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SPECIAL REPORT In their own words: elders facing poverty, ageism

Older LGBT adults on unemployment, fears for future

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Mary Paradise, Sage, agism, gay news, Washington Blade
Mary Paradise, Sage, ageism, gay news, Washington Blade

‘They never say ‘you’re too old.’ They say, ‘we want someone who graduated more recently,’ said D.C. resident Mary Paradise of her prolonged job search. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part look at how poverty affects elder members of the LGBT community and part of a yearlong Blade focus on poverty. To share your ideas or personal story, visit us on Facebook or email [email protected]. Click here to read previous installments.

 

Today — and every day for the next 16 years — 10,000 baby boomers, members of the generation born between 1946 and 1964, will turn 65, according to the Pew Research Center. About 1.5 million gay, lesbian and bisexual elders in the United States are gay. By 2030, that number is expected to increase to nearly 3 million, according to a report by Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), the Movement Advancement Project and Center for American Progress.

One in six Americans over 65 lives in poverty, according to the Congressional Research Service.

“For LGBT older adults, a lifetime of employment discrimination, among other factors, contribute to disproportionately high poverty rates,” the SAGE website states.

LGBT elders living in or near poverty aren’t just statistics. The Blade interviewed several LGBT elders, aged 50 and older, from St. Louis to Chicago to New York City to Washington, D.C. Here are their stories:

A little peanut butter, maybe some pizza or Ramen noodles is a typical meal for Robyn Sullivan, a 57-year-old transgender woman living in New York City, who struggles to pull together $25 a week for food. In the past, she’s lived in homeless shelters. Now, she lives in a cockroach infested third floor walk-up with four gender non-conforming struggling artists.

“This is the hardest place in the country to live if you don’t make tons of money,” said Sullivan, who suffers from clinical depression and arthritis. “They wanted me to work one day a week for eight hours at a construction site with my limitations to qualify for $190 of food stamps. Working there would be too dangerous.”

Her plight is common among transgender people, Sullivan said. “Dealing with transphobia is nothing I can win at.”

In the 1990s, Sullivan was a skilled software project manager. “I used to make six figures,” she said. “When I was living as a white male professional, I was getting privilege far beyond what any human being deserves. Then I needed to transition and there was the downturn in Silicon Valley.”

After a couple of years, her savings were gone.

“As you go along into poverty, there are things that make people avoid you,” said Sullivan, who now works part-time as a receptionist for SAGE. “I wasn’t hired for a job around the corner from here. They said I wasn’t trustworthy because I lived in a homeless shelter,” she said.

Sullivan encounters not only transphobia but ageism. “When you’re past 50, no company with a retirement plan will hire you,” Sullivan said.

Even with all that she endures, Sullivan says she doesn’t harbor regrets. “When I came out as a trans woman, I felt like I was the woman I was,” she said. “I chose to stop living a lie.  Knowing what I know now, I doubt I would have done anything differently.”

It’s not always been as good for him as it is now, 70-year-old Roger Beyers of Chicago told the Blade. But “nobody ever said, life’s going to be a bed of roses,” he said.

Beyers, who retired at 66 after working for 40 years for Jewel, a Chicago area grocer, is HIV positive.

“My income is less than $12,000 per year,” he said. “My housing is subsidized by Chicago House. Before I was admitted to Chicago House, I was on the verge of homelessness. I’m on Medicare and Medicaid.”

Medicaid pays for his HIV medication, Beyers said. “If I had to pay for it, it would cost $18,000. I couldn’t afford it,” he said. “If it were to collapse, I’d be in a fragile position.”

Though he struggles with issues of economic insecurity, he feels that he’s overcoming some of them, Beyers said. He recently started a part-time internship with the Center on Halsted in Chicago.

“My financial situation has dramatically changed,” Beyers said. “There’s a world of difference between living on Social Security and having money left over at the end of the month.”

For one day a week at the Center, he assists with an HIV counseling hotline. “I love it,” Beyers said. “I can say to an HIV-positive person: ‘I’ve been there, done that and survived it all.’”

He finds strength and joy from his boyfriend Eduardo. “A shout-out for my boyfriend! I may end up marrying this man,” he said.

Mary Paradise, 62, a Capital Pride board member and Washington, D.C. resident, has been looking for work for more than a year. She worked as a nurse for 42 years. Paradise, while working as a health marketing consultant, was laid off due to downsizing. Throughout her job search, she’s often encountered ageism, Paradise said.

