18 posts categorized "Legal"

April 28, 2016

Budgeting for Housing, Healthcare and Marriage Shouldn’t Be Scary

By Vera Lukacs

LGBT older adults have unique financial concerns. Not only are they faced with economic uncertainty, but they face discrimination in housing and healthcare, and the prospect of marriage is still new for many. How can LGBT older adults budget better for basic necessities? This question is important, considering that over 25 million older adults (60+) are living in poverty. Contrary to popular belief, planning and budgeting can be a positive experience! It can be tough to think about, but it’s worth doing when you have the chance to prepare and get a step ahead. Not sure where to start? Check out this LGBT Financial Planning Guide.

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Budgeting for healthcare in later years is incredibly important. LGBT older adults have a vast amount of needs that their heterosexual counterparts don’t even think about. But first, a significant factor in this process is LGBT elders need to feel comfortable sharing who they are with their healthcare providers. For transgender people seeking hormone treatments and surgeries or those with HIV, finding a provider can be a scary process. GLMA has a provider directory to help people find LGBT-competent healthcare providers.

LGBT older adults often struggle to find affordable and safe housing. Many don’t have the economic security to invest in long term care facilities, and many are denied housing simply for being who they are. Nearly half of older same-sex couples experienced at least one form of differential treatment when inquiring about housing in a long-term care facility. SAGE launched the National LGBT Elder Housing Initiative to address these issues.

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What does marriage equality mean for LGBT couples? See our new toolkit, Talk Before You Walk: Considerations for LGBT Older Couples Before Getting Married. Getting married is about more than bringing two individuals together. Marriage provides a number of benefits, rights, and protections. With these rights comes the sharing of financial liabilities. To ensure a secured household, talk with your partner before you walk!

Appointing a power of attorney can come in handy in an emergency. In the event that an LGBT older adult is incapacitated or otherwise unable to make sound decisions, a power of attorney can allow a trusted loved one to step in and decide on their behalf. For more information on planning your last wishes, see our blog Financial Literacy: Tips and Tricks for LGBT Elders!

Vera Lukacs is a digital media assistant at SAGE. April is Financial Literacy Month. What do you need to know as an LGBT older adult? Follow the SAGE blog this month for more!

April 11, 2016

We Are the Voices of Change: Fighting Back North Carolina’s HB2

This post originally appeared on HuffPost Queer Voices on April 6th, 2016. Read the original post here.

In a 12 hour special session on March 23rd, the North Carolina General Assembly passed House Bill 2 (HB2). Designed to overturn a Charlotte City Council ordinance which protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in public accommodation, commercial contracting and taxis, HB2 is the most sweeping anti-LGBT legislation in the nation, according to Equality North Carolina(NC). It overturns existing ordinances protecting LGBT people across the state and bans transgender people from using restrooms that correspond with their gender.

SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders) is the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT older adults. In support of achieving equal treatment for LGBT people across the country, SAGE has worked with our partners in NC over the last four years to train LGBT older adults to tell their stories of discrimination in housing, health care, public accommodation and employment. Through SAGE Story, our NC affiliates, SAGE Wilmington and SAGE Raleigh, and our partners, the Freedom Center for Social Justice and Equality North Carolina bring the voices of LGBT older adults to the fight.

Serena Worthington, SAGE’s Director of National Field Initiatives, sat down with SAGE Story alum Reverend Debra J. Hopkins, an out and proud transgender woman and a minister at Sacred Souls Community Church in Charlotte, to talk about the importance of anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people, how HB2 harms LGBT North Carolinians and how she uses her story to advocate for equality for all.


Serena Worthington: I first met you at SAGE’s Storytelling Summit where I had a chance to interview you one-on-one. I was impressed by your style and how you foreground your personal biography as a transgender woman and a person of faith. Why is this important?

Debra J. Hopkins: Whether I’m behind the pulpit, out in the community or speaking to state representatives or community members, I try to tell my story in a relatable way. I do this because the best story that I can share with anybody is mine own, my story and my journey.

