17 posts categorized "Politics"

August 26, 2014

Recognizing Women's Equality Day

Index
5 years before suffrage.
Image from NYPL Digital Collection

Anyone over the age of 50―as I am―can realize how short a span, historically, a century is. And that makes one marvel that major events, like the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution granting women the right to vote, happened so recently. In fact, it was less than a century ago―August 26th, 1920―when Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed this amendment into law! It took 72 years from the time of the first major women’s rights conference in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848 to achieve this legal milestone. Of course, this represented significant progress for women’s rights, but was hardly tantamount to full equality.

To put the amendment’s passage in perspective, consider how much earlier other nations provided for women’s suffrage (which in some cases was not universal). For example, as early at 1718 Swedish taxpaying women who were members of city guilds were granted the right to vote locally and nationally (although the right was rescinded later). The United Kingdom in 1869 granted local voting rights to women (almost 60 years later, in 1928, the right was granted universally).

So when we mark the not-so-widely known Equality Day this August 26th, we may still claim, as the early feminist Alice Paul did after the 19th Amendment passed, that voting rights do not denote genuine equality. The right to vote is merely a step in the right direction. True equality would mean that all would be treated equally before the law regardless of race, gender, gender identity, national origin, color, ethnicity, religion, disability and other traits, without discrimination.

In order to rectify the limitations of the 19th Amendment, in 1923 Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman introduced the “Lucretia Mott Amendment,” later known as the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Although it passed both houses of Congress in 1972, it did not gain the needed ratification of 38 states to become law by the deadline in 1979. In fact, after 35 states did ratify the ERA, five of them later rescinded their votes. The major part of the ERA text concisely stated that “Equal rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.”

How can we mark Equality Day in the absence of legal protections like those that would’ve been afforded by the ERA? Our equality may still be imperfect, but this is an ideal moment to remind ourselves of the ideals we’re striving for, and what we have yet to achieve. Women remain underpaid and underprivileged socially and politically; despite our progress, many LGBT people also live with daily discrimination and prejudice; these experiences are often amplified for the people of color in our communities.

Now, as we evolve in this 21st century, let us dedicate ourselves to full equality for ourselves (marriage equality represent an excellent step, but it’s not the only one) and for others experiencing prejudice. In this effort, let us embrace those in our own community―such bisexual and transgender men and women―who emerge from another closet.

As the English author Gilbert K. Chesterton wrote, in another context, “We are all in this together and owe each other a terrible loyalty.”

--Posted by Felicia Sobel, Women’s Programming Coordinator

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)" »

January 23, 2014

LGBT Advocates Disappointed Rules for Community Care Fail to Protect LGBT Older Adults

The undersigned LGBT organizations are deeply disappointed that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced it will not add explicit nondiscrimination protections for LGBT and other consumers to Medicaid’s Home- and Community-Based Services (HCBS) program. Our organizations along with the National Senior Citizens Law Center, have urged HHS over the past three years to adopt these protections to ensure low-income older adults and people with disabilities can receive needed services and supports without fear of refusal, harassment, or other discrimination because of who they are. The protections were not included in a final rule issued on Thursday to strengthen standards for the long-running program.

HHS seemingly based its decision to reject these LGBT protections, which have been included in other HHS programs, on the notion that general nondiscrimination protections already exist. Despite being made aware of the critical need for explicit LGBT consumer protections, as well as protections on the basis of religion, marital status, and source of payment, HHS simply stated in a new HCBS regulation that these protections were "not necessary."

HHS's surprising statement that protections for LGBT older adults are "not necessary" is contradicted by reports from the Institute of Medicine and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which have found that discrimination against LGBT people in health settings is widespread. A survey of providers, LGBT consumers, and family members conducted with the National Senior Citizens Law Center found that most believed anti-LGBT discrimination was a problem in long-term care settings and many had witnessed discrimination. Failure to include explicit protections undermines efforts prevent anti-LGBT discrimination in home- and community-based care.

We call on HHS to take immediate action to ensure the health and safety of LGBT older adults and people with disabilities by addressing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in amended rule or guidance. We also strongly urge HHS to take action to address anti-LGBT discrimination in other health care settings, particularly hospitals and nursing homes. While we urge LGBT consumers who face discrimination in any health setting, including home- and community-based services, to file complaints with HHS on the ground of sex discrimination, explicit LGBT protections are needed to prevent mistreatment and denials of care.

  • Human Rights Campaign
  • FORGE
  • Lambda Legal
  • National Center for Transgender Equality
  • National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
  • Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE)
December 12, 2013

Social Security Update: Check out same-sex couples benefits!

2212726UPDATE: On December 16, 2013, Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, released a new statement on payments to same-sex married couples. Read it now.

As 2013 draws to a close, we want to highlight some important changes in Social Security that affects all older adults—including the LGBT community! Check out the following and stay informed. For a large list of Social Security resources and articles geared to LGBT older adults, visit the resource page at the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging.

