The day that Iowa’s primary results hit the news, another event almost got lost in the election uproar. The national unemployment rate has soared to a two-year high of 5 percent. Beyond what ENDA ought to be doing for us, I wonder if our community does enough to meet the employment needs of our own people.
We’ve been battling with mainstream interests over workplace issues – homophobia, domestic partner benefits, and especially ENDA and transgender inclusion in ENDA. Meanwhile we may be losing sight of another key employment battlefield. Today many seniors can’t retire -- they have to go on working at least part time. Rising costs of everything mean that their fixed income -- Social Security, pension, IRA or whatever -- isn’t enough to cover minimal needs any more. The gay community has an estimated 3 million seniors in it, and a growing percentage of these are unemployed or hurting for work. We also have our own aging baby boomers who will need to work. And those seniors include a percentage of aging transgender people who also need jobs.
Our needing-to-work seniors face some fierce ageist hostility in the gay world. And -- as we’ve learned from the ENDA fight -- a surprising number of LGBs harbor hostility and lack of understanding for TG/TS/IS people and don’t support the importance of transgender rights.
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire – meaning that these lethal biases surely figure in some LGBT hiring practices. It’s difficult to come up with statistics, but nobody can deny that the “young cutie” factor often influences hiring. The young cutie often gets the job, though he or she isn’t necessarily the best qualified. And we all know that sometimes an employer will find an excuse to lay off an elder employee and hire the young cutie. Then there’s the LGBT employer who quietly manages to avoid hiring a qualified transgender person because some of the other employees might feel “uncomfortable.”
Our people hope for jobs in our own community when they can’t, or don’t wish to, work in the mainstream. For sure, our community doesn’t abound in well-paying corporate jobs with benefits and pensions, because it’s so small-business-based. But it’s our obligation to do the best we can. And the LGBT business world can’t do its best unless we make sure that our own noses are clean on ENDA issues.
In recent years, the gay media have gotten better about covering senior issues. But they usually hew to pointing the finger at unfair treatment of our seniors by outside interests -- Social Security, health insurance, benefits, nursing home practices, etc. Seldom do they investigate the right -- or the need -- of LGBT seniors to keep on working!
Recently, I took a look-see through a lot of LGBT websites that express concern over general aging issues. Organizations for seniors include SAGE, GLEH and PrimeTimers. They deal with everything from caregivers to dating. Some community centers have local senior outreach programs. But I was surprised to see how little our Web resources say about the life-and-death need of some seniors to go on working.
As the U.S. recession deepens, we will be compelled to create more community job resources for our own people. Unfortunately the ENDA battle has resulted in people on fighting over specific categories of worker, each with its pros and cons. But ENDA ought to be about every human being’s right to have a job -- if that person needs to work to meet survival needs.
Copyright (c) 2008 by Patricia Nell Warren. All rights reserved.