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Bob Witeck on How The Global Financial Crisis Will Affect the LGBT Community

Think it’s only a matter of time before the financial meltdown hits your doorstep?

You’re not alone.  A new survey shows that gay consumers are just as worried (and in some cases more worried) than straight people about how the crisis will affect them. PDF available here.

The study, conducted by LGBT marketing and communications firm Witeck-Combs, done in conjunction with Harris Interactive asked gay consumers their thoughts on a financial crisis that has already swallowed up dozens of banks, driven up unemployment and dominated the political agenda in Washington.

We spoke with Bob Witeck, CEO of Witeck Combs and co-author of Business Inside Out, the first marketing bible to ever focus on the LGBT community, about the study, the myth of gay affluence and how gays and lesbians are likely to the whether the storm:

QUEERTY: According to the new study, it looks like the LGBT market is not immune to the global financial crisis. In fact, it seems gays and lesbians think it will effect them more than straight people do. Doesn’t this fly in the face of the the usual idea that gay people are relatively well off compared to straights?

Bob Witeck: I’m happy to help kill the myth of gay affluence, which has long been discredited. I am persuaded by the excellent research of Dr. Gary Gates and Dr. Lee Badgett at the Williams Institute that makes clear that sexual orientation is not associated with wealth, and that we all are not better off than anyone else.

Lesbians especially feel they will be hard hit. Why do you think this is?

Let’s be clear, given the global economic fragility, none of us are immune. I suspect lesbians feel vulnerable particularly because of their gender, and not simply their sexual orientation. Since women earn less than men across-the-board, and are raising children in larger numbers, their anxieties are understandable.

It seems there’s an across the board decision to reduce expenses like vacations, entertainment and travel. Do you see any marked differences between the LGBT community and the heterosexual one?

Everyone is changing their priorities and cutting back where they are able. The differences we see thus far are primarily between the spending of gay men contrasted with heterosexual consumers. While both likely are spending less, it seems gay men are not as inclined to scale back as much on their travel and entertainment. For many, especially younger gay men, they may feel fewer household and dependent stresses, and need not forego a vacation or concert tickets as much as others will.

How do the numbers compare to LGBT spending in a normal economy? Have we reached the point where the financial panic has spread to consumers?

We actually don’t look at the dollars spent, but more so on the trade-offs, attitudes and preferences in consumer behaviors. Over the past several years, trends show that Americans generally are lousy at saving money, and LGBT consumers, especially younger ones, may be among the worst. With predictions of even more widespread layoffs through 2009, perhaps we will see more caution and more desire to save and economize.

Who is most likely to be hurt by a significant downturn in LGBT spending?

Not really sure to be honest; but I do remember in 2001, following the tragedy on September 11, we saw evidence that gays and lesbians were among the first to fly again, perhaps cherishing the freedom to travel quite a bit. When things spark up again, and consumer confidence grows, I suspect LGBT consumers may be among the first to explore and to spend more.

Are there any markets that you might expect to see an LGBT benefit from the downturn? Your survey noted that lesbians didn’t seem keen on cutting back on restaurant spending, for instance.

LGBT consumers, like all of us, will be looking for value everywhere. They certainly will forego major purchases like others, if there is uncertainty about joblessness or the prospect of layoffs. But all in all, in major markets, LGBT households will probably continue to enjoy more discretionary dining out, entertainment and travel – though likely to choose more affordable options in all of these ways.

How has the LGBT market changed recently? Are gay consumers still buying the same things?

I do not foresee significant changes in how LGBT consumers approach the market except in figuring out how to shop for even more value, and to become better savers perhaps. As very early adopters on the Internet also, it is likely many will dive in even deeper to find bargains and affordable options online that may not be available everywhere. I think our tastes will keep us invested in spending for discretionary purchases, but giving the economic uncertainty, not as much as in the recent past.