SW: I watched a clip of you testifying at the hearing for the Charlotte non-discrimination ordinance. I was especially impressed by the fact that you spoke so powerfully, even though the room was filled with people opposing the bill and you had just a very brief amount of time. What was that moment like for you?

DH: We only had one minute to speak because there were 140 people there. In the moment, I cut my remarks down from three minutes. If you watch that clip, you see that I step away from what I had at the podium. The quickest way for me to get my story or my point across is to first give a quick bio of who I am, the work that I’m doing and the point that I need to drive home to my audience. Most of my speaking comes from inspiration— it’s an ability, a gift of mine to be able to, at a moment’s notice, be direct and candid about the issues and concerns that many of us have. You are not going to understand me if I’m rushing and I’ve learned the art of condensing so that I can brief but still be passionate and get my point across. You have to be able to work with the time afforded you.

SW: I often hear the phrase storytelling is a Southern tradition. How does that tradition play out for you?

DH: I come out of corporate America—my original home was New York City where I was a broker and a schoolteacher—and what’s fascinating about it is that I have translated that experience down here to the South. Over the 30+ plus years that I’ve been down here, I’ve had a combination of both a Northern flavor and a Southern flavor. Combined with the passion that I have for real change—equality for all—I draw on all of those energies to fit the pieces together when I tell my story.

SW: In person and on video, you have a fantastic delivery style. You take your time, you smile a lot, and you make lots of eye contact which really conveys a strong sense of you as a person. What training have you found to be the most useful to you as you continue to improve your storytelling and speaking skills?

DH: I had a mentor out of Dallas, TX who helped me develop my skills as a young pastor, Dr. Tony Evans. Dr. Evans is the pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship and he is also the President of the Urban Alternative Christian Broadcast Ministry. He was very influential to me. I became a pastor a year-and-a-half into my ministry and I didn’t get the tutelage and training that a lot of seasoned pastors would have had early in their careers. I had to learn as I go. My mentor talked about the importance of taking my time, making strong eye contact, and conveying my message as articulately as possible.

SW: Whose story inspires you?

DH: There are three people that move on the altar of my heart. The first one is a transgender woman named Christine Jorgensen, who was an author and entertainer. When I was going through my struggle, the internet was not available and the transgender community was not being spoken of, or fought for, as the gay and lesbian community went battle for their rights. I met Christine Jorgensen about a year-and-a-half before she passed away. She helped me understand what I was going through which sent me on the path to continue to do research.

Also, strange as it may sound, my Dad—who never knew that I was in the midst of my transition because he passed away early. He instilled some very important things in me. One of things he told me that I will always remember is that no matter what I do or wherever I go, be the best that I can be. He told me, if you want to be a bum on the street, be the best bum on the street. If you are going to do anything, do it with dignity and do it with respect.

My current pastor, Bishop Tonyia Rawls, has been quite an influence on me. She is helping me shape my elder years so that I am a more complete vessel in this journey of activism and ministry. She is one uniquely gifted individual and she has such a passion for, not just the LGBT community, but specifically the transgender community—whether it’s youth who are struggling with their sexuality or being thrown out into the streets or those of us who are older. She has been such a moving force, I can’t help but be proud of her. She really moves on the altar of my heart. I love that lady like none other.

These people played such a pioneering role in how I move and how I operate today.

SW: You anticipated the swift state government response to the passage of the Charlotte ordinance and said that the government of NC would work hard to rescind it, which it did by passing HB2. How did the passage of the ordinance change things for you and why do you think state-wide LGBT anti-discrimination protections are important.

DH: As a Black trans woman, the Charlotte ordinance gave me protection and the freedom of knowing that I have the right to enter the same spaces and go to the same things as every law abiding citizen in the state of North Carolina. Many of us are very law abiding citizens. We pay our taxes, we try and get an education, some of us are making major contributions in our communities, some of us are teachers, lawyers, doctors, etc. Protections like the Charlotte ordinance give us a sense of peace. We want to be able to travel, to be able to go somewhere and relax without the fear of looking over our shoulder or experiencing harassment. We want the peace of mind and the security necessary to be full citizens of the state of North Carolina.

