Editors' Note: Guest blogger Tanner Effinger is a new activist from in the wake of Proposition 8 in California. He founded the Postcards to the President Campaign, was on the Executive Committee for the National Equality March, is on the board for Equality Across America, and now works for MZA Events and Rock for Equality.
I would be lying if I said that five months ago when I stood on stage at the National Equality March and echoed a cry for Full Federal Equality, that I knew all of the details of the 1,138 benefits and responsibilities applied to federal marriage. Since the march, Social Security Benefits are among those that I now understand, and which I believe urgently need our attention. Rock for Equality is a new national initiative that aims to dramatically increase awareness of this little-known, unfair, and often perilous form of discrimination. And as is my preferred form of lobbying, I'm ready to get on the streets about it.
We will rally in Los Angeles on Sunday, April 11 to demand equal Social Security benefits for America's same-sex couples.
When I first started working on Rock for Equality, I didn't know much about Social Security discrimination, let alone the intricacies of Social Security policy... Here's what I know now: Virtually all workers pay into Social Security. This money is supposed to protect us from becoming destitute in our old age. It is also supposed to help take care of our partner--but such benefits are presently available to our partner only if she/he is of the opposite sex. For those LGBT seniors who would be eligible for Social Security Survivors Benefits, the result of this discrimination can mean the difference between a comfortable retirement and a frighteningly unstable future. How have we been so blind as to not include our elderly community in this struggle?
As Social Security discrimination is one of the most under-recognized issues in the LGBT movement, I knew my work would be cut out for me. I studied up on the specifics of this harsh discrimination and made my way to a Stonewall Dems meeting to spread the word about Rock for Equality. After my well-received presentation, as I packed my things to leave, an elderly gentleman stopped me to tell me his story. His partner passed away six years ago and his Social Security alone wasn't enough to cover their modest two bedroom apartment. As a last resort he packed what was left of his memories and moved in with his son, where he now lives. On a daily basis he feels guilt that he has burdened his family, combined with the heartache he feels for his lost partner. He said that until I came in with my presentation, he didn't even know that what he experienced had anything to do with discrimination. He thought that, for him, this was simply an unfortunate hand he'd been dealt.
The system should provide a decent "base level benefit" for all older Americans, regardless of what they earned during their working years. In a country as advanced as ours, no senior citizen should be forced to live their twilight years in poverty. But even if that kind of compassionate policy never comes to pass, same-sex couples should be treated equally to opposite-sex couples when it comes to Social Security benefits. President Obama has long said he supports such equity, as do most of our allies in Congress. In some cases, even the very people who oppose our freedom to marry support equal federal benefits. But this kind of discrimination has hardly been on the radar, as Congress has focused on DADT and ENDA.
The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, working in coalition with the AIDS Community Action Foundation, hope to change this. Rock for Equality is designed to educate people about this horrible form of discrimination and the terrible toll it takes on LGBT surviving spouses. Many of us are also raising money as part of our participation in the event. The funds we raise will help wage the most powerful campaign possible and support the effort to change the discriminatory Social Security laws.
We will meet in Los Angeles on April 11 for a rally in front of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. Then we will take to the streets for a one-mile march down Hollywood Blvd. to a protest demonstration at the nearby Social Security office. Together we will fill the streets and demand full equality for all LGBT Americans.
As a younger generation of activists step up for their future, we cannot leave behind our senior community. They need our voices.