What’s on the minds of older LGBT people? New information shows it’s money, and not just thinking about it, but worrying about it.
Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) hired NIelsen (the TV ratings people) and the Harris Poll to survey 2,376 LGBT people ages 45 to 75. It’s the first solid “gay vs. straight” data collected on LGBT seniors.
Previous studies told us financial problems are a big concern for 42% of LGBT elders, with 47% having less than $10,000 in savings and assets. The new study shows that actually, 51% of LGBT are concerned about having enough money to live on, compared to just 36% of the worrying non-LGBT folks.
We also discover that 67% of LGBT elders with incomes of less than $50,000 are concerned about cuts in Social Security and Medicare and nearly half of all gay seniors say they are worried they will outlive any money they have saved.
There are real money problems for our seniors. And it’s not because they wasted their money on too many weekends in Provincetown and trendy extravagances.
LGBT people, particularly those over 50, faced greater stigma and discrimination than LGBT people commonly do today. If you came out in the old days, bosses were more likely to find an excuse to fire you, and/or not hire you. There was, and still is, a “rainbow ceiling” that has kept LGBT people from career advancement, and therefore the steady income to set up plans to save for retirement.
This is also the generation that funded early gay efforts out of pocket. Too often they spent their own money caring for friends with AIDS, and ultimately paying funeral costs.
There are a lot of other valid reasons so many LGBT seniors are poor, but there aren’t very many solutions. The SAGE report suggests changes in government laws, programs, and in pensions and savings plans that better recognize gay relationships. That may help future generations, but not so much right now.
For now, it comes down to creating social opportunities that allow LGBT elders to expand their friends (and therefore support networks) and affordable types of housing where seniors can be surrounded by LGBT neighbors who can provide mutual help.
I have been following the HBO series Looking, and I have watched with interest two older gay men portrayed in the series. The oldest (say late 50’s) runs a flower shop and the younger (say 40’s) has drifted in his career, but would now like to run his own restaurant. The florist tries to help his younger boyfriend in a number of ways, and it gets complex, but for our purposes the takeaway is the lack of capital for very small business and the mentoring of older to younger in business.
So why not establish a revolving loan fund to make small business loans to LGBT people who want to start their own business? The idea is that small loans go out, and as payments are made there’s money for new loans. Funds to specifically assist minority businesses are not unusual, but LGBT isn’t usually considered part of that minority.
They could be micro loans. Just enough to get things started as a pop-up seller at special events or an on-line merchant selling value added items or services. It could be tied to hands-on advice from other LGBT seniors who have had their own business and know the ups and downs.
That would help seniors supplement their income to help them pay their rent and have enough food and medicine. It would help prevent isolation, and it could all be run by a gay-friendly organization that could also open other doors of opportunity and assistance.
Foundations and individual donors might provide the starting loan funds. This is the kind of program that might be funded by the economic development programs promoted by Governor Andrew Cuomo, and it would take only a teeny-weeny bite from the budget
We need creative ways to help the LGBT seniors who were in the vanguard of securing today’s rights. These are the folks who took part in the first parades, who carried the signs in the demonstrations, and who suffered personal losses for the right to be different. This is one idea. What’s yours?
Rod Hensel is based in Buffalo, NY where he was a gay activist and Mattachine Society chapter president in the ’70’s and ’80’s. He later co-founded Stonewall Democrats of Western New York. He is currently helping to organize the SIlver Pride Project of the Pride Center of Western New York to address issues of concern to LGBT seniors, and writes on LGBT senior issues for Buffalo’s Loop Magazine. You can find him at facebook.com/rodney.hensel.