Student loans

Why student debt is an LGBTQ+ crisis

My coming out in the early 2000s was sheepish, a clean cut. Just do what it takes to go to college and start fresh as a gay man, I think 100 times a day. Growing up in rural Illinois — and not (knowingly) seeing or interacting with any gay men as a youngster — the lure of going away from home for college was worth any amount of money. for me at the time. It wasn’t just about getting an education; it was about having space to discover my identity.

This sentiment is shared by many queer people, some of whom grew up in tumultuous family environments.

“I was exposed in high school. My mom read my journal and found out I was gay, and had a very negative reaction,” says Lee Ring, a clinical social worker and therapist based in Toledo, Ohio. I was like, ‘When I’m 18, I’m going to college, and I’m getting away from it as much as possible because I don’t want to deal with this anymore.'” As he received offers from in-state scholarships, a hostile home environment motivated Ring to attend out-of-state schools for his undergraduate and graduate studies.Now 31, they have about $120,000 in student debt.

Student loans have long been a sore spot in young adult finances, but the past two decades have seen debt burdens turn into crisis territory. Between 1995 and 2017, public four-year undergraduate school tuition increased by 120% and four-year nonprofit school tuition increased by 76% (after adjusting for the inflation), according to the College Board.

Student borrowers in America collectively owe $1.75 trillion in federal and private student loans, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Additionally, the average federal debt balance in 2022 is $37,014, notes a report from the Education Data Initiative.

“I expect to die with student loan debt,” Ring says. “Frankly. How much [time] I hope I was able to repay six figure loans.

Last year marked the first time the US Census household survey included identifying questions on sexual orientation and gender identity. The survey findings were compelling and painted a clearer picture of what LGBTQ+ financial hardship in America really looks like:

Cost of living: 36.6% of LGBT adults had difficulty paying household expenses in the previous seven days, compared to 26.1% of non-LGBT adults.

Income generation: 19.8% of LGBT households had lost employment income in the previous four weeks, compared to 16.8% of non-LGBT households.

Food insecurity: 13.1% of LGBT households said there was “sometimes” or “often” not enough to eat in the past seven days, compared to 7.2% of non-LGBT households.

COVID-19 has made matters worse. In fall 2020, 12.4% of LGBTQ+ adults were laid off, compared to 7.8% of non-LGBTQ+ adults, according to data from the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles. A likely factor in this is that 40% of queer people work in service-related industries, which have been hit particularly hard during the pandemic, compared to 22% of non-LGBTQ+ people. If things have gotten tough lately when it comes to money, it’s not just you: they are.

Queer people often have more to overcome financially, and student loans add to the burden. But as Ring notes, the prospect of finding your community and becoming your authentic self creates a desire too overwhelming to ignore.

“I was not allowed to have a girlfriend when I lived at home because of my mother’s beliefs,” they say. “Once I got out and lived in the dorms and had more independence, I was able to go out more freely. I was able to connect with other LGBTQ peers. I also became non-binary in my undergraduate career; this would not have happened if I had lived at home with my parents, because I would not have had the opportunity to explore.

Tips for managing your student loans (and everything else)

If you’re one of the millions struggling with student loans or other debt, here are some suggestions on how to keep your head above water along the way.

Know your repayment options: Find out if you qualify for an income-based repayment plan and, if you do, work out the numbers to make sure you’ll actually pay down the principal. Also check to see if your industry participates in a civil service loan cancellation scheme, which could create opportunities for partial or full cancellation of your loans after a certain number of years.

Find other sources of income: Trust me, a financial editor – saving and investing aren’t cute unless there’s actually money in your bank account to play with in the first place. Side hustles and other forms of entrepreneurship are more popular than ever, and with the way things are going politically now, our future LGBTQ+ labor protections could be in jeopardy; learn how to make money yourself and become your own boss to help fill the gap.

Always save for emergencies: paying off debt is sexy, but don’t forget to start building up your assets too. Your half-paid student loan debt won’t save your ass in times of crisis, but an emergency savings fund will; consider working on both financial goals simultaneously.

Ring wished he had pursued more obscure college scholarship applications while at school. Other than that, however, they wouldn’t change anything. “I think for me, taking out loans was definitely worth it,” they say. “I am now a therapist and I work primarily with LGBTQ people. And so I can use my own life experience and use what I’ve learned, through these student loans funding my education, to give back to the LGBTQ community, which is very fulfilling.

Nick Wolny is an entrepreneur, speaker and editor at NextAdvisorin partnership with Time. He focuses on the intersection of LGBTQ+ life and personal finance, and has previously helped fast business, Business Internand Entrepreneur magazine. Join his newsletter at

This article is part of OutSeptember/October 2022 publishon newsstands August 30. Support queer media and subscribe – or download the issue via Amazon, Kindle, Nook or Apple News.

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