News from the Social Security Administration (SSA):

  • The SSA announced on October 30, 2013 that for people who already receive a monthly Social Security benefit, the monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits will increase 1.5% in 2014.  The 1.5%cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits that more than 57 million Social Security beneficiaries receive in January 2014.  Increased payments to more than 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin on December 31, 2013.
  • Social Security is now processing some retirement spouse claims for same-sex couples and paying benefits where they are due. In the coming weeks and months, SSA will work with the Department of Justice to develop and implement additional policy and processing instructions. If you know someone who you believe may be eligible for Social Security benefits, we encourage you to tell them to apply now to protect against the loss of any potential benefits. The SSA will process claims as soon as additional instructions become finalized.  Information also will be posted on a web page dedicated to issues relevant to same-sex couples.  
  • The SSA is encouraging people to apply for a My Social Security account.  For people who already receive a monthly Social Security and/or SSI cash benefit, they may use their account to get proof of their monthly income without having to call or visit a local Social Security office!  They’ll also be able to change their address and direct deposit online!  If you need help, the SSA has created two fact sheets on creating an account and verifying benefits.

Interested in learning more? The official website of the Social Security Administration has a plethora of information about various programs and benefits with easy to follow instructions and guides.

 

December 10, 2013

International Human Rights Day: LGBT Around the World

MandelaquoteIn 1993, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action was adopted at the World Conference on Human Rights. This declaration reaffirmed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Charter and remains a blueprint for reaffirming human rights as a universal standard throughout the world. Today is International Human Rights Day and the U.N. is marking the 20th anniversary of the Vienna Declration. We recognize this day for its affect on promoting all freedoms--civil, political, economical, social and cultural--under a large umbrella. While sad, it almost seems appropriate that this day also marks the memorial to Nelson Mandela--that tireless fighter for human rights.

On this day, many are making a call for renewing a committment to LGBT rights. While we have much to celebrate in 2013, there is still progress to be made, both in the United States and around the world.

In the United States, 16 states have legal same-sex marriage and 33 states have same-sex marriage bans. Also, 21 states, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 17 states, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, outlaw discrimination based on gender identity or expression. We have to remember that these stats don't encompass the discrimination faced by the LGBTQ community every day in their schools, places of work or where they live.

According to Stonewall UK, "being gay is illegal in 78 countries across the world and being a lesbian is illegal in 49. In five countries same-sex sexual activity carries the death penalty.
Even where it’s legal to be gay other laws often stand in the way of equality. In some cases gay pride marches are not allowed and neither is literature that ‘promotes homosexuality’ - which often means it simply states its existence." Another breakdown from 76Crimes, lists 78 (plus 4) countries with criminal laws against sexual activity by LGBTI people.

On this International Human Rights Day, SAGE joins the chorus in calling for a better recognition of human rights for our community around the world and commends the work of the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission. We encourage folks to watch this excellent video from the United Nations and share.

 

November 8, 2013

SAGE Speaks at Senate Committee Meeting on Aging

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SAGE Executive Director, Michael Adams, sits next to Joe Baker, President of the Medicare Rights Center at the November 6th Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee.


On November 6, several leaders in the aging field met with the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee to discuss programs that are critical to the health and economic security of older Americans. SAGE Executive Director Michael Adams, one of the speakers at this meeting, highlighted the unique needs of LGBT older people and how federal programs can support healthy aging for all elders.

The Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee is dedicated to fostering dialogue between Senate Democrats and leaders from across the nation. Each year, the Steering Committee hosts numerous meetings with advocates, policy experts, and elected officials to discuss key priorities The Steering Committee is chaired by Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) and vice chaired by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). Fifteen senators participated in the November 6 meeting, including Harry Reid (D-NV), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and  Jeff Merkley (D-OR), lead sponsor of ENDA.

To read more about the meeting, visit the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee’s page. Photos from the event can be found here.

October 30, 2013

Senate Moves on Older Americans Act

FederalHeadToday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee began the process of marking-up (meaning debating, amending, or rewriting) S.1562, the Older Americans Act Reauthorization Act of 2013.

As you may know, the Older Americans Act (OAA) was scheduled to be reauthorized in 2011. This historically bi-partisan law, has, however, been trapped in the same partisanship that has gripped all of Washington.  

OAA is the most significant source of funding for programs that serve older Americans, and in 2011, when the reauthorization process began, SAGE and our advocacy partners, including HRC and members of the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations, consistently advocated to make it LGBT inclusive. During the reauthorization process, there were some high points for the LGBT community.  In 2012, Senator Michael Bennet (D. CO) introduced the LGBT Elder Americans Act of 2012, a set of amendments to the OAA that would have for the first time made the OAA explicitly LGBT inclusive. Senator Bernie Sanders (I. VT) included Senator Bennet’s LGBT-inclusive amendments in his larger, Democratic bill that he introduced in the last Congress and reintroduced during  Older Americans Month (May 2013). SAGE acknowledges and appreciates Senator Bennet and Senator Sanders’s support for LGBT older adults and the leadership they demonstrated in fighting for inclusion of these amendments throughout the reauthorization process. We'd also like to thank Chairman Tom Harkin (D. IA) and Senator Tammy Baldwin (D. WI) for their continued support of the LGBT amendments.

