As I was doing research for recent posts about Social Security (they are listed in the sidebar at the right), I kept thinking: Wow -- the kind of people this program aimed to help have so many of the characteristics of lesbian and gay elders!
Here's a passage from Nancy J. Altman's The Battle for Social Security that illustrates what I mean. She is describing the fate of old people before the insurance program was set up in 1935.
Society expected families to take care of their old people. For gay people, that has never worked so well. Gay people who had ever publicly lived out their orientation might have lost contact with their families. It was a price we paid for being different and ourselves. We weren't likely to go on to high earning careers; we worked in society's economic backwaters. We were very likely to grow old in need. And we couldn't expect our society to respect in any way the social networks we might have built over the years. For gay people, old age might indeed mean the poorhouse.
Social Security changed that by ensuring we'd receive old age benefits based on our working lives. It gave gay people a chance to imagine an independent end of life that was the natural continuance of their earlier years. Getting old might still be hard, but it needn't mean being uprooted and dumped in a barracks to die.
From this perspective, I was thrilled to learn that the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce was collecting signatures on a petition to Congress in support of Social Security. Their email explained cogently why protecting Social Security should be a priority for lesbian and gay people.
Yes. Protecting Social Security must be a gay issue.