Closing Argument: Why LGBTQs, and Especially the Trans Community, Need Prop 21

Karen Ocamb News

This is it. Tuesday’s election is an existential event for LGBTQ Americans. “Hate is on the march,” says former Vice President Joe Biden in a powerful new video by the Human Rights Campaign promising hope and equality. But to President Trump, writes trans activist and Barnard College professor Jennifer Finney Boylan in the New York Times, “we don’t matter at all. In so many ways, he’s made it clear he feels we’d be better off erased. The messaging began the first week of his administration, when mention of L.G.B.T.Q. rights disappeared from the White House website. This was just for starters.”

Most news stories about what’s at stake for LGBTQs in the 2020 election explain the malicious rollback of civil rights and the intentional blocking of the Equality Act and enabling anti-LGBTQ employers to explicitly fire or not hire LGBTQ people because of “religious liberty.” Not much is made of the consequences of those policies which put LGBTQ people at high risk of poverty and homelessness. This is particularly true for transgender people, says Bamby Salcedo, founder and CEO of TransLatin@ Coalition – which is why she supports Prop 21, the Rental Affordability Act.

Prop 21 is the statewide ballot measure that puts limits on unfair, sky-high rent increases, reins in corporate landlord greed, and prevents homelessness. Top experts at USC, UCLA, and UC Berkeley agree that sensible rent limits are key for stabilizing California’s housing affordability crisis. That’s why Reps. Maxine Waters, Karen Bass and Barbara Lee, the California Democratic Party, the ACLU, the California Nurses Association, the California Alliance for Retired Americans, Black Lives Matter, the Los Angeles Times, and a slew of LGBTQ organizations and individuals — including LA City Councilmember Mike Bonin and LA Unified School Board member Jackie Goldberg — have thrown their full support behind Prop 21.

“Prop 21 would actually affect members of our community in a positive way,” says Salcedo. “A few years ago, the Williams Institute put out a report that there are about 218,400 trans-identified individuals in the state of California,” of the 1,397,150 self-identified trans adults in America. “Obviously we, as all people, need to have a place to live. But there are many trans people who continue to be discriminated against simply because we are trans. Obviously, having some type of protection while trying to access housing or trying to maintain their housing is important to better the quality of life for our people.”

For trans people, just having a life is a daily act of bravery. As West Hollywood commemorates the start of Transgender Awareness Month on Election Eve, civilized and empathetic Americans must grasp that since January, at least 33 trans or gender non-conforming people have been shot or otherwise violently killed – most of whom were Black or Latinx trans women. Additionally, the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations 2019 annual hate crime report shows the largest jump in violent hate crimes since 2008, with hate attacks against the trans community surging to 64%.

But the day-to-day lives of LGBTQ individuals is often an unreported life lived on the economic edge. As the Williams Institute reported last April, for people experiencing homelessness and housing instability during the COVID pandemic, “complying with directives to remain at home may be difficult if not impossible. For people living in or near poverty, the present economic turmoil and widespread loss of work could immediately lead to housing instability and even homelessness.”

This is an acute concern because “LGBT people are more likely than non-LGBT people to be poor, to be renters, to have unstable housing, and to be homeless. Furthermore, LGBT elders are more likely to live alone than non-LGBT elders; LGBTQ youth have high rates of homelessness related, for many, to rejection from their families; and discrimination against LGBT adults in housing and homeless shelters is widespread.”

“LGBT adults, as a whole, have at least 15% higher odds of being poor than cisgender straight adults after controlling for age, race, urbanicity, employment status, language, education, disability, and other factors that affect risk of poverty,” economist Lee Badgett wrote last year. “Among LGBT people, poverty is especially prevalent among racial minorities, bisexuals, women, transgender people, and younger people.”

While Reality TV shows such as Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing” portray rich, white gay real estate agents as representative of the LGBTQ community, another study is closer to the truth: “Poverty rates are incredibly high in the LGBTQ community. The belief in the power of the ‘gay dollar’ is a dangerous myth that clouds a frightening reality. Even the highest earners in our community, white, gay male couples, earn 15% less than similarly situated heterosexual couples. When one looks at lesbian headed households and trans headed households, incomes are 40-60% lower than similarly situated heterosexual households. One fifth of LGBTQ households are raising kids; many of these families fall below the federal poverty guidelines.”

Prop 21 is designed to help stave off the wave of homelessness from the projected eviction tsunami when eviction moratoriums are lifted and back rent is due, with interest and penalties, at the end of January.

Add COVID on top of the economics. Approximately 361,000 LGBT adults in Californians were in fair or poor health before the pandemic began, the Williams Institute reported in May, with over 200,00 LGBTQs having one or more medical conditions that put them at high risk of COVID-19 illness, including asthma, diabetes, heart disease, or HIV. In addition, about 612,000 LGBT Californians were living below 200% of the federal poverty level prior to the pandemic.

“An estimated 251,000 of them were working in industries facing substantial job losses, such as hospitality, health care, retail, and construction. The economic fallout of the pandemic is likely to significantly impact these LGBT people due to their pre-existing vulnerabilities.”

Trans people have been hit hard by all of it, says Salcedo. Many trans people were not able to receive government relief because they were unemployed as a result of persistent discrimination and could not receive unemployment benefits. And those who were employed lost their jobs. Additionally, non-profits such as the TransLatin@ Coalition face systemic issues with the standard way request for proposals (RFP) are crafted. “It doesn’t necessarily give an opportunity for individuals like ourselves who do have a transitional housing program to actually get funded,” she says. “So there needs to be protections for trans people to not be homeless and to continue to maintain their places of living. And Prop 21 is one of those securities.”

Additionally, trans women have the highest incidence of HIV infections than any other population. “So, if we do not have secure housing, then we’re not able to take our medications that help us suppress our viral load. And there’s so many complications with that — like malnutrition. And obviously the stress of not being able to maintain a place of living is just too much for any individual who’s already marginalized and oppressed. And that’s why for us Prop 21 is one thing that could address some of those multiple things.”

Trans people “are pushed onto the streets because of the institutionalized violence that our community continues to face, even during a global pandemic. Because we’re not able to sustain ourselves, then obviously we’re prone to be murdered. And 2020 is a record year for our community in terms of murders. And so this is obviously a clear sign of the changes that need to happen in our society to better support the livelihood of trans people,” says Salcedo. “Vote for Prop 21, please.”

Late Election Eve, HRC reported the death of Angel Unique, “whom some reports identify as Angel Haynes, a 25-year-old Black transgender woman who was killed in Memphis, Tenn. on October 25. Her death is believed to be at least the 34th violent death of a transgender or gender non-conforming person this year in the U.S. We say ‘at least’ because too often these deaths go unreported — or misreported.”

As may the deaths of the unidentified LGBTQ homeless. Passing Prop 21 really is an existential event.