LGBT Graduates and Student Loan Debt

Now that Pride Month is in full swing, we turn our attention to a topic that doesn’t get talked about very much: LGBT people and student loan debt.  LGBT people face some unique challenges in dealing with student loan debt due to the fact that, as young students, they were statistically more likely to be kicked out of their parents’ homes or cut off from parental support when they came out of the closet.

The Sad Reality

As a young gay student myself, I, fortunately, had very loving and supportive parents who were very supportive when I came out.  But, many of my fellow LGBT brothers and sisters did not receive that support.  According to a study from Chapin Hill, LGBT youth ages 18 – 25 are 120% more likely to experience homelessness than their heterosexual or cisgendered peers.  Though less than 10% of young people identify as LGBT, out of the 1.6 million homeless youth in the United States, over 40% of them identify as LGBT.  The disproportionate amount of LGBT homeless youth can be attributed to the prevailing stigma of homosexuality in many pockets of the country.

Student Loan Hero conducted a survey in 2018 that yielded some fascinating information about LGBT borrowers and their debt burden.  Here are a couple of those statistics:

  • 60% of LGBT borrowers regret taking out student loans.
  • 28% of LGBT borrowers feel that their debt is completely unmanageable.
  • LGBT borrowers carry an average of $16,000 more debt than heterosexual or cisgendered borrowers.

LGBT borrowers have an average of $112,607 in student loan debt.  This debt is then carried into a job market that frankly does not favor sexual orientation minorities.  Consider, for instance, that the average LGBT employee makes less money than heterosexual and cisgendered employees.  Equal pay is still a major issue for the LGBT community.  There is a sexual orientation wage gap.  Invisible barriers to workplace advancement within a corporate setting are still very much in place.  Employment discrimination against LGBT employees is still a pressing issue in our society.  In many states, there are no legislative protections to prevent LGBT employees from being fired for being LGBT.  None of this is particularly surprising perhaps; however, it is important to acknowledge these things in order to fully understand how student loan debt affects LGBT borrowers.

The Full Scope of the Problem

As we celebrate Pride Month, it is helpful to think of the concept of pride as a multifaceted approach to addressing the many instances of social, economic, and political injustices facing LGBT people, including student loan debt.  While student loan debt is not often discussed within the context of pride, it is something worth considering when addressing the overall socio-economic context of LGBT lives in America.  Awareness and acknowledgment are the key first steps in addressing any social issue.  In the plight for equality, we must first acknowledge the full scope of the problem, then set out to address it.

What then does it take to solve the problem of student loan debt for LGBT borrowers?  As with all complex issues, there is no single answer that will solve it all.  The issue requires the same measures taken to address student loan debt in general, but there also have to be measures put in place to fix the discrimination issues.  Steps need to be taken to address the full context of hardships and discrimination.  Without this comprehensive approach, there will always be borrowers left behind to fend for themselves against a system that does not favor their financial rehabilitation or well-being.

Not An Isolated Issue

The student loan crisis is not an isolated issue that exists within a socio-economic vacuum.  When we discuss student loan debt, we are actually discussing a broad range of socio-economic conditions that coalesce to form a system that hosts the student loan debt crisis.  In my time researching and writing for this blog, I have been amazed at the many different approaches to the student loan debt crisis.  Currently, we are hearing different political policy plans to address the issue, including student loan debt forgiveness and free college, but that’s just a piece of the pie.

Within the crisis are special sub-crises that have to be addressed individually, including those for LGBT borrowers.  We have read about how graduates of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have been hit especially hard by student loan debt.  It’s a complex issue that stems from the social problem of these institutions not being created on equal footing with historically white institutions.  If you take any one specific measure and apply it to the situation – total student loan debt forgiveness, for instance – the problem is only temporarily solved.  What about the next generation?  What about those whose lives are currently crippled by debt and the payments they have made towards that debt?  What about the ongoing systemic racism that helped produce the situation?

Holistic Solutions for a Brighter Future

LGBT borrower situations must be similarly redressed.  Let’s say we do provide student loan debt forgiveness for these people.  Does the problem not continue with future generations of LGBT borrowers if we don’t also continue the plight for social equality and the diminishment of bigotry, hatred, and homophobia within society as a whole?  Is the problem not also perpetuated and kept alive by the fact that LGBT employees are still not universally guaranteed protection from employment discrimination?  Do we not risk applying solutions too narrowly or implementing only temporary solutions when we address one aspect of the issue without addressing the others?

The fascinating thing about the employer student loan repayment assistance program is that it brings the employer into the mix, where otherwise they would have stayed out of it.  Traditionally, the student loan debt crisis has been viewed through a predominately political lens.  However, there are other pieces to consider.  After all, the whole point of going to college in the first place is to earn the credentials to get a better paying job; it would seem that the employer is now in a perfect position, both practically and philosophically, to pitch in to help solve the issue.

As we celebrate Pride Month, let’s think outside the box as to how student loan debt can be solved.  Let’s think holistically and deeply so that no marginalized community, gay or straight, black or white, man or woman, will be left out of our vision for a better, brighter future without crushing loan debt.


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