January 19, 2016
By Bruce Williams
At 68 years old, having led a responsible and productive life, I find myself living in poverty with the prospects for the final third of my existence only getting worse. I wake each day only to hope that I will die before my funds and limited resources run out completely. I also find that I am in the company of hundreds of thousands of other LGBT seniors who, through no fault of their own, are in the same tragic and inhumane situation.
Putting aside any pride that I once may have had, I share my story in an effort to create an awareness of these inequities that have devastated the current generation of LGBT seniors.
I have worked since I was 12 years old: part-time when school was in session and full-time each weekend, during every summer recess and every day of each holiday vacation. I have paid into the Social Security system for well over 50 years — over one half of a century! At 21 years old, I assumed the responsibility for raising my three brothers and helped to care for my mom until her death from lung cancer.
In my professional career, I have gone from cleaning dirty toilets at minimum wage to serving as the executive director of a continuous care retirement community with some 500 residents and nearly 200 employees. In the late 1990s, I was earning a very comfortable six-figure salary. I have led a frugal life in an attempt to build a nest egg for my own golden years.
But LGBT seniors of today have endured a past that was and still is not at all conducive to planning and providing for a comfortable and secure retirement existence. During the working years of today’s LGBT seniors, there were four fatal bullets that prevented our financial success: We were refused employment solely on the basis of our sexual orientation, we were paid less money for equal work, we were denied promotions, and we were fired with no recourse at the whim of ignorant employers. Fortunately I was able to dodge the first three bullets, but that was only to tragically fall victim to the fourth.
I was fired because of my sexual orientation less than two months before my 25th anniversary of employment. After dedicating nearly a quarter of a century of my life to the same company, I found myself unemployed in my early 60s and looking for work during one of the most disastrous periods of our nation’s economic history. Making things even worse, with absolutely no income, I was forced to accept early retirement Social Security benefits at a 25 percent reduction, a desperate decision that will negatively impact my existence for the rest of my life.