“They never say ‘you’re too old.’ They say, ‘we want someone who graduated more recently’ or ‘you’re over qualified,’” she said. “I say to them, ‘you must want someone who’s younger.’”

It gets discouraging, Paradise said. She’s used up her savings and in three months her unemployment benefits will run out, unless Congress extends the benefits. “It gets scary,” Paradise said, “it’s a humbling experience. I’ve worked all my life. For Congress to think I’m lazy is insulting.”

But Paradise is optimistic. She volunteers at her church. “My faith is such that I believe I will be taken care of if I just keep moving forward,” she said. “I have friends who are wonderfully supportive. I have some job leads. Something will come my way that’s a perfect fit.”

Barbara Woodruff, ageism, gay news, Washington Blade

Barbara Woodruff, 64, of St. Louis says she gets by on her $633 Social Security check each month.

Like many baby boomers, Barbara Woodruff, 64, of St. Louis thought that she had plenty of money put away for retirement. But like far too many people, especially lesbians, she found herself with no savings when she reached retirement age, Woodruff said. She gets by on her monthly $633 Social Security check. Fortunately, Woodruff says, she has Medicare and Medicaid.

“Thank God, that paid for my medication when my thyroid went haywire,” she said. “I’m fortunate. I pay $202 in rent for a nice one-bedroom apartment. It’s HUD-subsidized through the Cardinal Ritter Senior Services housing program.”

Woodruff’s partner of 20 years died in a boating accident in 1988. “When she passed, I lost the house. It was in her name. We didn’t think about those things then,” she said.

Over the years, Woodruff has done everything from working in a nursing recruitment office to running, with a business partner, an event designing business to clerking at a convenience store. “You do what you have to do to put food on the table,” she said.

For several years, Woodruff stopped working to take care of her now deceased mother.  “Her Social Security was very little. But I’d do it again,” she said.

Because of her low income, Woodruff doesn’t go out to eat much. “The LGBT community is very supportive here. There’s a great lesbian hangout. I like to see my friends there. I can’t afford to go there now,” she said. “I eat less meat and a lot more fresh fruit and veggies for my health — meat’s expensive.”

Without the social safety net of health insurance and her housing subsidy, she doesn’t know if she’d be alive, Woodruff said.

“I wouldn’t do myself in,” she said. “My friends would make sure I’d have a place to live. I’d be grateful to have a room in their house. But it wouldn’t be my home.”

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Adrian Salsgiver

    March 27, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    To whom does one turn when your rent goes up faster than your income? The system is designed to hurt people, especially gay seniors who do not have children to help them.

    • El Dorado

      March 27, 2014 at 9:34 pm

      Even having children doesn’t guarantee they can help you much if at all. They maybe just as financially strapped as you if not more so or not have the room for you to live with them if they have a family. Whatever happened to rent control to help the poor and income strapped live?

      All the major cities are undergoing rapid gentrification screwing lower income people who can’t afford to buy or the increasing cost of renting. Meanwhile, politicians refuse to pass laws making sure everyone can afford decent housing depending on their income level.

  2. El Dorado

    March 27, 2014 at 9:29 pm

    Ageism is problem for everyone despite sexual orientation or gender identify. A lot of people over 50 are afraid of being laid off and not being able to find a job because they are perceived to want too much money compared to just hiring someone inexperienced and training them. Older people are perceived to be more difficult to learn new things compared to younger people. I’ve seen people being forced to either take an early retirement program or risk being laid off even after decades of working somewhere.

    Technology keeps changing rapidly and keeping your skills up to date is important. Too many employers are sitting pretty knowing there are still a lot of people looking for work. You’re also competing with people fed up with being exploited at work and looking for other opportunities to get out of their rut. Employers are creating more and more hurdles for you to jump over just to keep your job. It takes a toll on you as you get older.

    Couple that with the fact that saving for retirement is pretty much all on you now. The best you can hope for now is a 401K match from your employer. Your savings can be derailed with bad performance in these accounts.

  3. Ellyn Ruthstrom

    April 4, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    "About 1.5 million gay, lesbian and bisexual elders in the United States are gay." This is such an odd statement, it must be an editorial mistake. Bisexual people are not gay. What is this trying to say?

