requirements under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. As a result, prospective LGBTQ parents are deterred from affordable financial options, and find themselves at a financial disadvantage in starting their families as compared to their straight peers.
A LGBTQ financial services group could change all this by offering low-or-no interest loan options, or grants, for individuals to obtain needed medical services that are not covered through insurance.
Retirement Funds & Trusts
Given the challenges in financing fertility treatment options already discussed, LGBTQ individuals more frequently opt to not have children. Also, queer relationships at times opt for family structures which do not conform with traditional conceptions of partnership and marriage. Such complicating factors can create confusion in the division of assets upon separation from, or the death of, lovers and partners. Given these non-traditional needs, traditional financial planning and legal instruments frequently are not suitable solutions to LGBTQ financial needs using their out-of-the-box configurations.
By customizing financial instruments to meet the unique needs of LGBTQ customers, though, a number of planning tools could provide needed benefits to LGBTQ individuals as they reach the age of retirement and prepare to pass their wealth onto their families.
Improved retirement planning and savings, to account for the increased financial expenditures our seniors are expected to should, could help future generations live fuller and more vital lives in retirement. Additionally, adapting existing financial instruments such as trust accounts and adapting to the needs of LGBTQ folks and making them more readily available can enable our families to be more deliberate in their management, and distribution, of assets after bereavement. This can enable our novel family structures to still achieve an equitable shared distribution of assets upon death–while avoiding legal obstacles for those relations without a recognized legal status–in inheritance.
The LGBTQ Credit Union Project
The LGBTQ Credit Union Project is committed to making queer(er) financial services, through the creation of a federal credit union, a reality for LGBTQ folks and their families. We are committed to engaging community support and dialogue about how to best create a 21st-century financial services group to meet the needs of our diverse community.
The idea of an LGBTQ financial services group is exciting, but it is not necessarily new. Indeed, there are lessons to be learned from past attempts. For about 3 years, Atlas Savings & Loan operated in the Castro in San Francisco, offering its banking and lending services to the LGBTQ community. Other organizations around the country are pursuing the creation of financial services which meet the needs of the queer community.
A credit union can revive the dream of queer-oriented financial services, and improve it with a non-profit mission to ensure that every dollar earned in profit is reinvested in its LGBTQ, and allied, community members. By offering specialized products and customer service, it can help LGBTQ communities overcome the current financial obstacles created by discrimination.
By creating specialized financial products which can meet LGBTQ needs, while reducing unfairly burdensome interest and fees a number of beneficial goals can be achieved. Among these, improved home-ownership, increased wealth & savings, and improved long-term economic security for queer individuals and their families are critical to community health and growth.
What is more, a queer credit union can profitably invest LGBTQ community savings in to queer-serving businesses and communities. A credit unioncan share and grow community wealth to increase the availability of low-interest loans for queer-serving businesses. Improved access to capital can likely also improve the resilience of LGBTQ bars and businesses in “gayborhoods” and promote the long term sustainability of historical and culturally significant LGBTQ communities.
Join us on the Road to Equality
Want to join us on the path to creating fair financial services? There are a few ways you can help us out.
The LGBTQ Credit Union Project is building a network of nonprofit, business, and community partners who support the improvement of financial services, the LGBTQ community through the creation of a full-service, nationwide credit union which can offer branch services to LGBTQ communities proximate to our coalition partners (particularly in those areas of historical and cultural importance) and offer services to all other members who are not proximate to branches using online and mobile banking and lending services available 24/7 nationwide.
Our coalition members favor the creation of a 21st-century nationwide LGBTQ federal credit union to support the unique financial needs of LGBTQ people, businesses, and other organizations (nonprofit, event, and community associations).
If you are a nonprofit or business leader who would like to support for the LGBTQ Credit Union Project, please contact us for more info.
We are seeking grant and philanthropic partners interested in providing support to conduct surveying, marketing, and organizing operations. Institutional and philanthropic groups can can learn more about supporting our project by visiting our Organizing, Fundraising, and Equity information.
If you would like to make a personal contribution to our organizing efforts please visit our donation page for more info.
Other Ways to Support
Most, the movement for fair financial services can benefit from all levels of community engagement and support.
Take the time to share this website with your network, engage in conversations about credit issues within the community, or contact us with your ideas.
We look forward to seeing you on the road!