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LGBTQ+ artists and those with disabilities see Etsy as a lifeline – that’s why they’re on strike

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Etsy logo on the PC monitor, photographed through a magnifying glass. (Marco Verch/Flickr) [CC BY 2.0]

This story was originally published by The 19th

For Brontë Grimm, Etsy was supposed to be a reprieve from the pandemic’s economic toll. Like so many others, Grimm, an artist based in Portland, Oregon, hit a financial low point in 2020. Being immunocompromised and a person with disabilities, they could no longer do photography or create paintings that involved working with models in person. Their girlfriend could not find a job either, and the couple found themselves on the brink of eviction.

Grimm turned to Etsy. They had used the creator-focused e-commerce site to sell jewelry in 2010 and decided to set up a new shop selling their Victorian-style jewelry designs in January 2021. This time around, however, Grimm noticed Etsy charged creators more in fees for each item they listed and sold.  

When Etsy set another fee increase for this month, it became too much for Grimm.

“They want us to act like a warehouse, because they make money that way,” Grimm, 35, told The 19th. “They are basically expecting marginalized people and expecting small creators to behave like corporations.”

This week Grimm joined more than 17,000 frustrated Etsy sellers to strike in protest of policies they argue have strayed from the company’s mission to make entrepreneurship more accessible. The company’s incentives for fast shipping and customer response rates also lead to less promotion for the platform’s smaller shops, the sellers said. The protesting sellers put their shops in “vacation mode” beginning on Monday through April 18. 

Seven LGBTQ+ Etsy sellers, three of whom are people with disabilities, told The 19th that increasing fees and pressure from the company leave them questioning whether they can continue to maintain their shops. Women make up 79 percent of the site’s U.S. sellers, according to a company report, and LGBTQ+ people make up 14 percent, which is about double the national population estimates. The report does not list information for people with disabilities. 

Many of Etsy’s sellers live at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities. For queer and disabled people like Grimm, who face disproportionate financial hardship and discrimination in formal work settings, Etsy’s mission of lowering barriers to start a business was especially appealing. The site has built-in name recognition and trust among customers that sellers saw as a benefit to joining the platform. Economic data is limited, but queer people, particularly those of color, report higher levels of unemployment, working multiple jobs and self employment compared to non-LGBTQ+ people. Adults with disabilities experience poverty at more than twice the rate as those without, according to the National Disability Institute.

Etsy’s latest fee increase was announced in February, raising the amount sellers pay for each transaction from 5 percent of their sales to 6.5 percent, effective Monday. In addition to transaction fees, sellers could be responsible for a host of other charges, such as listing fees, processing fees and advertising fees, which can all add up to as much as 20 percent of their revenue, sellers said. Etsy’s off-site advertising fees are dependent on a particular shop’s total sales over the past year. Such fees do not factor in additional costs of materials and labor. A petition that has received more than 51,000 signatures outlines five demands, one of which takes aim at the fees.

“It’s very confusing, because there’s so many fees,” said Sydney Sky Griffin, 25, a strike participant who has run an Etsy shop selling skincare products for the past year. “It would take me so long to try to understand and untangle where the money was going and how much they were charging and why they were charging it.”

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Those small individual charges on Etsy sales can add up quickly. This month, Grimm sold a necklace for $50 just as the new transaction fee was being implemented. After taking out fees plus the cost of materials and production, they made $15.45 in profits, working out to an hourly pay of $3.86 for their labor. Many Etsy sellers live paycheck to paycheck, and every dollar matters for meeting their basic needs. Grimm’s girlfriend ultimately found a full-time job during the pandemic, but it does not pay a livable wage, they said. The Etsy money helps with buying groceries and toiletries. 

Five of the seven LGBTQ+ Etsy sellers The 19th interviewed said they count on profits from Etsy as either all or a majority of their income. Four of the five who rely on Etsy income full time make less than $10,000 from the sales. Three of the five have disabilities and noted having limited options for steady income outside of their Etsy shops, particularly during the pandemic, which has been harder for immunocompromised people who face a higher threat from the coronavirus. 

“Being disabled, our Etsy shop is our entire source of income,” said Amy Williams, 22, who created a shop on Etsy with their partner in March 2021.  “We are lucky to have some help from our parents in regards to basic necessities, but it’s near impossible to save up money that we will need to survive in the future because of all of Etsy’s fees.”

Profits for sellers can be reduced in other ways. In 2019, Etsy CEO Josh Silverman sent a memo to sellers announcing the company would prioritize items and shops that offer free shipping. Silverman encouraged the sellers to adjust their prices to account for shipping. 

