SAGE: Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders
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Social Security

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older adults are not eligible for Social Security spousal benefits, survivor benefits or death benefits. This disparate treatment is especially unjust because Social Security benefits are not freely given; they are based on the contributions people make throughout their working lives—and LGBT people work and pay into Social Security in the same manner as their heterosexual counterparts. The lack of equal Social Security benefits contributes to higher poverty rates among older same-sex couples, and significantly reduces their retirement income, potentially leaving a surviving same-sex spouse without a living-wage income.

Key Facts

Social Security is the single most important financial safety net program for older adults and makes the difference between poverty and a living-wage retirement for a significant portion of older Americans. Almost all elder households (89 percent) receive Social Security, and almost a third of single retirees receive income only from Social Security.

Data show that same-sex and heterosexual couples are similarly dependent on Social Security to maintain a living-wage income. However, contrary to stereotypes, LGBT older adults as a group are poorer and less financially secure than American elders as a whole.

Also, many older LGBT people lived the majority of their working years in an era when discrimination was widespread and legal (as it still is in many parts of the country) and job opportunities were limited.

For LGBT elders, a lifetime of employment discrimination translates into earning disparities, reduced lifelong earnings, smaller Social Security payments, and fewer opportunities to build pensions. Government safety net programs such as Social Security then exclude LGBT elders, creating further economic challenges.

Despite similar reliance on Social Security, and high poverty rates among LGBT older adults, LGBT elders are not equally eligible for Social Security benefits. The Social Security benefits denied to LGBT elders include the "spousal benefit," the "survivor benefit" and the "death benefit."

Among the Social Security benefits denied to LGBT elders, the lack of survivor benefits is the most harmful. Not only has the surviving spouse just been widowed, but the legal invisibility of the partner's relationship to the deceased could now leave him or her in financial crisis.

To learn more about SAGE's federal advocacy work on Social Security, please contact Aaron Tax, Director of Federal Government Relations, at 202-640-2705 or at

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Featured News
April 27, 2012, Washington Blade

Hollywood comes to Capitol Hill to push for Social Security bill

By Chris Johnson
April 25, 2012

Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (D-CA) to Introduce Social Security Equality Act of 2012 to Ensure Equal Benefits for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Older Adults

SAGE Executive Director Michael Adams joins a coalition of other LGBT leaders at a Capitol Hill rally to draw attention to the inequities faced by same-sex couples under current Social Security rules. Read More

November 29, 2010

Diverse Elders Challenges Recommendations to Reduce Social Security Benefits

Recommendations by the Debt Reduction Task Force, National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility Proposals Seek to Reduce Social Security Benefits Read More

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