SW: What advice do you have for your fellow activists?

DH: The advice that I would give anyone pressing for positive change is to be persistent, whether they journey that road alone or are working collectively with other people. The problem is that many of us become defeated or discouraged because we don’t see immediate change and movement. We have to be persistent, be consistent and we must be extremely patient—we must press forward no matter how long it takes to achieve our goals.

For the activists who are fighting, continue to press forward, tap into people like myself and others. We’ll come along side you and make the trip to Greensboro or Raleigh or wherever the state of North Carolina calls. We can do it together. 

In closing, I’ll say this.

Nobody can tell your story like you can. Nobody can walk in your shoes like you can. So tell your story, let no one else write it for you. You are the only one who can tell it and you are the only one who can tell it right.

We are the voices of change and we want to make our voices heard.

Reverend Debra J. Hopkins is a native of New York currently living in Charlotte, NC where she serves with Time Out Youth, Equality NC, the Freedom Center for Social Justice, and the Transgender Alliance Group. She is a licensed and ordained Minister of 28 years.

Serena Worthington is SAGE's Director of National Field Initiatives. Follow Serena on Twitter: 

April 7, 2016

Financial Literacy: Tips and Tricks for LGBT Elders

By Vera Lukacs

It’s critical for LGBT older adults to become more financially literate as they age. According to the SAGE report, Out and Visible: The Experiences and Attitudes of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Older Adults, Ages 45-75, nearly half of all LGBT older people fear they will outlive the money they save for retirement, as compared to a quarter of non-LGBT older people; 1 in 2 single LGBT older people believe they will have to work well beyond retirement age, as compared to less than a third of single non-lgbt older people; and more than half of the LGBT older adult population is concerned about not having enough money to survive retirement.

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From Out and Visible: The Experiences and Attitudes of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Older Adults, Ages 45-75

April is Financial Literacy Month. What do you need to know as an LGBT older adult? Have you planned your estate? How do you find an LGBT-friendly lawyer or financial planner? Here are some tips and tricks for your financial planning this month and long term:  

Find your LGBT-friendly financial planner
Afraid of discrimination? Fear no more. There is an abundance of resources on finding an LGBT-friendly financial planner and/or lawyer. The Wells Fargo guide, Tailored Investment Planning Solutions for Same-Sex Couples and Domestic Partners, will help you find a financial planner with ease. Are you an LGBT-friendly financial planner? Join the Gay Financial Planner list here.

How do you plan your estate? 
Create a will. It can be tough to talk about, but it’s one of the most important steps you should take as an older adult. Did you know that an estimated two-thirds of people die without a will? Check out What Every LGBT Older Adult Needs to Know About Wills from the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging.

Talk to your partner(s), family and friends
Sure, it’s hard to talk finances, but keeping the communication clear between you and your loved ones will make things easier. These Must Read Tax Tips for LGBT Couples explain the difficulties of talking about finances with a partner. “Schedule some time with your significant other to sit down uninterrupted and share a nice bottle of wine. Discuss your financial goals and where you are financially, both as individuals and as a couple. Put this in writing.”

Vera Lukacs is a digital media assistant at SAGE. April is Financial Literacy Month. What do you need to know as an LGBT older adult? Follow the SAGE blog this month for more!

April 24, 2015

Why Marriage Equality Matters for LGBT Older Adults

Rainbow-13902_640Many don’t know that same-sex spouses in non-marriage states still don’t qualify for all the same federal benefits that their different sex counterparts enjoy, simply because they are married to someone of the same sex.  This is an issue that comes up in the context of Social Security, Veterans Administration, and some Medicare benefits.   And it is all the more important for LGBT older adults who face pronounced poverty and lack of access to culturally competent healthcare.

This topic is one that our Executive Director, Michael Adams, examines in detail with his latest op-ed Why Marriage Equality Matters for Older Americans. "Marriage has proven highly effective for improving the lives of many older people," and given the unique issues our LGBT older adult population face, marriage "could be even more beneficial for older same-sex couples than it has been for older straight couples."