But for many sellers, raising their prices is not feasible. There is only so much buyers are willing to pay, particularly in an e-commerce market dominated by Amazon. And many Etsy sellers “see themselves as serving their community, or as being different than a big business,” said Samantha Close, an assistant professor of communications with DePaul University who researches digital creative platforms like Etsy. Therefore, they find it unethical to elevate prices to cover shipping, Close added.

“I don’t want to just charge hefty prices for things to the point that people can’t have them,” Griffin said. “The community I’m in, most of the people are usually poor and don’t have a lot of work. It starts to get frustrating when it feels like I’m cheating my customers.”

Another point of contention is Etsy’s “Star Seller” program, meant to “reward Etsy sellers who consistently provide an excellent customer experience,” according to the company website. The Star Seller badge signals to customers that a particular seller is reliable. That means sellers must have a 95 percent response rate to messages within 24 hours, have 95 percent of their orders shipped “on time,” have 95 percent of their sales receive 5-star reviews and meet a minimum of 10 orders and $300 in sales within a three month review period.

But sellers said the program deprioritizes small creators who often produce items alone or with a small group. It is also not sustainable for many disabled or neurodivergent sellers either, said Juniper Harwood, 26, who has been operating a shop since October 2020.

Harwood and other sellers said they receive minimal response from the company when they face challenges. In October 2021, Etsy sent an email saying that 75 percent of Harwood’s earnings would be put on hold. Harwood tried unsuccessfully to get a response from the company to learn more about the reasoning behind the hold and how long it would last.

Months later, when Etsy sent another email that the earnings hold would be lifted, “I sunk to my kitchen floor and sobbed,” Harwood said. “It was scary and humiliating to have Etsy control my entire livelihood, for months, and throughout the entire holiday season no less.”

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In response to the strike, Etsy said in an emailed statement that the fee increase would help the company “increase our investments in areas outlined in the petition, including marketing, customer support, and removing listings that don’t meet our policies.”

The Etsy strike raises questions about the business model for e-commerce industries more broadly, particularly those that rely on labor from women and queer people, Close said. 

LGBTQ+ people “can’t take their shops elsewhere as easily,” Close said, and they may have fewer financial alternatives to seek out for support.

The LBGTQ+ sellers who spoke with The 19th said they want the company to recognize all of these factors that affect them, and to implement practices that support the communities company leaders say they want to uplift. Participating in the strike this week came with sacrifices: missed grocery money, or, in Grimm’s case, missed money to buy their medications. But sellers said they recognize the potential in Etsy to serve underrepresented groups in business, and they see the strike as an opportunity to raise awareness about an important issue.

“I think Etsy is in a really unique position, and they have a fantastic opportunity here to set themselves aside from giants like Amazon,” Harwood said. “I think this is a make-or-break moment for Etsy, and I hope they listen to the people who have made their platform what it is today: their sellers. Us.”

The 19th is an independent, nonprofit newsroom reporting at the intersection of gender, politics and policy.

Candice Norwood is a breaking news reporter. Before The 19th, she was a digital politics reporter for the PBS NewsHour, a staff writer for Governing magazine covering state and local government, and a freelancer for the Bloomberg News White House team.

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Workplace

CEOs Are Hindering LGBTQ+ Equality in the Workplace

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This article is republished from The Conversation under a CC BY-ND 4.0 license. Read the original article.

Global acceptance of homosexuality has risen over the past two decades to 72 per cent in 2019 from 51 per cent in 2002. Despite this, a report from last year found that majority of American LGBTQ+ workers have faced job discrimination.

This echoes an earlier report, published by the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion in 2015, that found many Canadians were uncomfortable disclosing their sexual orientation at work. Just last month, The Canadian Press published an article that found 65 percent of LGBTQ+ employees in Québec have faced discrimination in the past five years.

There is a clear disconnect between the increased tolerance toward LGBTQ+ people in broader society compared to the experience of LGBTQ+ people in the workplace.

As major stakeholders with significant power, corporations have the responsibility to bridge this equality gap and be leaders in making the workplace inclusive and welcoming for their LGBTQ+ employees.

The LGBT Purge

One of the longest, most devastating examples of workplace discrimination in Canada is known as the LGBT Purge. Between the 1950s and mid-1990s, the Canadian government embarked on a purge of LGBTQ+ workers from federal public service and the Canadian Armed Forces.

An estimated 9,000 LGBTQ+ Canadians experienced abuse and violence at the whims of the government that investigated, interrogated and traumatized them.

The LGBT Purge was driven by anticommunist sentiment during the Cold War. Socially stigmatized people, like members of the LGBTQ+ community, were seen as targets for blackmail by the Soviet Union for classified information.

There is no record of any Canadian government employees or members of the Armed Forces turning over evidence to the Soviet Union out of fear their sexual orientation would be exposed.

