'Gay money': The currency of change?

No one can say for sure how it started, but dollar bills with the words "gay money" or a pink triangle stamped on them are surfacing around the country, including in Baltimore.

The stamping is being done by gay men and women who want to prove a point. And the practice appears to be growing like the national deficit.


"The purpose is to show the amount of money that gay consumers spend," says Richard, who declined to give his last name.

Richard doesn't want his full identity known -- not because he is gay, but because it is illegal to deface money.


"What I do is, I get my paycheck and when I cash it I take about $20 in one dollar bills and stamp those," says the 27-year-old Baltimorean. Richard stamps both the pink triangle and the words "gay money" on his dollar bills and knows others who do the same.

So far, he has had only one negative reaction from a retailer, he says. "Everybody else has been pretty positive about it," Richard says.

"It is not an organized effort," says Robin Kane, spokesman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, a lobbying organization based in Washington.

"It is an effort from some local groups or it's a personal way for individual people to show gay economic power and to show visibility. It is also a way for people to make some sort of a statement even if they are not completely out of the closet."

Gay economic power is a force to be reckoned with, activists say. Although most market research firms and the census bureau do not ask about sexuality when conducting polls on income, at least one company does. Overlooked Opinions is a Chicago-based marketing research firm that polls gays and lesbians.

A January 1992 poll of 7,500 people found that the average gay male household income was $51,624, says Rick Dean, a senior vice president at Overlooked Opinions. For lesbian households, the average income was $42,755, he says. According to the Census Bureau, the average income for households in America is about $36,520. Most -- though not all -- gay households are childless, two-income couples, which means more disposable income to spread around.

The circulation of "gay dollars" seems to grow whenever the issue of gay and lesbian rights is in the forefront of the news, Ms. Kane says.

For instance, she says, more people began stamping their money after the march on Washington.


And many of the dollar bills were seen in Pensacola, Fla., after a City Council member publicly objected to Memorial Day activities that drew thousands of gays and lesbians.

Circulating the stamped money serves the purpose of keeping gay rights issues on the minds of many, Ms. Kane says.

"Recently, I was at a 7-Eleven store in South Carolina. A woman -- the cashier -- had just received a dollar bill with "gay money" stamped on it. She was very perplexed and surprised by it. She started talking to people about it -- questioning about what it meant.

"I didn't say anything, I just kept pumping my gas. But at least, it accomplished what the person who gave it to her had in mind. It sparked a conversation. It made the people think about gay rights."