Adams writes: 

"Incredibly, two years after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act’s prohibition on federal recognition of same-sex marriages, some married same-sex couples are still being denied federal benefits especially important to older adults.  This is because some federal agencies use the “place of domicile” rule to determine whether a couple is considered married.  As a result, bereaved widows like Kathy continue to be denied Social Security survivors’ benefits because the state in which they live does not recognize their marriage."

With this is mind, SAGE is proud to endorse a bill, the ‘‘Social Security and Medicare Parity Act of 2015,’’ being introduced this week by Representative Mark Takano (D. CA), which would provide equal spousal and survivor benefits, create more flexible marriage tenure requirements, and require the Social Security Administration to engage in more outreach to LGBT older adults so that they are made aware of new or increased benefits.

In addition, SAGE, with the assistance of Jack Nadler as the lead lawyer from the firm Squire Patton Boggs, recently filed an amicus brief related to Obergefell v. Hodges. This historic case will be heard next week and allows the U.S. Supreme Court to determine whether the U.S. Constitution requires every U.S. state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and to recognize marriages of same-sex couples lawfully performed in any other state. SAGE filed the brief with the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, Justice in Aging, National Hispanic Council on Aging, and the American Society on Aging. To learn more about the brief and our four major arguments, click here.


April 16, 2015

Why National Healthcare Decisions Day Matters for LGBT People

1956956_10152884827600353_5665404736844718964_oIt's National Healthcare Decisions Day! A day where folks are encouraged to think about their future and examine important end-of-life documents. Have you put your end-of-life decisions in writing? Do you have a living will? Do you have a health care power of attorney?

These questions are extremely important, especially for our community. In an emergency, would you and your partner be treated as a couple? While The White House has addressed equal visitation and medical decision-making rights for same-sex couples, there are still holes in the system that leave LGBT people open to discrimination

If you don't know where to start, our National Resource Center on LGBT Aging has a number of excellent resources on their site. These include:

Remember, just signing an advance directive may not be enough! A recent blog post from our Successful Aging program highlights an issue with advance directives -- completing the documents may not provide enough protection! For the documents to be effective, treatment providers have to know of them, and what they say. Make sure you have a conversation with your loved ones and medical providers about your end-of-life documents to keep you protected.

March 30, 2015

Successful Aging: Preparation


One of the themes In SAGE’s Successful Aging program is “Preparation.” We define the term as: “Doing what you can, when you can, in advance of and addressing aging related contingencies.” This naturally includes completing wills and all the other related documents, such as living wills and advance directives. But according to a recent article in the New York Times entitled “The Trouble with Advance Directives”, completing the documents may not be preparation enough. For the documents to be effective, treatment providers have to know of them, and what they say.

The article describes a man whose advance directive specified “comfort care only, no heroics.” Not knowing the document existed, much less what it said, his doctors put him on a ventilator, performed a tracheostomy, and inserted a feeding tube. These procedures were approved by the man’s son, who was also unaware of the advance directives, and had never had a conversation with his father about the subject.

The Times article makes clear that getting the documents prepared and signed is only the first step. “Stories abound of documents misplaced, stashed in safe deposit boxes, filed in lawyers’ offices.” Or, as was the case with the case they described, the documents could be in the individual’s file, and were never discussed with family or medical staff.

Even when they’re consulted, the document’s language may prevent ready implementation. If it uses vague or outmoded language (what’s a “terminal “ condition? How long must a “vegetative state” last to qualify as “persistent”?), medical personnel may not be clear about how to proceed.

The best thing “experts say, is an ongoing series of conversations with the relatives or friends who will direct their care when they no longer can. In a crisis, doctors will turn to those people — more than to any document — to learn what the patient wants.”

Preparation, therefore, isn't just about getting a document signed. As the article concluded, “People feel reassured, even downright virtuous, when they have completed their paperwork, ‘but if the family doesn't know about it, if the medical team doesn't know about it, it might as well not exist.’”

