The question then becomes why: Why are both gay men and lesbians out-earning their heterosexual counterparts?
There are several potential explanations. One possibility is that it's a function of increased LGBT acceptance and less anti-gay discrimination. However, while that could explain why the wage gap between gay and straight men has closed, it's not clear why it would translate to an earnings premium for gay men.
Plus, these data simultaneously show that gay men are less likely to be employed than straight men. As the authors of this study point out, "to the extent that the lower employment partly reflects discrimination against gay men, it is hard to imagine earnings improving substantially but not employment. Another issue with this explanation is that the lesbian data were right in line with earlier studies—so why would increasing LGBT acceptance only influence gay men's earnings while having no effect on lesbians?
An alternative possibility is that maybe there's a selection effect in terms of who is coming out today.
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For example, maybe being out about one's sexuality is disproportionately likely among sexual minorities who are more highly educated and have other characteristics that increase their odds of higher earnings. This explanation gains appeal when you compare the demographics of gay and heterosexual men in this sample: Gay men were more likely to hold a college degree and less likely to be high school educated, a higher percentage were white, and far fewer were married with children. In addition, gay men were more likely to live in the Western US, while being less likely to live in the Midwest.
Lesbian and heterosexual women also differed, but in fewer ways: Lesbians were more likely to be college educated and less likely to have children. It's important to note that the gay and lesbian earnings premium was still observed even when the researchers statistically controlled for these differences; however, the fact that gay and straight folks differed in so many ways suggests that there could be other, unaccounted for differences between these groups that could potentially explain the wage differences.
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We need more research to replicate these findings and also to determine which, if any, of the above explanations for them are correct. However, the take-home from all of this should not be that gays and lesbians are being paid more because of their sexual orientation. There's no evidence that this is the case, especially when there are so many other plausible explanations, like self-selection. It would also be wise to avoid concluding that discrimination against gays and lesbians in the United States has disappeared and is no longer a problem.
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To the contrary, anti-gay discrimination is very much alive and well and at least partially evidenced by the fact that gay men have lower levels of employment. Plus, even if gays and lesbians do have slightly higher earnings, that's a small consolation for lower job security: In most US states to this day, you can still be fired for no reason other than being gay.
Fitting in, being seen as a success, helps you deal with your gay shame. And why should you?
But it's a small consolation for lower job security.
Even one of the most successful, powerful, and rich men are afraid of their gayness. Case in point: How can you live out and fucking proud of who you are, without guilt or shame? It takes courage. It takes risk. It takes a group of people working together and supporting each other, so more of us can step all the way out of our fabulous closet!
Many a gay man owns a wonderful closet filled with the latest fashion, tailored to show off your pecs and still-firm-ass at But putting on that new Prada jacket and those shinny black Boss dress shoes are just another form of drag. Many gay men take exceptional care of their bodies this too is another way to suppress gay shame. But this is still a form of drag that helps you fit in.
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People will see you as a sharp dresser, clean and neat, and successful because you appear to have money. Yet another piece of the perfectly heteronormative puzzle! Yay, you fit in! Is this the reflection who you really are? Is this what you want?
You are showing to the world, or your tribe, a part of who you are. But there is also a struggle, a potential conflict with your self-acceptance, when you limit yourself by fitting in.
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