I was casually looking over a meditation by a professor in my seminary’s Advent calendar and she found it important to note a recent news report. It stated 80% of people in this country face near poverty and unemployment. What immediately came to mind wasn’t shock or surprise, rather it was, “Yep, that sound sounds about right.” The majority of people I’ve known since graduating college have been either on SNAP, without insurance, or always just trying to keep their heads above water. In my short adult life, this reality is (at least for me) fairly normative. After all, I did graduate college in the middle of the recession and the recession is far from being over.
As the PC(USA) continues its SNAP challenge, I am constantly reminded through personal experience that SNAP is not something “out there,” SNAP is in our pews every Sunday. It’s in our classrooms and workplaces all week long. If it’s not yet in your pews, work, or classroom, there’s a great chance it is one paycheck or job loss away. Solidarity with the hungry means far more than simply being aware, it inherently requires all who are allies to act in the pursuit of justice alongside those who are oppressed. LGBTQ people in general have a significantly higher risk of living in abject poverty. Studies have shown, those who self-identify as transgender experience an unemployment rate twice that of the national average. Transgender people of color have an unemployment rate four times the national average. Lesbians have the second highest unemployment rate in the LGBTQ community. As cis-gendered (people who self-identify with the sex that society believes them to be) women, the unequal distribution of pay rates between women and men are strikingly evident in lesbian households. Lesbians of color face even higher levels of unemployment and poverty rates. So SNAP is also a queer problem, at least as much as it is an economic issue. Queer people and allies are fighting for the elimination of poverty for all, straight, LGBTQIA, people of color, people who are white, literally everyone.
I have experienced SNAP on a non-voluntary basis for a brief period of time in my life. I was still very much in the closet, but obviously black. Nutritional value is not an option, when it comes to groceries because anything nutritious is expensive and will not keep in the long term. I even remember getting food from a pantry one time, but the ingredients by the good intentioned middle class people who donated, required food staples such as butter and milk. My reality at the time was, we did not have the means to purchase butter or milk. Therefore, that meal in a box could feed no one in the house. We mostly ate noodles with margarine, peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, chips, spam (which is actually pretty tasty, but the sodium content is through the roof) and fried bologna sandwiches. There was water and Kool-Aid to drink. Kool-Aid was 1$ for 5 packets, as opposed to 3 dollars for a gallon or two of orange juice, that wouldn’t last nearly as long. When you’re poor, being fiscally responsible with the little you have, means sacrificing nutrition. The majority if not all the food we ate, was completely processed.
It is a blessing my experience lasted shy of a year. I am well aware how rare that is, and have no misconception of how privileged a life I have lived at times. I know what its like to be poor, I know what its like to be working class and I know what its like to be upper middle class. Having all those class experiences throughout my short lifetime isn’t an uncommon nowadays. The disparity gap between the wealthy and the poor is still rising. It is far more likely that many of us will wind up at some point in our lives (if not our entire lives), consistently working poor or unemployed, without an opportunity to obtain a living wage. Most people simply want the stability of a blue collar income. That is the new economic hope, for myself and many other people LGBTQ and straight alike. 80% of Americans are in this boat.
What I am getting at is this, hunger and poverty is everybody’s issue and it is urgent. The SNAP challenge helps to bring awareness and calls for action, but what about after the challenge is over? Eliminating the wage disparity gap, eliminating systemic poverty is a slow burn effort that must be brought to a movement if not a revolution. After all, historically movements and revolutions have been the only way change has ever occurred. Dialogue yes, lets talk about it. Awareness great, it makes us all the more wiser. Acting upon it, wonderful that’s how justice becomes a reality. However, whenever we become complacent, in any justice issue we aren’t being neutral, we become part of the problem. I’d like to think, as a church, as Christians and as human beings, we’ll actually make a change. But lesbe honest, as a church and as a society, we have yet to make such waves. Will we act for immediate and long-term change, or will we just comfortably challenge ourselves for a brief moment and go about our lives?
To see where I got my statistics, read the report A Broken Bargain for LGBT Workers of Color.