Guest Blogger

Rock for Equality: Social Security discrimination

Filed By Guest Blogger | March 20, 2010 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: National Equality March, Rock for Equality, social security benefits, social security inequality, Tanner Effinger

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.

Tanner_Effinger.jpgI 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.

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Actually, Tanner,

Rock for Equality misrepresents the situation. Bilerico's very own Nancy Polikoff has written insightfully on this campaign. The link to her piece is below, but here are some relevant highlights:

"...there's an enormous problem with this action; its success would help only one subset of same-sex couples, those in which one partner earns most of the income. All the other same-sex couples would continue to face the discrimination that equal earning heterosexual couples now face. They put more into the system and get less out of it than couples who fit the one breadwinner model of 1939, the year spousal benefits were added to Social Security."

"But to support Rock for Equality I would have to say that I want same-sex couples in which one partner has earned most of the income to get more out of Social Security than same-sex couples where the partners have similar incomes. And I don't want that."

You can read the rest here:

Let's educate ourselves on the facts and focus on social justice instead of blindly following the mainstream organisations. Like the famous estate tax which only affects estates valued at over $3.5 million, as Polikoff's work also indicates (and let's face it, estates worth that much SHOULD be taxed), this is something that needs to be revamped, not something that needs to be preserved so that the few may benefit over the many.

I remember reading Nancy's post, too. Thanks, Yasmin, for doing the cross-referencing. I agree that we don't necessarily want "equality" in those areas where the system is all screwed up in the way it treats even straight people. Instead, we should work to fix it properly for everyone --- and that is a great way for us to develop some good allies.

Rick Sours | March 20, 2010 4:29 PM

Even if they are legally married, Lesbian and Gay male couples are not entitled to survivor benefits for Social Security or many pension and retirement plans (including Federal retirements). Personally I feel many within the LBGT community totally dismiss this issue or concern as being of any real importance.

My Partner and I have seen or heard first hand how the death of a Partner has seriously financially affected the other surviving Partner.

I found out so quickly about Social Security INequity. When my partner Lisa died in 2007 in Miami while on vacation. I was left mid-stream in our life plan. We have 4 adopted children, I had spent that past 20 yrs working and getting 2 masters to further my career until 1999 I was dx w/ MS. Then I began to have a harder and harder time. The fall of 06 , Lisa went back to school to get her masters in teachign - so that we could start to swap roles so that I could stay home and Lisa would begin working then Bam.. Lisa dies suddenly in 2007. The children receiver her death benefit, thankfully but it doesn't cover nearly what she made even babysitting for friends and I was denied her spousal benefits. So I was forced to keep working until finally the MS and other health concerns made it impossible in 08 - so the kids and I try to life off about 1/4 of what I used to make as a Master's level Social Worker. And no other income. However had we been married, I would recieve Lisa's spousal benefit and while it would still be difficult, I would have to make choices between which bills to pay each month.