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Monday, April 12, 2010

700 protest LGBT Social Security discrimination

Protesters march Sunday to Hollywood's Social Security office.
(Photo: Nick Martinez / L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center)

An energetic crowd of over 700 people rallied at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center and marched more than a mile to the Social Security Administration office in Hollywood yesterday to protest discrimination against LGBT taxpayers who are denied Social Security benefits.

Representative Linda Sanchez, a member of the House Subcommittee on Social Security, announced that she will write legislation to provide equal Social Security benefits for same-sex couples. Rep. Judy Chu offered to co-author the bill. Other political and community leaders spoke at the event, including Sen. Barbara Boxer, Rep. Laura Richardson, L.A. city council member Paul Koretz, West Hollywood mayor Abbe Land, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center CEO Lorri L. Jean, National Gay & Lesbian Task Force executive director Rea Carey and AIDS Community Action Foundation president Craig R. Miller.

"We now have quality, affordable health care coming to all. What good is the quality of our health care in America if Americans are not treated equally under all of our laws?" said Rep. Sanchez. "I look at this country—which is great but could be made better—and I see that there is still discrimination … I don't think it's right that Americans should be treated differently by the country they love because of who they love."

Sanchez made the announcement at the Center's McDonald/Wright building before the crowd marched down Hollywood Boulevard to the Social Security office on Vine Street, where Lorri L. Jean , L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center CEO, led the crowd in chanting and picketing to demand an end to the discrimination that hurts seniors like Alice Herman, a client of the center's seniors services department. Herman shared her story about being denied benefits after the loss of her beloved wife, Sylvia, even though the two were legally married.

"At the time I was burying Sylvia and grieving her loss, I had to look for a place to live as fast I as could," says Herman, who was left "a heartbeat away" from living in her car because she could no longer afford to live in the home they shared. Had Sylvia been a man, Herman would have been entitled to receive her spouse's larger Social Security payments. "This has got to change," she said.

Herman's challenges inspired Jean to speak out on the issue of discrimination in Social Security benefits. "We must stop the discrimination heaped upon our elders just when they are suffering profound grief after losing a partner," Jean says. "They shared their lives for 20, 30 even 40 years—and paid into Social Security with every paycheck just like everyone else. But they are cheated out of survivor benefits because their relationships are not recognized by the Social Security system."


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