    The Bisexual Resource Center will be leading a workshop about bisexual elders at this conference in May: http://www.lgbtagingproject.org/2013/10/04/lgbt-elders-in-an-ever-changing-world-third-annual-conference/

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National

Colin Powell, leaving mixed legacy on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ dies at 84

Key figure once opposed gays in military, then backed review

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gay news, Washington Blade, Colin Powell, gay marriage
Colin Powell leaves behind a mixed legacy on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Colin Powell, the first ever Black secretary of state who served in top diplomatic and military roles in U.S. administrations, died Monday of coronavirus at age 84, leaving behind a mixed record on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The world continues to grapple with the pandemic and the public grows increasingly frustrated with its persistence as many remain unvaccinated despite the wide availability of vaccines. Powell was fully vaccinated, according to a statement released upon his death. Powell reportedly suffered from multiple myeloma, a condition that hampers an individual’s ability to combat blood infections.

Rising to the top of the military as chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell supported in 1993 Congress moving forward with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a law that barred openly gay people from serving in the U.S. military.

During a key moment congressional testimony, Powell and other top military officials were asked whether or not allowing gay people in the military would be compatible with military readiness. Each official, including Powell,” responded “incompatible.” Congress would enact “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that year.

Things changed when President Obama took office 15 years later and advocates for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” were eager to claim Powell’s voice among their ranks. After all, Powell was highly respected as a bipartisan voice after having served as secretary of state in the administration of George W. Bush and endorsing Obama in the 2008 election.

After the Obama administration in 2010 announced it would conduct a review of the idea of allowing gay people to serve openly in the military, Powell came out in support of that process. Advocates of repeal called that a declaration of reversal, although the statement fell short of a full support for gay people serving openly in the military.

“In the almost 17 years since the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ legislation was passed, attitudes and circumstances have changed,” General Powell said in a statement issued by his office, adding, “I fully support the new approach presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee this week by Secretary of Defense Gates and Admiral Mullen.”

Congress acted to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the policy was lifted in 2011. At the time, Powell was widely considered a supporter of ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and publicly counted among supporters of repeal, although the Blade couldn’t immediately find any statements from him to that effect.

In 2012, Powell had similar vaguely supportive words on same-sex marriage, saying he had “no problem with it” when asked about the issue.

“As I’ve thought about gay marriage, I know a lot of friends who are individually gay but are in partnerships with loved ones, and they are as stable a family as my family is, and they raise children,” Powell said. “And so I don’t see any reason not to say that they should be able to get married.”

The Blade also couldn’t immediately find any statement from Powell on transgender people serving in the military. After the Obama administration in 2016 lifted decades-old regulations against transgender service, former President Trump issued a ban by tweet the following year. President Biden reversed that ban and allowed transgender people to serve and enlist in the military in his first year in office.

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Texas

Texas House approves anti-trans youth sports bill

HB 25 now heads to state Senate

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GenderCool Project leader and Trans activist Landon Richie (Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)

Texas House Republicans were able to push through the anti-trans youth sports measure Thursday evening after hours of emotional and at times rancorous debate, passing the bill in a 76-54 vote along party lines.

Under the provisions of Texas House Bill 25, all trans student athletes in grades K-12 will be prohibited from competing on sports teams aligned with their gender identity. The bill will now head to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.

The Texas Tribune reported that the University Interscholastic League, which governs school sports in Texas, already requires that an athlete’s gender be determined by the sex listed on their birth certificate. Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 has said the bill would simply “codify” existing UIL rules.

However, UIL recognizes any legally modified birth certificates. That policy could accommodate someone who may have had their birth certificate changed to match their gender identity, which can sometimes be an arduous process.

HB 25 would not allow recognition of these legally modified birth certificates unless changes were made because of a clerical error. It’s not clear though how it will be determined if a birth certificate has been legally modified or not. According to the UIL, the process for checking student birth certificates is left up to schools and districts, not the UIL the Tribune reported.

“To say that tonight’s passage of HB 25 is devastating is an understatement. For the past 10 grueling, exhausting, and deeply traumatic months, trans youth have been forced to debate their very existence—only to be met by the deaf ears and averted eyes of our state’s leaders,” Landon Richie, a GenderCool Project leader, University of Houston student and Transactivist told the Washington Blade after the vote.

“Make no mistake: This bill will not only have detrimental impacts on trans youth, who already suffer immense levels of harassment and bullying in schools, but also on cisgender youth who don’t conform to Texas’s idea of ‘male’ or ‘female.’ To trans kids everywhere: you belong, you are loved, you are valued, you are deserving of dignity, respect, care and the ability to live freely as your true and authentic selves, no matter where you are. We will never stop fighting for trans lives and a future where trans kids are unequivocally and unwaveringly celebrated for who they are,” Richie said.

