The Public Science Project

Participatory research for a more just world

A Fabulous Attitude: Low Income LGBTGNC People Surviving and Thriving on Love, Shelter and Knowledge – Michelle Billies

When asked what they like about their identity, a member of a small group discussion at the Queers for Economic Justice Community Speak Out in August 2006 said that they are “free to be who I want to be.” This statement motivates the participatory research project being initiated by Michelle Billies, Social – Personality Psychology Ph.D. student and by Queers for Economic Justice.

The primary purposes of this qualitative research project are 1) to document the experiences of violence, survival, and fulfillment among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender non-conforming (LGBT-GNC) low-income people and 2) to question common assumptions about “legality” and “illegality” by examining how these concepts impact their lives. To do so, a research collaborative is being created to design and carry out a research project. Members will include people who have experienced poverty and whose sexual and/ or gender identity represent any of the varieties on the spectrum which includes, and extends beyond, LGBT-GNC.

There is little in the research literature about the experiences of low income LGBT-GNC people. This group includes low-income women, men, transsexuals (people who have medically altered their bodies to match their internal sense of their gender), people whose appearance does not conform to standard gender expectations, people of color, immigrants, homeless people, incarcerated people, students, workers, welfare recipients, artists, people with HIV, youth, and others. As they attempt to live their lives as fully and expressively as they can, they struggle economically and devise creative solutions to survive. At the same time they consistently face violence and harassment from police officers, immigration personnel, social service workers, employers, and the general public. Further, some of their income-generating activities are currently illegal, while legal routes like welfare or low-end jobs are littered with obstacles and often do not afford them basic needs.

Like many poor people, this group must contend disproportionately with law enforcement. Their rights are also less likely to be protected; as poor people, as people of color, and as gay and transgender people their civil and human rights are perpetually underenforced and often denied. This project will question how the law has been used to punish those whose rights it ought to defend and question whether the law is the best or only means available for such protection.