National Gay and Lesbian Task Force executive director Kerry Lobel attended the first-ever White House Conference on Social Security Dec. 8. Held in Washington, D.C., the conference was convened with the intent of laying the groundwork for comprehensive, bipartisan Social Security reform next year. Since its creation more than 60 years ago, Social Security has provided benefits for the elderly, children, the poor, and people with disabilities. According to recent reports, after 2032 the Social Security system will only have enough resources to cover 72 cents on the dollar of current benefits. Approximately 240 policy makers and advocates from around the country attended the meeting, as did President Clinton, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, Senator Rick Santorum, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, and Representative Clay Shaw.
The following is a statement from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force on the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community and social security. "Outing Age, A Working Paper on Policy Issues Facing Old Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender People" will explore these issues in greater detail. This report was authored by Jane Goldschmidt and will be released by the Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in 1999.
We are in a time in which entitlements guaranteed to Americans to alleviate poverty and provide assistance and health care to the elderly and the disabled are being reconsidered and reformed. Welfare, Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare are programs that have, with varying degrees of success, provided basic security to America's poorest populations. These programs provide assistance to old people, the disabled, the unemployed, and children. Now, as they undergo major changes, it is vital that the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) community be more involved and vocal about the changes being proposed. The quality of our own future and the lives of GLBT elders today depend on our involvement.
As gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people age, we face the intersections of homophobia and ageism in our participation in aging programs and our participation in our GLBT communities. The GLBT movement must take up the struggle of carving out a place for GLBT old people in both of these contexts, so that aging can be a process of discovery and enjoyment, rather than one filled with fear and discrimination.
One of the most invisible populations in the GLBT community is old people. Estimates of the GLBT senior population range from one million to more than one and three quarters million. As the GLBT baby boomers age, this population will grow. GLBT people confront very specific problems as they age, stemming from the intersections of ageism, homophobia, racism and classism which also face their younger counterparts and with which all GLBT people struggle throughout life. As GLBT people grow older, we enter a world of services that may not be familiar with openly gay people. We also encounter the ageism of our own communities.
GLBT movement activists need a working knowledge of the struggles which concern all aging people. These include economic anxiety, poverty, healthcare, finding suitable housing, employment, and HIV/AIDS. We must also appreciate that for old GLBT people, these struggles are compounded by the homophobia that exists in social service organizations that assume their clients to be heterosexual.
A number of the problems faced by old GLBT people also stem from the fact that we often do not have the same family safety nets as heterosexual people, and the fact that our families are not yet recognized by law. As long as many of the programs which ensure comfort and adequate financial resources and health care in old age are filtered through family structures which privilege heterosexual people, GLBT old people will continue to face unfair obstacles in their aging processes. As medical professionals and service organizations become more involved in the personal lives of GLBT people, complex situations arise which may result in the families of GLBT being unable to make important decisions and many of our choices not being honored. Family-related issues, which affect GLBT people throughout life, take on new dimensions as we age.
The lack of legal recognition for our family bonds is a difficulty all GLBT people must face. Because people of the same sex cannot legally marry, and domestic partnership policies are not available everywhere and does not always apply to all the activities we need it for, our families are often deprived of the rights and privileges that opposite-sex couples and their families can receive. These include inheritance, hospital visitation, power of attorney, employee health benefits, housing, social security benefits for survivors, and countless other things. We encounter these issues increasingly as we age because we may rely more and more on our families to take care of us or make decisions for us. Also, we may seek more and more help from governmental programs that use definitions of family that exclude us. This frequently places GLBT people in a position where their blood relatives have more power to make important decisions for them than their partners and family who are not related by blood or law.
We call on our movement to become involved in our country's discussions about social security reform and other issues affecting GLBT elders and others. Together, our activism and advocacy can insure respect and security for GLBT old people.