In 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized for the “state-sponsored, systematic oppression and rejection” of the LGBT Purge. A settlement was reached the following year that included up to $110 million in compensation for survivors of the purge.

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The Purge resulted in psychological trauma, material hardship, financial ruin, self-harm and suicide among survivors. The legacy of the Purge, still felt to this day, reminds us that there is still much to be done in the fight for equality.

CEO power and workplace equality

My colleagues and I recently published a research paper investigating if and how chief executive officer’s (CEO) power affects corporate LGBTQ+ equality. To measure corporate LGBTQ+ equality, we used the Corporate Equality Index rating system provided by the Human Rights Campaign.

We decided to study CEO power because CEOs play a key role in investing in corporate LGBTQ+ equality initiatives. They normally set the strategic directions and initiate major decisions in their companies and can influence what initiatives receive funding.

Studies have shown that CEOs improve sustainability because they have higher job security and can focus on long-term initiatives, such as sustainability. A similar argument could be made for LGBTQ+ employee equal rights initiatives. CEOs, who are in the most secure position in their companies, have the ability and flexibility to invest in corporate LGBTQ+ equality.

How power comes into play

Our research found that powerful CEOs discouraged corporate LGBTQ+ equality initiatives. This could be for a number of reasons, including CEOs catering to shareholders who don’t think corporate LGBTQ+ equality initiatives should be invested in, either because it clashes with their beliefs, or they don’t think it’s a worthy investment.

Additionally, we found that powerful CEOs were more likely to discourage corporate LGBTQ+ equality initiatives when corporations lacked external monitoring (lower level of institutional ownership), information transparency (higher tendency to manipulate their earnings) or were headquartered in a state that had a majority religious population.

Surprisingly, CEOs did not suffer any consequences for suppressing LGBTQ+ employee equality initiatives. Instead, some enjoyed better stock market returns and higher long-term firm market values.

But there are greater benefits for investing in LGBTQ+ initiatives. They aren’t just the morally correct thing to do, but can also be good for companies in the long run by improving employee moraleproductivityfirm performance and future firm valuation.

It’s time for change

Our findings reinforce previous reports that we have a long way to go in achieving equal rights for LGBTQ+ people, especially in the workplace.

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It is clear that corporations will not alter their course unless they are forced to or their bottom line is at stake. It is time for regulators and policy-makers to enact affirmative action regulations to encourage corporations to create equitable and fair workplace environments for their LGBTQ+ employees.

There are a variety of ways this could be accomplished. Activist-investors could motivate their corporations to invest in corporate LGBTQ+ equality initiatives, like they do for environmental causes.

The Canadian Securities Administrators, an umbrella organization of Canada’s provincial and territorial securities regulators, could propose regulations that would require boards of directors to have LGBTQ+ representation, which in turn may influence more LGBTQ+ friendly policies and initiatives by corporations more broadly.

The Conversation is an independent, nonprofit publisher of commentary and analysis, authored by academics and edited by journalists for the general public.

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Diversity

Pantene Celebrates Transgender Visibility in Latin America

The documentary-style short film chronicles the Quinceañera dream of a transgender woman

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NEW YORK — Marking International Transgender Day of Visibility, Pantene released a documentary-style short film chronicling the Quinceañera of a transgender woman, Isa, denied one as a teenager. Longtime agency Grey New York created the campaign.

Against great odds (see stats), from job discrimination to systemic violence, transgender women have made significant progress in Latin America, holding elective office and as business leaders.

People begin understanding their gender identity as early as three years old. But many transgender people don’t know or share this about their gender until later in life due to safety and issues of cultural acceptance.

“It doesn’t matter when or at what age someone knows who they are, whether at 15 or 44. Whenever they feel comfortable being themselves and sharing that truth is a moment to celebrate,” said Martina Brubacher, Director of Communications for Pantene for Latin America, “As a brand, we know the power of hair and how it can be a statement for expressing one’s true self, so it’s important for us to feature stories like Isa’s, a transgender woman who celebrates her journey.”

The Quinceañera is a dream come true for many Latina girls as they turn fifteen. But this rite of passage to womanhood, celebrated by family and community, has often excluded transgender women from this cultural milestone.

Pantene has partnered with Isa, a transgender woman in her forties, to give her the Quinceañera she never had. The film tells her poignant story and follows her preparations leading up to and including the day with her friends and family. (Link to the film)

“For all the times I had to hide my identity and deny my existence – today I say, I am here. I am Isa,” said Isa

The integrated digitally-led campaign includes online video, social media, influencers, and public relations. The brand once again worked with GLAAD, which accelerates the acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people by sharing stories and accessing all forms of media to uplift members of the community.

“The team chose to launch this film on International Day of Trans Visibility – to inspire every young transgender person. Anything is possible; happiness and acceptance is something everyone deserves,” said Javier Bonilla, Executive Creative Director at Grey.

