In the mid-1990s, Patrick Riley was an award-winning New York City television producer working with Geraldo Rivera and Oprah Winfrey, but feelings of shame about his sexual orientation—engrained by his conservative upbringing in Savannah, Georgia—made the fruits of success feel like an illusion.
“It’s important to know your worth before you can manage your worth,” Riley said.
Worth was a recurring theme among the LGBT leaders and allies who spoke at Prudential’s 2016/2017 LGBT Financial Experience Symposium at Prudential Tower in downtown Newark, kicking off Newark’s LGBT Pride Week. Riley and other special guests discussed the findings of Prudential’s 2016 survey of LGBT Americans, exploring the community’s new financial realities following the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges U.S. Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage.
“I realized that, as the tide was turning, I needed to be responsible for myself and my loved ones. What that looked like was in my hands,” Riley said. “Knowledge is power.” He began to seek advice from financial experts and hired an advisor.
Denver, Colorado couple John Schneider and David Auten, known as the “Debt Free Guys” for their popular financial advice blog written for the gay community, shared how stereotypes and stigmas influenced their descent into $51,000 of debt.
“Like many in our community, David and I came from a time and place where it wasn’t okay to be gay,” Schneider said. “We carried limiting beliefs about what we were worth into our adult years, and they manifested themselves in horrible financial decisions.… We were the gay cliché of looking fabulous but being fabulously broke.” Commitment to a financial plan helped them climb out of the hole in just two and a half years.
Panel speaker Ernest Owens, editor of Philadelphia’s G Philly magazine, discussed the unique barriers that continue to impact the diverse segments of the LGBT community.
“Transwomen in the community make less than $10,000 a year. We have LGBT youth who are exponentially higher in homeless rates than in any other youth,” Owens says. “When there are conversations about retirement and insurance, many individuals aren’t thinking about this not because of their spending habits, but because of a mindset of survival and how they’re living.”
Prudential’s survey found clear evidence of this income gap for LGBT Americans. Lesbian women reported an average annual salary of $45,606, nearly $6,000 less than heterosexual women. Gay men reported earning an average of $56,936, with heterosexual men earning $83,469.
“Unfortunately, wage inequality, workplace insecurity and pension survivor benefits issues still cast a shadow on the ability for LGBT Americans to attain true financial security,” said Kent Sluyter, CEO of Prudential Individual Life Insurance and Prudential Advisors, and the executive sponsor of Prudential’s PRIDE Business Resource Group. “We believe the insights from our survey can help the financial services industry better serve the community.”
The Debt Free Guys’ Auten applauded Prudential’s engagement. “Nobody is speaking to our community with a real voice about what we can do with our money, what are the opportunities?” he said. “We’re very thankful to companies like Prudential that are willing to get out there on a limb and say, hey, let’s live a better life, not just a fabulous one. It doesn’t need to end after our prime earning years.”
Josh Stoffregen, Vice President of Global Communications for Prudential, stressed the need to continue the conversation.
“We need to keep bringing together financial advisors and members of the community to make sure the right resources exist to make a positive impact,” he said. “Everyone should know their value and be given the tools to enjoy their full worth like everybody else.”
(Originally published on Prudential.com)