June is Pride Month, a time to reflect on the history of the movement for LGBTQ rights and the progress left to be made in the fight for equality. The past two years of the COVID pandemic have laid bare many structural inequities still faced by the LGBTQ community: LGBTQ households are more likely to experience food insecurity, loss of employment, and barriers to accessing healthcare amidst the pandemic according to new research. These economic disparities are heightened for low-income LGBTQ people, LGBTQ communities of color, and transgender people in particular.
The pandemic has also shown the importance of ensuring that supportive policies like paid family and medical leave and paid sick time recognize all families, so that all workers can care for their loved ones in times of need regardless of biological or legal relationship. This awareness has been a key part of A Better Balance’s work to recognize all families in the policies we fight to pass. Most recently, we highlighted this issue in the “This Is My Family” campaign we spearheaded alongside our partners at Family Values @ Work. The campaign shares firsthand stories of care from families that break the “nuclear” mold, showing the beauty of families of all shapes and sizes and the need for structural supports that don’t use a one-size-fits-all definition of family.
One campaign participant, transgender activist Yee Won Chong, shared his story of being cared for by his chosen siblings, Brooks and Jeannie, as a Malaysian immigrant who sought political asylum in the U.S. based on his gender identity. “When I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer, emotionally, mentally, I was just shocked,” he said. When he went through chemotherapy for six months, Brooks and Jeannie helped bring Yee Won to and from his appointments and were his primary emotional support system as he didn’t have any blood relatives in the country. “Those are things that you do for family members. The last thing that anyone should really think about is whether their job is still there. My hope is that no one has to think about that,” Yee Won said, demonstrating the importance of paid leave policies that encapsulate chosen family members as covered relationships.
When LGBTQ workers and their loved ones are faced with the choice between their income and caring for themselves and their loved ones, the financial consequences can be devastating. Advancing economic equity is an instrumental stepping stone in the movement for LGBTQ equality, as well as the parallel fights for disability, racial, and gender justice. Amidst the pandemic, as well as a wave of horrifying attacks on gay and transgender rights across the country, it is not enough to just celebrate LGBTQ families: we must fight for the urgent policy changes they need and deserve.