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Full-time trans workers face a wage gap, poll finds

Trans and gender-nonconforming people are among the lowest paid LGBTQ+ full-time workers in the United States, a new snapshot poll shows.

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This story was originally published by The 19th

Transgender and gender-nonconforming people are among the lowest paid LGBTQ+ people working full time in the United States, according to a snapshot poll by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and a California-based market research firm. 

The HRC found that trans men and nonbinary or gender-nonconforming people earn 70 cents for every dollar the typical worker earns, while trans women earn 60 cents to that dollar, based on responses from roughly 6,800 LGBTQ+ workers last spring. 

“If that’s across the entire population, those dollars and cents add up,” said Spencer Watson, executive director at the Center for LGBTQ Economic Advancement & Research. 

The HRC believes the actual pay gap for trans and LGBTQ+ people is bigger because part-time jobs and work in underground economies were not considered. But the survey still offers a unique look at wage disparities that experts say have not been adequately researched. 

Trans people experience widespread unemployment and poverty at higher rates compared to the rest of the U.S. population. Even if a trans person does get a job outside of the underground economy, discrimination can still take its toll and stunt economic advancement, said Josie Caballero, survey project manager of the U.S. Transgender Survey (USTS). 

More than 77 percent of respondents to the 2015 USTS — the most comprehensive survey of trans life and the latest data available ahead of the survey’s planned 2022 release — described taking multiple steps to avoid discrimination at work, like hiding their gender identity, delaying their transition and being misgendered without correcting their employer.

“If you’re just trying to avoid discrimination, you’re not you’re not asking for promotions,” Caballero said. “You’re not trying to seek quality of life. You’re just trying to survive and keep your head down.” 

The wage gaps, Caballero said, “kind of confirm what we already know.”

As researchers investigate the economic disparities faced by trans people, they should be focused on what kind of wage gap trans women of color experience in the United States, said Lourdes Ashley Hunter, executive director of the Trans Women of Color Collective. Researchers also need to account for underground economies and sex work in order to gain a full picture of the economic disparities that most sharply harm trans women of color, who also face disproportionate violence and multiple forms of discrimination, Hunter said. 

In the formal economy, how a company is structured to support Black trans women and other women of color is also key to their economic opportunities, Hunter said. Are managers hiring only one or a few trans people? Are there trans people of color in leadership? Is the company paying a living wage? And even if a Black trans person is making a living wage — how long were they in poverty before that?

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The HRC’s polling analyzed the reported wages of LGBTQ+ women of color, though a wage gap for trans men and trans women of color was not measured due to a lack of data. The organization hopes to release another report focused on Black and Latinx trans people from the same data used in this report, Shoshana Goldberg, the organization’s director of public education and research, said. 

“We’re only just now being able to start to uncover a lot of these economic disparities,” she said.

Although trans women in HRC’s poll were the lowest paid of any group, cisgender queer women who responded to the survey also shared gaps in pay. However, data from the UCLA’s Williams Institute indicates a more complicated financial picture for cisgender bisexual and lesbian women. Cisgender lesbian and bisexual women face significant discrimination and economic stress, and queer women of color are significantly more likely to have very low household incomes compared to White women, according to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law

But, comparing cisgender queer women’s wages to straight women’s wages is more complicated, said M.V. Lee Badgett, economics professor and distinguished scholar at the Williams Institute.

Cisgender lesbian and bisexual women on average make more money than straight women, Badgett said, for a variety of reasons, including working more hours and working more weeks of the year — which can be influenced by relationship structure and a lack of child care. However, they make less on average than bisexual and gay cisgender men, she added. Recent data from the Hamilton Project also found that married women couples tend to bring home lower wages than an opposite-gender married couple. 

Sixteen percent of trans people surveyed by USTS were either making less than $10,000 per year in 2014 or had no income. As the census’ Household Pulse Survey gathers information on how Americans are faring during the pandemic — recently including LGBTQ+ people in the count — researchers are learning that trans people are currently still more likely to have household incomes that put them below the federal poverty line, said Kitt Carpenter, labor economist and founder of the Vanderbilt LGBT Policy Lab. 

Investigating a potential trans wage gap presents a new area for researchers to articulate the day-to-day economic disparities of trans people, in line with discussions on the racial wage gap and gender wage gap in the United States, Watson said.

And at the end of the day, researchers are “only beginning to scratch the surface” of the experiences of trans people and other gender minorities, and that understanding is much further behind research on LGBTQ+ people as a whole, Carpenter said. 

“But thankfully, we’re moving in the right direction,” he said.

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The 19th is an independent, nonprofit newsroom reporting at the intersection of gender, politics and policy.

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