20 posts categorized "Politics"

February 18, 2015

Taking our Housing Initiative to The White House

As the number of Americans age 65 and older surges over the next few decades, the number of LGBT older adults is estimated to double to 3 million by 2030. By this year – 2015 – one in two individuals who are HIV positive in this country will be over age 50.  Many struggle to find welcoming and affordable housing. 

On Tuesday, February 10, 2015, the White House, SAGE, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) hosted the National LGBT Elder Housing Summit.

(L-R) Kathy Greenlee, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Aging, Michael Adams, Executive Director, SAGE and Nora Super, Executive Director of the White House Conference on Aging

We looked at the National LGBT Elder Housing Summit as a unique opportunity for the White House to bring together the LGBT community and the aging network to discuss the challenges communities across the country have faced in providing affordable, welcoming, and supportive housing to LGBT older adults and older adults with HIV.  The summit also provided an opportunity to hear from panelists from Washington and across the nation to see how they have successfully begun to meet those challenges.  And together, with an eye towards the future, we explored how federal housing policy and those at the state and local level can shape how we address these challenges in the years to come.

The day included a number of panels, with participation by experts from across the country, including panels entitled:

  • Overview of the Housing Needs of LGBT Elders and the Importance of Training Providers
  • Building Housing - LGBT Older Adult Community Housing
  • Educating Consumers on the Legal Landscape Regarding Housing Rights for LGBT Older Adults. How to Find—and Advocate for—LGBT-Friendly Housing in all its Forms
  • Expanding Services - Best Practices in Services and Programs that Support LGBT Older People with their Housing Challenges
  • Changing Policy – Creating Housing, Financial Security, and an Inclusive Safety Net

We had the pleasure of hearing Jennifer Ho, Senior Advisor on Housing and Services, US Department of Housing and Urban Development, deliver a keynote address on HUD’s interest in providing welcoming and affordable housing.

And we had the opportunity to host a White House Conference on Aging Listening Session, conducted by Kathy Greenlee, Administrator of the Administration for Community Living and Assistant Secretary for Aging, and Nora Super, Executive Director, White House Conference on Aging.  LGBT older adults and advocates shared their vision of a successful White House Conference on Aging directly with Administrator Greenlee and Executive Director Super.

In sum, the day provided a unique opportunity for advocates to share their thoughts with policy makers, and for policy makers to share their latest thoughts with individuals both personally and professionally invested in improving the housing security of LGBT older adults.

February 17, 2015

SAGE's Statement on the OAA Reauthorization

While SAGE is deeply disappointed that amendments to make the Older Americans Act (OAA) LGBT-inclusive are not advancing in the new session of Congress, we nonetheless support the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee’s decision to move forward on reauthorization of the Act. 

The committee’s vote demonstrates bipartisan support for this critical law, which contributes in important ways to the ability of Americans to age in their communities with the services and supports that they need.  We applaud members of Congress – including Senator Bennet, Senator Baldwin, Senator Sanders, and Representative Bonamici – who have championed much-needed amendments to the Act that would have designated LGBT older adults as a population of greatest social need and required more data collection and accountability to ensure that the OAA’s critical services and supports are LGBT-inclusive. 

While we are disappointed the bill that is currently advancing will not include these important amendments, SAGE recognizes that continued delays in reauthorization of the Older Americans Act will hurt older people throughout the country without increasing the chances for LGBT inclusion.   SAGE will continue to work energetically to draw attention to the unique needs of LGBT older adults and advocate aggressively that all relevant federal laws and programs address these needs.

For more information on SAGE's work on the OAA, click here.

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 26, 2014

Recognizing Women's Equality Day

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
  • 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

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" »