Continue reading "Senate Moves on Older Americans Act" »

October 1, 2013

How Will the Government Shutdown Impact Older Adults?

5885982The federal government shut down today, and many are wondering how this will affect their federal benefits. The short answer is that for now, most Americans who rely on federal benefit payments will be unaffected. Spending on programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and benefits for retired federal employees will continue.

Here are a few more questions and answers about programs that affect many older adults:

Would a shutdown put the brakes on implementing the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare?" No. The state-run exchanges for the uninsured would open as scheduled Tuesday. "The marketplaces will be open on Tuesday, no matter what, even if there is a government shutdown," President Obama said Friday.

Why not? Like Social Security or Medicaid, Obamacare is a permanent entitlement that isn't subject to annual funding by Congress. "Many of the core parts of the health care law are funded through mandatory appropriations and wouldn't be affected," Gary Cohen, the Health and Human Services Department official overseeing the health care rollout, said last week.

Would seniors continue to get Social Security benefits? Yes. Social Security is a mandatory spending program, and the people who send those checks would continue to work under a legal doctrine called "necessary implication."

Can I apply for Social Security benefits, appeal a denial of benefits, change my address or sign up for direct deposit? Yes.

Can I get a new or replacement Social Security card, benefit verification statement or earnings record correction? No.

Would the government continue to pay unemployment benefits? Yes. The Employment and Training Administration "will continue to provide essential functions, as occurred during the shutdown of 1995," according to the Department of Labor contingency plan.

Will I be able to get food stamps? Yes. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is funded through the Recovery Act and from funds that don't expire for another year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says.

What will happen to veterans receiving compensation for service- or combat-related wounds and injuries? The Department of Veterans Affairs said if the shutdown continues into late October, it will run out of money for compensation and pension checks to more than 3.6 million veterans who rely on the money to support themselves.

Will deceased veterans still be able to get a burial benefit? Yes. Burial benefits, headstones and death notices will still be available.

This Q&A was excerpted from the USA Today article, “66 questions and answers about the government shutdown.”  For a chart detailing the impact of the shutdown on various offices and functions, see “Government Shutdown: What’s Closed, What’s Open?” at CNN.

May 22, 2013

The Top 5 Interesting Things You Didn’t Know About the Older Americans Act (OAA)

This is a guest post by Aaron Tax, SAGE’s Director of Federal Government Relations.

May is Older Americans Month, a time to honor elders’ contributions to our communities. The official site encourages all of us to show our support for Older Americans Month by unleashing the power of age in our community. For the month of May, we will feature a story every Wednesday relevant to LGBT older Americans.

Senator Sanders Kick-starts OAA Reauthorization: Tomorrow, Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) will introduce a bill to reauthorize the the Older Americans Act (OAA).  Senator Sanders is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, which has jurisdiction over the reauthorization of the OAA. The bill will be introduced at 11am at the Dirksen Senate Office Building. The introduction will be a part of the Older Americans Summit that Senator Sanders and his colleagues are putting together to celebrate Older Americans Month and the bill introduction.

Learn more about the OAA and its implications for LGBT elders by clicking here.

The Top 5 Interesting Things You Didn’t Know About the Older Americans Act (OAA)

Continue reading "The Top 5 Interesting Things You Didn’t Know About the Older Americans Act (OAA)" »

May 20, 2013

Council Leaders Identify and Implement LGBT Specific Health Strategies

Chicago
Credit: Healthy Chicago LGBT Community Action Plan
The following is a guest post by Serena Worthington, SAGE's Director of Community Advocacy and Capacity Building.

Tomorrow begins a new adventure in community service for me. I’ll be attending the first meeting of the newly-formed Chicago LGBT Health Advisory Council which was created to “provide insight and input to the Department of Public Health on implementation of the LGBT Health Action Plan.” The LGBT Health Action Plan is an outline of 22 strategies designed to “improve the overall health of Chicago’s LGBT community.”

Our mayor, Rahm Emanuel, had this nice thing to say about the council.

"Chicago's strength is in the diversity of its communities, and I am committed to ensuring that all Chicagoans have access to the care and information they need to live healthy lives and contribute fully to the vibrancy of our city,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “This advisory council will lend important insight and knowledge to our efforts.”

I am joined by 15 talented and accomplished folks, some of whom I know already and some that I am excited to meet for the first time tomorrow. 

Continue reading "Council Leaders Identify and Implement LGBT Specific Health Strategies " »