The first credit union specifically tailored to LGBTQ customers has opened in the US. Would more of them help end financial discrimination?
It’s the bank that came out: the state of Michigan has just approved a new credit union specifically tailored to LGBTQ customers. It’s the sort of proposal that raises the hackles of the “they’ve got more rights than us” brigade. But consider this: US research this year found same-sex couples were 73% more likely than heterosexual couples to be turned down for a mortgage, and those who were approved were lumped with higher interest rates than normal – even though they were less likely to default on their loans. But then it is legal to discriminate against LGBTQ people in many US states. There are other considerations, too: queer corners of social media abound with trans people crowdfunding for their transitioning costs, and now Superbia Credit Union will offer loans for this specifically.
Could such an initiative be replicated in the UK? Credit unions are a big deal in the US – nearly 117 million Americans were members last year; and while they have grown substantially in Britain, only two million people use them. But you can see the appeal of an LGBTQ financial institution. For same-sex couples, holding hands in the street, let alone finding somewhere to settle down together, can invite fears of hostile reactions in a society in which, to be blunt, millions of people still have homophobic prejudices, even if discrimination in the provision of goods and services is legally forbidden. There’s also the fact that, not least because LGBTQ services have been devastated by austerity, with charities forced to close. Could such an institution offer tailored loans for LGBTQ projects, such as the proposal for an LGBTQ community centre in London?
Perhaps this is all missing the point. As a spokesperson from the LGBT charity Stonewall says, such a service “can address problems LGBT people face in the short term,” but there is a need to change the “wider culture to be inclusive and accepting of all people”, with banks playing a key role. There’s a lot in that: it has been fashionable for businesses to drape themselves in the Pride flag, but this can amount to “queerwashing” – a superficial, commercially oriented branding decision, rather than a commitment to real change.
Perhaps an LGBTQ bank could push existing financial organisations to go further. But that this new credit union has been born at all underlines that while LGBTQ people have won major gains, there is still far to go.