The Financialization of LGBT Family Life; or The Perversion of Queer Economic Justice

Before Windsor and Obergefell, LGBT family equality activists in the United States often justified their calls for marriage rights by highlighting the economic plight of unmarried LGBT parents and emphasizing the “financial harms” that marriage inequality inflicted upon innocent children. According to their logic, same-gender marriage bans were the only things preventing LGBT families from effectively managing their “financial health” and achieving “economic security.” Now, after marriage, LGBT family advocates are admitting that legal equality and state recognition might not be enough and are reminding parents that their households may still be at risk. Activist organizations have teamed up with LGBT-focused or -friendly financial services companies to offer expanded resources for newly married couples and current or aspiring parents. As the president of Christopher Street Financial explained, many couples will need assistance untangling the convoluted financial arrangements they made in the absence of marriage protections, and others will need financial guidance as they navigate the discriminatory landscape of family law and the uneven terrain of LGBT family building practices (i.e. adoption procedures, donor and surrogacy relationships). [1]

In this paper, I read the development of new financial products in the wake of marriage equality as an attempt to coax LGBT families into arranging their everyday lives according to the logics of finance. Pedagogical initiatives designed to improve the financial literacy and capabilities of LGBT families instruct parents to imagine their children’s well being as “bound up with the fortunes of the international financial markets.” [2] To borrow the language of Randy Martin, these kinds of products teach people to “view [their] lives as an array of investment opportunities, [them]selves as portfolio managers, [and their] society as a ‘stratified risk climate’ to which [they] must each individually respond with [their] own ‘personal management approach.’” [3] The resulting financialization of LGBT family life marks a significant departure from the earlier and more progressive goals of lesbian mother activists, racial and reproductive justice organizers, and legal advocates who were working to broaden the state’s definition of family at the height of the AIDS crisis. What sets the early 21st century apart from previous instantiations of familial politics, I argue, is the distilling of broad-based economic justice movements, defined by strategic alliances and a wide range of tactics, into a rights-based identity politic centered on privatized and, increasingly, financialized forms of domesticity.

This paper illuminates the ways in which LGBT family advocates today–and the new financial products they endorse–mobilize the lives of wealthy families in the service of finance capital while obscuring how neoliberal reforms have intensified the precarity of racially, sexually, and economically marginalized families. Despite the distorted image of LGBT parents as predominantly white and comfortably middle-class (an image perpetuated by diversity marketing experts), recent census data reveals that two-parent homes are twice as likely as their straight counterparts to report incomes near the poverty threshold [4] and, in comparison to those families, are significantly more likely to receive public assistance [5]. Researchers attribute these differences to the prevalence of queers of color raising children and to the statistical tendency for these couples to consist of younger women. Better estate planning advice and lessons in investment management do nothing to address the immediate survival needs of parents struggling to pay their rent, feed their child, and cover medical expenses. Pushing back against this perverse reformulation of marriage-based financial planning as the answer to the economic insecurity of LGBT families, I call for a radical family movement committed to the redistribution of wealth, resources, and other life chances, and I explore alternative community-based strategies invested in providing material support for the diverse array of familial formations that sustain trans and queer lives.


[1] Beth Pinsker, “Same-Sex Couples Face the Music: First Comes Love, Then Taxes,” Reuters, 26 Jun 2015.

[2] Tayyab Mahmud, “Debt and Discipline,” American Quarterly 64.3 (2012): 484.

[3] Randy Martin, Financialization of Everyday Life (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002), 109.

[4] Gary J. Gates, LGBT Parenting in the United States, The Williams Institute, Feb 2013. Available at

[5] M.V. Lee Badgett, Laura E. Durso, and Alyssa Schneebaum, New Patterns of Poverty in the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Community, The Williams Institute, Jun 2013. Available at


Part of panel Birth, Life, and Death in LGBTQ Families
October 2, 2016, 09:00–10:45