March 19, 2015

SAGE and Aging Organizations Brief Supreme Court on Why Elders Need Marriage Equality

USSupremeCourtWestFacadeSAGE, with the assistance of Jack Nadler as the lead lawyer from the firm Squire Patton Boggs, recently filed an amicus brief (friend of the court brief) related to the upcoming marriage cases that the Supreme Court will hear on April 28, 2015. SAGE filed the brief with the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, Justice in Aging, National Hispanic Council on Aging, and the American Society on Aging. 

In this brief, SAGE made four major arguments: 


  1. Excluding same-sex couples from marriage deprives them of access to federal, state, and private benefits that are especially important for older adults;
  2. denial of the right to marry deprives older same-sex couples of the intangible benefits that marriage provides to older different sex couples;
  3. allowing older different sex couples to marry despite being non-procreative, while forbidding older same-sex couples from marrying because they are non-procreative, is self-evidently irrational; and
  4. older same-sex couples should not have to wait any longer to enjoy the benefits of marriage. 


Our hope is that our unique aging lens will provide a compelling view of marriage to the justices – and that perhaps – our brief will make a difference in bringing us closer to the day when same-sex couples can age with access to benefits, services, and supports, equal to their different sex counterparts.

Read a copy of the brief and our press release on the SAGE site.

This post was written by Aaron Tax, SAGE's Director of Federal Relations.

September 22, 2014

What’s New on the National Stage

SAGE continues to lead federal efforts to improve the lives of LGBT older people, alongside our national partner organizations in the LGBT and aging fields. This summer, we collaborated with other advocates to win Medicare coverage for transgender older people, FMLA benefits for same-sex couples and an executive order that extends more protections to LGBT people. Learn more about new federal policy updates below.

Executive Order to protect LGBT Workers
SAGE was privileged to be in the room with President Barack Obama on July 21, when, with the stroke of a pen, he put in place protections that will help millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older adults.  In the executive order that he signed that day, he ensured that transgender federal workers are protected against job discrimination based on gender identity.  He also ensured that LGBT employees of federal contractors will be protected against discrimination, which, according to the UCLA’s William’s Institute, protects 34 million of these workers today. Many LGBT older adults, after facing a lifetime of discrimination and lower earnings across the lifespan, continue to workto maintain their economic security.  We welcome the news that this generation--who fought to help many LGBT people out of “the closet”--will be able to bring their full selves to work, at more workplaces, without fear of discrimination.

Medicare Will Cover Transition-Related Care
In May, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Department Appeals Board (DAB), an independent federal appeals board, ruled that Medicare must cover medically necessary care for individuals with gender dysphoria, just as it does for those with other medical conditions.  In short, Medicare will now cover transition-related care for transgender older adults.  SAGE applauds our advocacy partners—GLAD, the ACLU, Lambda Legal, and NCLR—for  their tireless advocacy on this issue.  It was a life-changing victory for transgender older adults, who are finally on a more level playing field with other Medicare recipients.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Benefits Extended to Same Sex Spouses
The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees to take 12 weeks of leave from their jobs without pay for family and medical reasons.  With the Windsor decision in place (the Supreme Court case that cleared the way for the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages), the Department of Labor (DOL) announced in August 2013 that it would recognize same-sex marriages, but only those of couples who live in a state that recognizes their marriage.  In June of this year, the DOL announced a proposed “place of celebration” rule, meaning regardless of where a couple lives or moves, the DOL would recognize that same-sex marriage for FMLA purposes.  If and when the rule becomes final, it would ensure that LGBT individuals who take professional leave to care for a sick spouse will enjoy job security—and a little more peace of mind. 

Social Security

With the Windsor decision in hand, President Obama directed the Department of Justice (DOJ) to review every federal law, rule, policy and practice implicating marriage. On June 20, 2014, nearly a year after the date of the Windsor decision, DOJ completed its comprehensive, year-long review, providing guidance to federal agencies on Windsor implementation.  What does this mean? According to the review, all federal agencies have now implemented Windsor, meaning they are treating married same-sex and opposite-sex couples the same, to the fullest extent possible, under the law.