“The cruelty of this bill is breathtaking, and the legislators who are pushing it forward are doing irreparable harm to our state. Texas is a place where people value freedom and respect for diversity. This bill is a betrayal of those cherished values, and future generations will look back on this moment in disbelief that elected officials supported such an absurd and hateful measure,” Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights told the Blade. “The families of these kids deserve better, and the burden is now on the rest of us to do everything in our power to stop this dangerous bill now,” he added.

During the debate on the measure, state Rep. James Talarico, (D-Round Rock), a former middle school teacher, began his remarks by apologizing to the trans kids and families who have gone to the Capitol time and time again this year. He tells the chamber he speaks now as a legislator, and educator, and a Christian.

He quoted Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 who said “if one girl wins a game, it’s worth it.” He says he has a different moral yardstick. “If one trans kid dies for a trophy, this bill is grotesque.”

He ended speaking to his “fellow believers” in the chamber. “The worst part in these hearings have been in hearing the Bible used against trans kids to support these bills. Even tonight, ‘God’s law’ was used to present an amendment.” He then quoted the first two lines of the Bible, where God is referred to with two different Hebrew words, one masculine/one feminine. “God is non-binary.” He then prevented an interruption in the chamber and continued telling trans kids that he loves them.

Fellow Democratic state Rep. Jessica González, (D-Dallas County), vice-chair of the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus asked the chamber how many trans Texas kids they are willing to hurt. She reminded her fellow representatives that cisgender women and girls will also be hurt by the bill. She shared a personal story about being outed in high school by a friend, having her locker, home, and car vandalized and losing all of her friends. “Kids are cruel.”

González told lawmakers that her brother encouraged her to try out for soccer, and she was bullied with comments like “shouldn’t she be trying out for the boys’ team.” She went from feeling a bit accepted to being an outsider again. She then reflected on carrying those feelings into adulthood and said that this bill will have long-term affects on trans kids. She asked legislators to listen to the stories of the trans kids who have bravely testified, saying kids will contemplate suicide or complete suicide.

Representative Diego Bernal, (D-San Antonio), told the chamber that some representatives can’t wrap their heads around knowing that there is no problem but there is *real* harm to trans kids, and for whatever reason, that’s not enough it seems to stop moving these bills.

He said that he has heard “if they already have mental health issues and suicide ideation, this can’t make it worse” and “if the debate is harming them, let’s just vote.” The he breaks down the Texas statute’s definition of bullying, telling lawmakers, “The bullying statute doesn’t have an intent requirement. It doesn’t matter if you don’t mean to cause them harm. We are bullying these students. Know that by law … our own definitions and our own words, we are. And we don’t have to.”

“Texas lawmakers voted today to deliberately discriminate against transgender children. Excluding transgender students from participating in sports with their peers violates the Constitution and puts already vulnerable youth at serious risk of mental and emotional harm,” Adri Perez, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas said in a statement to the Blade.

“There is no evidence that transgender kids pose any threat. It is indefensible that legislators would force transgender youth and their families to travel to Austin to defend their own humanity, then blatantly ignore hours of testimony about the real damage this bill causes. Trans kids and their families deserve our love and support—they’ve been fighting this legislation for months. Texans will hold lawmakers accountable for their cruelty,” she added.

The statewide LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Texas in a tweet after the vote said; ” We will not stop fighting to protect transgender children.” Then added “We’ll continue to educate lawmakers—replacing misinformation with real stories—and demand the statewide and federal nondiscrimination protections we need to prevent further harms.”

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National

LGBTQ Youth web resource gone after Texas GOP candidate complained

Removal of the LGBTQ youth resource webpage appeared to be strictly political the Houston Chronicle reported

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Anti-LGBTQ Republican Don Huffines (Screenshot via Twitter)

AUSTIN – A late August video tweet from a wealthy Dallas-based real estate development company executive and conservative Republican gubernatorial challenger, blamed fellow Republican incumbent Texas Governor Greg Abbott for endorsing an LGBTQ+ agenda, because of the existence of a state online resource webpage for LGBTQ youth.

Within hours it was pulled down by the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services, (DFPS) the agency responsible for the page.

In an article published Tuesday, the Houston Chronicle reported that Don Huffines claimed tax dollars were being used to “advocate for transgender ideology.” Huffines also went on to say that DFPS was publishing “disturbing information about our youth.”

“They’re talking about helping empower and celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally, non-heterosexual behavior. I mean really? This is Texas. These are not Texas values. These are not Republican Party values, but these are obviously Greg Abbott’s values,” 

A message on the website states that the previous content is now under review.

