Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter and Author of “The Green Lane;” Published on 5/1/15, a www.SamBurlum.com Exclusive
Source: I interview 24 individuals from the LGBT Community and report on my findings about their perspective on their consumer buying power, contribution to the work force, and belief system in free enterprise. I also speak with businesses that serve the LGBT community which have benefitted as a result.
Even though Wall Street has enjoyed record gains, we can agree that Wall Street is not a reflection of the pain in which small businesses experience each day to keep their doors open. Some small businesses are doing very well, despite the slow economy, due to their choice to serve a niche space of clientele. These are the thriving businesses which serve the LGBT Community (Lesbian Gay Bi Transgender Community) as these consumers exercise their spending power. Some businesses refuse to serve individuals from this community citing that it will compromise their religious beliefs. But are they missing out on a potential consumer who has disposal income to spend on goods and services?
Before I provide an answer to whether a business is missing out, I had to research the financial capabilities of consumers from the LGBT community. The study consisted of interviewing 24 individuals; six individuals who declared they were lesbian; six individuals who declared they gay; six individuals who claimed they were bi-sexual; and six individuals who were transgendered. I asked them a series of questions; in the specific areas of education, occupation, personal income, spending habits Purpose of this study was to get collect data on how individuals part of the LGBT community, earned and spent their money. This data could be utilized by a number of groups, including a business who might have not considered marketing to the LGBT demographic.
This study had nothing to do with my personal beliefs; religious, political, and/or social. This study was to purely seek answers to the question, “Does Equality Equal a Good Economy.” I am not taking any position on this matter. I am not endorsing or approving any one specific lifestyle. This is simply an objective look into the economic opportunity for small businesses, while providing an inside look to the economic buying power of the individuals.
First I asked each individual of what level of education did they complete. Of the 24 individuals surveyed, 19 answered that they attended and completed some level of college education: three individuals had completed 2 years of college; nine individuals had graduated college with a four year degree; five individuals had master’s degrees; and the other two individuals had PhDs. As for the other five individuals who did not attend college, three of them were enlisted in the military, and received training in specific fields within the trades, while the other two individuals only completed high school.
Then I inquired whether each individual considered themselves a member of the trades (carpenter, mechanic, laborer, etc.) or if they saw themselves as a professional (teacher, lawyer, doctor, sales, tech developer, etc.). An overwhelming majority of the individuals responded that they were of the professionals’ category. Only two individuals saw themselves a member of the trades. This would be in line with the statistical fact that the majority of these individuals had a college degree or better. Professions that continued to repeat as respondents shared how they made their livelihood were in the fields of marketing, medicine, fashion, sales, and business services. Only one individual was an entrepreneur, owning a local business; while only one individual worked for government.
Next I began to gather data on personal incomes. Again the answers would collate in relation to education and occupation, and incomes were statistically matching usual industry prevailing wages for the occupations disclosed. Of the 24 individuals interviewed, eighteen of them had a personal income over $100k a year or better; of which two individuals had an income greater than $250k a year. While three individuals had earned $50k to $75k a year; another individual earned $75k to $100k a year; another individual earned from $25k to $50k a year. Only one individual was below the poverty line. All but one of the individuals was currently employed. The one individual currently unemployed was seeking employment.
I explored spending habits on necessities such as housing, food, health care, and other essential goods/services. Each individual would provide a brief on how much of their income did they commit to these essential products/services. The numbers were not that much different than individuals whom had the same income and consumer buying power of their counterparts not members of the LGBT community; however individuals surveyed disclosed that they did spend 60% to 80% of their income on essential needs, focusing most of their spending on their living space; leaving 20% to 40% of their income available for discretionary spending on non-essential items, things like additional consumer goods, luxury items, vacations, and entertainment.
When asked how these individuals spent their available cash, beyond regular living expenses, responses varied widely. Improving their lifestyle or supporting life style choices were at the top of the list, followed by consumer goods and vacations. Most of the participants preferred to save their money, and have very little if no debt; with most having their home and car paid for in full.
Finally I surveyed each individual if they have ever been discriminated against and refused service by a business because of their lifestyle. Every individual surveyed shared an experience in which they were discriminated against, taunted, or made to feel embarrassed either by former employer, and/or by a business that refused service to them. Some individuals have also expressed they were discriminated against when seeking medical attention or services. Due to the high rate of discrimination claimed by the surveyed parties, over 90% said they make their consumer purchases on-line.
A number of businesses who cater to the LBGT community provided me with some insight.
David Borrows, proprietor of Glamour Boutique.com, shared his perspective, “The LGBT community in our opinion reward businesses with their patronage when they are accepted and respected as equal to all other consumers – that often means repeat and ongoing business when you get it right. Ask any Ad agency or publishing company that focuses on the LGBT community and they will tell you that group of consumers are above average. When it comes to education, qualifications, earnings etc. i.e., they have more spending power than the average person/household.”
“I think that any business that discriminates against any person because of gender identity or sexual orientation is foolish. All individuals should be treated equally and fairly,” added, Ms. Lady Ellen, founder of Le Femme Finishing School, “When I do hear of a business that is unfriendly toward the LGBT community, I make it known on every possible social media and tell people to stay away because they do not deserve their hard earned money.”
Richard Spezzano, of the Rainbow Mountain Resort, as president and owner he has catered to the LGBT community for the last 30 years. “It is a disgrace to see businesses discriminate against people based on their lifestyle. No one should have to deal with decriminalization of any kind. We would never tell a heterosexual that they cannot come into our club or restaurant. They should not be able to tell someone that I cannot come to their establishment.”
But some businesses refuse to provide services citing that by doing so it infringes on their first amendment right of freedom of speech and it violates their religious beliefs. One of these said cases is recently was featured in the media, where a bakery in Oregon and Colorado both refused to provide services to a gay couple who was preparing for a marriage ceremony. In both cases, the store owners refused to make a wedding cake citing that it conflicted with the store owner’s personal religious beliefs. Each store was fined. Since then, the bakery in Oregon has closed its doors.
Participants surveyed expressed they would shop in public and/or buy locally more often, and preferred to see their dollar benefiting local businesses if those businesses were more welcoming and did not discriminate against them. So does equality equal a good economy? I would say it depends on which side of the financial transaction you choose to be on.
Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur who lends his expertise as a consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water, Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses, and Life in the Green Lane-in Pursuit of the American Dream.