Sarah Prager was all set to release her book “Rainbow Revolutionaries: Fifty LGBTQ+ People Who Made History,” an illustrated look at 50 LGBTQ+ historymakers, just in time for Pride Month. Then the coronavirus happened. Easy Money talked to her about how the pandemic affected her book launch and the financial issues that LGBTQ+ people, particularly parents, still face in 2020.
Want alerts about our Pro Tip profiles? Sign up for our Easy Money newsletter, sent to your inbox each Friday.
This interview has been lightly edited for style and clarity.
Your book came out in the middle of the pandemic. How did that change your plans?
It changed everything. I had spent months planning a dozen in-person events and when we went into quarantine in March I thought it would all be over by Pride Month. As I slowly realized that wasn’t the case, I moved most events online and pushed others to the fall. I profoundly miss connecting with readers at signings. Talking to a screen with my reflected image is not the same.
How has the pandemic affected freelancers in general?
As advertisers pull money from the media, the media's budgets have constricted. Editors I once wrote for regularly were laid off and their publications stopped taking any freelance pitches as they shifted to relying only on in-house writers. Many freelance writers I know have been struggling to find work.
How will the Supreme Court decision on gay & transgender workers affect the job market for this community?
I hope this will eliminate one barrier to LGBTQ+ people living their full lives. It’s a huge (and long overdue) step that we now have an option to sue if we’re fired for being LGBTQ+, but in reality, harassment, legal fees and other factors will still make it a long road to recourse. Freelance writers not having their LGBTQ+ stories picked up by the mainstream media except for Pride Month will continue. The biggest change that needs to happen is a shift in public opinion of our worth and value.
How do costs differ for queer parents vs. straight parents?
Queer parents need to spend extra money on protecting ourselves with paperwork for a second-parent adoption when one of us births a child or on adoption expenses when we adopt a child. My wife and I only spent a few hundred dollars on this by doing the work without a lawyer’s help in the case of the children we birthed, but others spend thousands on a lawyer to help navigate the paperwork and court appearances.
What are the money issues lesbian parents face in general?
My wife and I got pregnant using a friend’s sperm at home, so you can’t get much cheaper than that (unless one of the partners is trans and can provide the sperm). We spent about $100 on supplies and hormone test strips, but many spend thousands on (intrauterine insemination), (in vitro fertilization) or adoption. Family Equality came out with a report in December 2019 on the cost of queer family building and it shows that a queer person’s income level is closely tied to their options for becoming a parent, and that many spend not just tens of thousands, but hundreds of thousands to become parents and then to protect our families legally after achieving parenthood. Once all of that is done, our costs are not too different except for our need to buy lots of cute rainbow gear for our little ones.
What has your experience been dealing with health insurance?
My wife and I got married in 2011 in Massachusetts, one of six states at the time where we were able to do so. When we moved to Maryland shortly after, I was not able to be on her health insurance because I wasn’t recognized as her spouse. (We also had to file federal taxes as single and state taxes as married until the 2015 Supreme Court decision [legalizing gay marriage], which was an additional cost.) Fertility treatments are often not covered by health insurance for same-sex couples and of course the trans community experiences the most discrimination and problems with health insurance.
Are any instances like working or applying for mortgages where you feel you’ve been treated differently?
When we bought our house, we noticed the Christian imagery throughout the house and worried when we put our offer in that they may not want to sell to us. We signed our letter to the homeowners we bought from as “the Pragers” instead of our first names to not call attention to our genders. Our agent reminded us that it would have been illegal to discriminate against us on that basis, but we knew that they could easily reject the offer and we’d never be able to prove the reason. That consideration nudged us to offer closer to the listing price than we would have. We were never “treated differently” in that situation, but the mere existence and fear of homophobia did cost us some money there.
What are your current money goals & how are you working toward them?
We’ve been putting recent income like the stimulus check into our house during quarantine since we’re spending so much time here. We did some landscaping, (got) a back patio, got some outdoor furniture, things like that. My goal would have been to save everything for travel, but I’m not patient enough. We are spending all day every day at home right now and we won’t be able to travel again until there’s a vaccine, so our goals have shifted because of the pandemic. I also made sure to contribute some of our recent income towards retirement.
What’s your proudest financial accomplishment?
I wrote for free a lot in my 20s “for exposure,” that infamous enemy of artists. In my case, it worked out. The years of hustling turned into a five-figure book deal with a “Big Five” publisher at the age of 29. They noticed me because of that unpaid writing.
Any financial regrets?
I bought a girlfriend a car in my name when I was 20 because she couldn’t in her name. It took me a long and terrible time to get that out of my name and credit after we broke up.
What’s the worst financial advice you’ve ever received?
We used a free financial adviser who got our business at a Pride festival. We trusted her mostly because she was a part of our community so it felt like she was on our side. She advised us in our early 30s to put our retirement money in an annuity, which is better advice for a couple in their 50s. It was advice that would have benefitted her and not us.
What’s the best financial advice you’ve ever received?
My dad has been a major teacher of financial literacy for me. He made me open an (individual retirement account) at 18 and consistently reminds and encourages me to contribute to it. His voice is always in my head when it comes to money and pushing retirement, retirement, retirement. I’m grateful for his advice now that I’m already halfway there.
Image: Nastia Kobzarenko