According to the Chronicle, the website for the Texas Youth Connection, a division of Family and Protective Services that steers young people to various resources, including education, housing and those on its LGBTQ page as they prepare for life after foster care. It was replaced by a message that states, “The Texas Youth Connection website has been temporarily disabled for a comprehensive review of its content. This is being done to ensure that its information, resources, and referrals are current.”

LGBTQ+ activists and advocates are furious. Among the resources on the page for LGBTQ+ youth were critical information including for housing and information for suicide prevention and crisis assistance.

GenderCool Youth Leader, Trans rights activist and University of Houston student Landon Richie told the Blade Tuesday;

“This is deplorable. To Governor Abbott, LGBTQ+ youth are nothing more than pawns on a political chessboard. Despite his cries of protection and fairness in justification of this session’s unprecedented attacks on LGBTQ+ — especially trans — youth, it has never truly been about any of those things; it has always been about his power.

Now more than ever, LGBTQ+ youth deserve safety, protection, support, and affirmation from the state — this year alone, the Trevor Project received more than 10,800 crisis contacts from LGBTQ young people in Texas looking for support, as a result of this legislative session. LGBTQ+ youth deserve better than to be treated like they are as easily discardable as a webpage,” Richie said.

Shannon Minter, the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights reacted telling the Blade in an emailed statement:

“Helping LGBTQ youth and their families prevent suicide is not a partisan issue, and any elected official who seeks to make it one has lost any sense of shame. This action by Governor Abbott is appalling and will needlessly harm vulnerable children and families who urgently need support.”

Removal of the page appeared to be strictly political the Chronicle reported.

Patrick Crimmins, the department spokesman, told the Chronicle that the review “is still ongoing” but declined to answer questions seeking more detail about why the website was removed or whether it had anything to do with Huffines.

But Family and Protective Services communications obtained through a public records request show that agency employees discussed removing the “Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation” page in response to Huffines’ tweet, shortly before taking it offline,” the paper wrote.

More telling was the events leading the page’s removal said the paper:

Thirteen minutes after Huffines’ video went up, media relations director Marissa Gonzales emailed a link to Crimmins, the agency’s communications director, under the subject line “Don Huffines video accusing Gov/DFPS of pushing liberal transgender agenda.”

FYI. This is starting to blow up on Twitter,” Gonzales wrote.

Crimmins then queried Darrell Azar, DFPS’ web and creative services director, about who oversees the page. “Darrell — please note we may need to take that page down, or somehow revise content,” he wrote.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth weighed in on the Chronicle’s reporting in an emailed statement to the Blade.

LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the child welfare system — and those who have been in foster care report significantly higher rates of attempting suicide. It is unconscionable that the Texas state government would actively remove vital suicide prevention resources from its website for the sole purpose of appeasing a rival politician. Mental health and suicide prevention are nonpartisan,” said Casey Pick, Senior Fellow for Advocacy and Government Affairs. “This story sends a terrible message to LGBTQ youth in Texas and will only contribute to the internalization of stigma and shame. We should be expanding access to support services for this group, not erasing what resources LGBTQ youth have to reach out for help.” 

The Chronicle reported that the deleted webpage also included links to the Texas chapters of PFLAG, a nationwide LGBTQ organization; a “national youth talk line” to discuss gender and sexual identity and various other issues; and LGBTQ legal services.

Huffines said the page also linked to a website operated by the Human Rights Campaign, a politically active LGBTQ advocacy group that he called “the Planned Parenthood of LGBT issues.”

Data on Texas:

  • Between January 1 and August 30, 2021, The Trevor Project received more than 10,800 crisis contacts (calls, texts, and chats) from LGBTQ young people in Texas looking for support. More than 3,900 of those crisis contacts (36%) came from transgender or nonbinary youth.
  • Crisis contacts from LGBTQ young people in Texas seeking support have grown over 150% when compared to the same time period in 2020.
  • While this volume of crisis contacts can not be attributed to any one factor (or bill), a qualitative analysis of the crisis contacts found that:
    • Transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas have directly stated that they are feeling stressed, using self-harm, and considering suicide due to anti-LGBTQ laws being debated in their state.
    • Some transgender and nonbinary youth have expressed fear over losing access to sports that provide important acceptance in their lives.

Additional Research: 

  • The Trevor Project estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth (13-24) seriously consider suicide each year in the U.S. — and at least one attempts suicide every 45 seconds.
  • The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, with more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth having seriously considered. 

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