But what about Social Security benefits for same-sex couples? Here are a few points to help answer this complex question:


  • If you are married and living in a state that recognizes marriage equality, generally speaking, SSA (the Social Security Administration) will recognize your marriage.
  • If you are in a Civil Union or Registered Domestic Partnership and living in a state that provides those forms of relationship recognition, generally speaking, SSA is going to recognize your relationship as if you were married.
  • If you are married and were living in a state that recognizes marriage equality when you applied for Social Security benefits, or while your application was pending, SSA will honor your marriage even if you move.
  • If, however, none of the above apply (for example, if you’re married but have always been living in a state that does not recognize marriage equality), you will not receive spousal SSA benefits.  For example, if you have always been living in Biloxi, Mississippi, but flew to Washington, DC, just to get married, SSA will not recognize your marriage.


One final important message on this issue:  regardless of where you live, we recommend you apply for spousal Social Security benefits, as new or increased benefits will be granted retroactively.  If the law changes through legislation or litigation, you should get SSA benefits retroactive to the date of your application.

--Posted by Aaron Tax

August 14, 2014

Happy Birthday Social Security! Talking with Congressman Mark Takano (D-CA)

TakanoOn the occasion of Social Security’s 79th birthday on August 14th, we had a conversation with Congressman Mark Takano (D-CA) about how the Windsor decision impacted Social Security benefits for older adults. Last month, Takano introduced the Social Security and Medicare Parity Act, which would help couples in non-marriage states qualify for benefits even if the state they reside in doesn’t recognize the marriage.

Why is Social Security such an important program for older adults?

Millions of Americans contribute to Social Security during their working years and deserve to receive the benefits they have earned to help them manage their retirement. With the decline of defined benefit pension plans, Social Security benefits are a becoming even more of a lifeline for seniors from all walks of life. No senior should be denied these full benefits because of who they love.

Aren’t many LGBT older adults very well-off?   Do they even need Social Security?   In other words, why is Social Security so important for married same-sex couples?

The myth that LGBT seniors are better off is patently false. Statistics show that a lifetime of discrimination actually hurts earning power, makes LGBT seniors less likely to have a spouse’s income they can count on, and less likely to have children to help care for them in their old age. LGBT couples, just like all other Americans, have paid into Social Security and Medicare and deserve to receive the benefits they have earned in their retirement.

Didn’t the Windsor decision ensure that the federal government would treat married same-sex couples equally, regardless of where they live in the United States?

The Windsor decision was an historical day that paved the way for equal rights for all Americans no matter who they love. However, Windsor could not change everything overnight. While it overturned section three of the Defense of Marriage Act, the Department of Justice just concluded a year-long review of what the decision means for other federal statutes. While I and others continue to believe that the Social Security Administration has the discretion to provide spousal and survivor benefits regardless of where a same-sex couple lives, the Justice Department and the Social Security Administration have concluded that eligibility for benefits be based on the state in which the couple resides. That means that couples living in non-marriage states are still prevented from getting the benefits they have earned.

Can you please explain what issues married same-sex couples who live in non-marriage states currently face?  

Not only are couples in non-marriage states ineligible for certain Social Security and Medicare benefits, but a whole other host of federal benefits and protections. They don’t yet qualify for family medical leave to take care of a sick spouse, and veterans and their spouses don't receive the same spousal and survivor benefits as heterosexual couples.

Continue reading "Happy Birthday Social Security! Talking with Congressman Mark Takano (D-CA)" »

July 23, 2014

President Obama Signs Executive Order on LGBT Job Discrimination


SAGE was privileged to be in the room with President Obama on July 21, 2014, when, with the stroke of a pen, he put in place protections that will help countless of LGBT older adults.  In the executive order he signed, he ensured that transgender federal workers would join their lesbian, gay, and bisexual brothers and sisters in being protected against job discrimination based on their gender identity.   He also ensured that LGBT employees of federal contractors will be protected against discrimination.  Many LGBT older adults, after facing a life of discrimination and lower earnings, continue to work, to maintain their economic security.  As a result, it is welcome news that this generation, who fought to get out of the closet, will be able to bring their full selves to work, at more workplaces, without fear of discrimination.

--Posted by Aaron Tax