“There will not be a magic day when we wake up and it’s now okay to express ourselves publicly. We make that day by doing things publicly until it’s simply the way things are.” — US Senator Tammy Baldwin, 2000
This statement of encouraging people to live openly in public, whilst something that has certainly pushed the rights and needs of our community forward, is impossible for many people in the LGBTQ+ community to act upon. Be it for their close family members, or the culture around which they have grown up, living openly is not always a safe option.
In fact, according to the UK Government’s LGBT National Survey 2017 (1), 24% of LGBTQ+ people are not open at all with their family, and 29% have experienced an incident with someone they lived with, including but not limited to: verbal harassment, controlling or coercive behaviour, and being outed (having their sexual orientation or gender identity revealed by someone else without consent).
This isn’t even to mention the experiences of those in less accepting countries.
We may have come a long way legally, and done lots to move public opinion forward, but there is still much to be done. Whilst lowering the number of future incidents, as described above, should be a top priority, it does nothing for the people currently living in these situations. With a Stonewall report (2) finding that 25% of Trans people in Britain had experienced homelessness, and another (3) that 18% had been discriminated against when looking for work because of their orientation and/or identity in the year running up to the report, it is clear that the issue of poverty and discrimination within the LGBTQ+ community is dire and requires drastic solutions. This is where a Universal Basic Income (UBI) comes in.
The idea of a UBI isn’t a new one, but it is one which has gained renewed enthusiasm in recent years. The idea is that every person in a country – whether that person is a citizen or simply resident is an issue up for debate – would receive a regular, equal stipend regardless of any and all factors specific to the individual (i.e. race, social class, gender, sexuality, etc.).
There are different conceptions of a UBI and no one proposal is universally agreed upon, but the one which I suggest will dramatically reduce the social and economic gap between members and non-members of the LGBTQ+ community is one that, at the very least, supports a minimum standard of living. For reasons I will outline below, it is imperative that members of the LGBTQ+ community are involved in the design process and advocacy of such a policy.
For the disproportionate number LGBTQ+ people living in situations such as the ones described above – victims of discrimination, abuse and poverty – a UBI would be a game-changer. Oftentimes, controlling and coercive behaviour involves financial abuse (4), leaving the victim unable to escape their abuser. A UBI that is wired directly to an individual (via their mobile phone or some other source that the victim is more likely to have control over) would provide them with this financial freedom. A UBI that can be accessed before the age of 18 in certain circumstances would provide a safety net for the queer kid that is kicked out of their house or forced to leave because of their gender identity or sexuality. These are just some of the ways in which a UBI policy would need to be designed with the needs of LGBTQ+ in mind, and therefore with LGBTQ+ people involved in the design and implementation process.
In addition to the ways in which LGBTQ+ people can, and should, influence UBI advocacy, any version of a UBI that unconditionally provides people with enough of an income to sustain themselves would be a massive help to the LGBTQ+ community, and is one that I recommend our community gets behind. Many transgender people around the world, just as their fellow citizens, have no access to public healthcare.
Even those who do can expect to wait extortionately long periods of time to be seen by a publicly funded Gender Identity Clinic, with some people having waited more than 3 years for their first appointments, and the average waiting time in the UK totalling 18 month (5).
For those who choose to go for private treatment, they can expect to be met with costs ranging from £10,000 to £100,000 (6). This is, however, a choice they are often forced to make, as those waiting times can be intolerable for a person suffering with severe gender dysphoria.
To even get legal recognition of one’s own gender in the UK, in the form of a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), requires a fee of £140 (7).
In the LGBT National Survey 2017, 34% of those who were aware of GRCs cited them being too expensive as the reason they did not apply for one (8). With this report and Stonewall’s LGBT in Britain Work Report also highlighting the employment and work discrimination faced by queer people in the UK, the need for a basic income – one that can be guaranteed and is given to people regardless of who they are – becomes all too clear.
Whilst I am using UK statistics, the core message applies worldwide.
Around the world, and even in the UK, not only are LGBTQ+ people facing financial barriers as alluded to above, but some places are a lot less accepting than others, and to even contemplate moving towns or countries is an impossibility for many. A UBI would allow someone to save their money and eventually move to a more accepting place.
This is especially important to bear in mind for anyone living somewhere in which LGBTQ+ visibility is non-existent. Advocating for a UBI would be one way in which you could advance your interests and get yourself to a safer location without the need to out yourself, and in a way that might be supported by a much larger proportion of the population than a specifically LGBTQ+ Rights movement. Even for such movements in unaccepting countries, a UBI could indirectly provide funds to organisations where Governments would not, and NGOs might be insufficient or unwelcomed. A person’s attitudes towards queer people often changes the more queer people they know (9). Of course this supports Tammy Baldwin’s view that public visibility will increase public acceptance, but for the many people worldwide who are currently unable to safely do this, a UBI would get them one step closer.
If you are interested in getting involved, or want to know more, please email UBILabLGBTQ@gmail.com or follow us on Twitter @UBILabLGBTQ. We are a group of LGBTQ+ people working within the UBI Lab Network – a research and advocacy group – ensuring that our interests are heard, and working towards increasing support for a UBI within our community. Together, we can push the fight for this simple but revolutionary policy to the forefront of the LGBTQ+ Rights movement worldwide, and make it – and the plethora of benefits that come with it – a reality for us all.