Trans People, Marriage, and Social Security

social security cardAfter sustained lobbying by the National Center for Transgender Equality and others and after Robina Asti’s public statement (see, the Social Security Administration has finally issued guidance telling staff to automatically assume that most marriages involving transgender people are valid.

Of course, given the mish-mash we currently have with some states refusing to recognize other states’ “same-sex” marriages and some states’ bad decisions concerning the legal gender of transgender people, the guidance is complicated.  The guidance now requires Social Security staff to determine where the marriage was performed and if the sex change took place before or after the marriage.  If the sex change took place before the marriage and the transgender person currently lives in (or died in) American Samoa, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Ohio, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, Tennessee, Texas, or the Virgin Islands, a legal opinion about the validity of the marriage is still required.  Otherwise, marriages involving transgender people are to be treated under existing rules for opposite-sex and same-sex marriages, bypassing the current procedure of referring all marriages involving transgender people to legal counsel.

The actual bureaucratic memo is available at  (Trigger warning: in discussing sample cases, the memo uses typical bureaucratizee about applicants “alleging” personal facts.)

Being Poor, Old, and LGBT

Cedric_Burgess_insert_1_c_Washington_Blade_by_Michael_KeyNeed some facts, stories or anecdotes on what it’s like to be poor, old, and LGBT?

Check out the Washington Blade’s 2-part Special Report on the topic.

“You can’t let adversity get you down,” at, includes statistics on LGBT elders and poverty, along with several stories.

“In their own words: elders facing poverty, ageism,” at, focuses more on the details, such as this:  “A little peanut butter, maybe some pizza or Ramen noodles is a typical meal for Robyn Sullivan, a 57-year-old transgender woman living in New York City, who struggles to pull together $25 a week for food.”

History Collectors Wanted

GLBT historical societyDavid Mixner, long-time gay and anti-war activist and author, made a call for the collection of LGBT history from those who lived it before they die, in a Towleroad post that also briefly reviews the Broadway play, “Mothers and Sons.”

“Members of the early years of our struggle for liberation were reluctant to keep records, papers and videos for fear of discovery.  After many of our best and brightest died of HIV/AIDS, many of their families destroyed anything of their belongings that would even suggest they were gay.  Many traditional universities, museums and libraries initially refused to accept such papers because of their ‘controversial content.’”

This, he contends, is a loss not just to the LGBT community, but to the whole world.  “The story of how the LGBT community embraced a path filled with love and outreach instead of responding in kind to the hatred and violence directed toward us should never be forgotten.  Our history, if we decide to save it, without question will be an inspiration to future generations no matter what their sexual orientation.  It is a history filled with courage, dignity, nobility and amazing victories.  What a tragedy if people don’t act quickly and these amazing stories disappear into the night.”

In comments on the article, a number of LGBT historical archives and resources were mentioned, including:

- Fort Lauderdale’s Stonewall Library and Archives  (

– San Francisco gay history (

– GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco  ( )

– Canadian Gay and Lesbian Archives  ( )

The Mixner article is at



Carroll Baker Was Maid of Honor

Perkins and SuraciIn yet another example of how far (and quickly!) the world has moved on LGBT issues, the New York Times recently ran a long profile of Tony Perkins and Dr. Patrick Joseph Suraci on the occasion of the marriage.

Entitled, “When May Catches Up to December,” the profile explains how the two, now 54 and 77, originally met in 1986.  The age difference was part of what kept them in an on-again, off-again status, but that began to change in 2005, when the two reconnected after having lost touch for nearly three years.  The final decision point came in October 2012, when Dr. Suraci underwent radical surgery and Mr. Perkins thought, “Oh, my God, Patrick is not immortal.  This isn’t something I can play with.”

The couple married on February 20.  The actress Carroll Baker, a long-time friend of Dr. Suraci, served as their Maid of Honor.  You can read the whole profile at

Bullying Knows No Age Limit

bullyLGBT elders are not the only ones who can meet derision and abuse in elder settings; a growing number of articles are addressing the phenomena of bullying among older adults.

A recent Kansas City Star article ( estimates that between 10 and 20% “of residents of senior facilities and those who regularly visit senior centers have endured some form of bullying.”  Bullying can include “bossing others around, verbal putdowns, spreading rumors and sometimes physical violence.”  Like its middle- and high-school counterparts, elder bullying can even lead to suicide:  “Last year, a resident of a Kansas City senior housing facility tried to overdose on prescription pills after another resident prevented her from spending time with a sibling who also lived in the facility….”

“Seniors who bully typically have experienced loss, experts say.  They may have recently moved into an assisted living facility or senior apartment building….”  Such moves typically signal a host of losses:  “They are not as valued as much in the community or workplace and maybe not as important in your family system as you used to be,” one expert said.  “That magnitude of loss creates a need to be in control of something.”

FORGE Transgender Aging Network, a member of the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, is working on a training that will address bullying and bias in elder settings.  We will post here when the training is available.

Suburban or Urban? Weighing the Choices

55-Laguna-Site-PlanLGBT-friendly retirement homes are still few and far between, but we are slowly getting to the point where there are actually choices to be made.  A recent post in “My Dad’s Closet: A Daughter’s Memoir,” examines the pros and cons of suburban-based LGBT retirement facilities like Fountaingrove Lodge in Sonoma County, CA, and urban-based ones like John C. Anderson Apartments in Philadelphia and 55 Laguna, a development that’s under construction in San Francisco.

Read more about it at

Asian-American LGBT Elders

dion WongOften when I present on LGBT aging issues, people want to know, “what are the differences or unique experiences of LGBT elders who are also people of color?”

Of course, there is no one answer to that, just as we cannot say that everyone of any group experiences the world in the same way.  But Diverse Elders and SAGE can provide some insights. Continue reading

“We have no language for the liminal”

robert_espinozaAs the headline may suggest, the article this post is about is heady, theoretical…and very, very interesting.

Last National Coming Out Day, Robert Espinoza, Senior Director, Public Policy and Communications at SAGE, published a Huffington Post article, “‘Coming Out’ or ‘Letting In’?  Recasting the LGBT Narrative.” Continue reading

LGBT Considerations for Hospice

end of life“When Eleanor went into a nursing home to receive the care she needed in her final days, she was open about who she was as a lesbian.  ‘You still have time before you die to repent, change your ways and be saved,’ a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) at the nursing home told her.”

To read more of the Huffington Post article, “‘We Made This Family’: End-of-Life Care in the LGBT Community,” go to

“I Was Shocked, I Was Shamed”

Robina Asti 92 yo transwomanThat’s how Robina Asti, 92, described her response when the Social Security Administration denied her benefits as the widow of Norwood Patton.

Although Robina transitioned genders decades before her marriage to Patton in 2004, the Social Security Administration ruled her marriage wasn’t valid when it was entered into because “she was not legally a woman,” and so denied her request.

While the case itself is important enough to write about, what is really remarkable is the 7-1/2 minute video Lambda Legal made of Robina.  This lovely portrait beautifully highlights her love of flying as well as her occupational and romantic history.  She says, “I have lived a very private life, but the SSA is forcing me to speak out.  I don’t want other people to have to experience this.”

Lambda Legal is representing her in her struggle with the Social Security Administration, an effort that will benefit many, many marriages involving trans people and their partners when it is — as it inevitably must be — won.  In the meantime, however, Robina and Lambda Legal deserve many thanks for a really remarkable oral history.  Make sure you check it out: