The Golden Queers
KATHY: Um, when I say the word retirement, how do you feel?
DAVID: I'm nervous...[LAUGHS] I’m nervous that I don't end up in a cot with a bare light bulbs swinging above me somewhere.
KATHY: Oh no!
VOX 1: From WNYC Studios, this is Nancy.
VOX 2: With your hosts, Tobin Low and Kathy Tu.
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KATHY: Tobin, I am so excited, I feel like I’ve prepared my entire life for this.
TOBIN: Yes, this is, like, your episode.
KATHY: Today, we are talking about...RETIREMENT!
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TOBIN: You love talking about retiring so much…
KATHY: Uh huh!
TOBIN: You wanna retire, like, ASAP.
KATHY: Right now!
TOBIN: Which inspires the question: What is your dream scenario for retirement? Because, for me, I like to imagine a massive estate in Hawaii where we and all the people that we love can live together, assuming that things are still above ground after climate change.
KATHY: Seems like a lot of drama, but I’m gonna go with you on that!
TOBIN: Uh huh.
KATHY: That sounds great! Sure, Tobin! But how’re you gonna pay for it?
TOBIN: Well, obviously it’s only a dream. Also, I feel like I haven’t exactly figured out what retirement’s gonna look like, but to be fair to me, it’s a ways off.
KATHY: That’s no excuse. But also, ok fair, we’re not gonna retire for a lil bit. It’s not top of mind. But you know who is thinking about it lot?
KATHY: Our favorite co-worker.
TOBIN: David Gebel.
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KATHY: David, I need to test your levels. What did you have for breakfast?
DAVID: Same thing I always have: blueberries and about three big spoonfuls of flavored yogurt and about five spoonfuls of plain. Sprinkle Trader Joe's brillant bran flakes all over the top of it.
TOBIN: David works here at WNYC, he’s universally loved.
KATHY: We’re serious. There was an actual vote in the office last year … and he won what is basically the best coworker award.
TOBIN: And David was actually one of the people who got us thinking about how queerness affects your finances. He’s 61 now. But when he learned he was HIV positive in the late 80’s, he didn’t think retirement would be an option for him.
DAVID: Now that is not to say I thought I was going to die.
DAVID: I didn't have that ‘Oh I'm going to die thing’ over my head like a lot of people did. And then they maxed out credit cards and went to Europe and left a pile of debt, that was happening a lot. I'm too much a Midwestern work ethic boy to do that. But the idea of, ‘Oh I have to plan for retirement.’ No! That that was far fetched.
KATHY: Was there like a very specific moment that you realized that you needed just to talk to somebody about planning out your finances this way or did it just like hang over your head for a while until the point where you had to do it?
DAVID: Well, I remember my dad getting really mad at me and wanting me to, “Why don’t you have more saved for retirement?” And it was early in my HIV status and they knew I was HIV positive, and my dad didn't want to talk about it and he got really mad at me and then my mom gently intervened, and went “Well, I don't think David's thinking about old age.” And it kind of went silent. So that is the moment when I thought I do have to think about this.
KATHY: So then what did you do?
DAVID: When I first started out I got this guy who was advising me like I was some Jersey dad with a insurance sales job and, well intended, but I thought this doesn't work. He's talking about what how many kids you might have or when you might move or what your car is and I thought “Come on. Why are you not thinking about who I am?” And I don't know if I was out enough to even say, “by the way I'm gay and by the way none of those things you're talking about are probably going to happen for me.”
KATHY: What are you hoping retirement looks like for you?
DAVID: [PAUSE] Enough money to be okay. I am not envisioning a whole lot of money, I'm envisioning having to work for as long as I possibly can. I’m better shape than I was but I am not envisioning, “Oh, I will travel the world,” I would love to
DAVID: But I think I need to work hard just to be able to cover my expenses for as long as I live.
KATHY: Yeah, well so you live in New York City...
KATHY: Um, expensive city… Have you ever thought about moving to a cheaper place like some other folks have to retire?
DAVID: I have thought about New York City is wearing me out and I thought “Where would I go?” And then I have to think about what's gay friendly. We have a lot of rights and legal things now but we don't necessarily have a welcoming door in every city. Where am I going to feel comfortable? Where am I going to feel safe? What can I afford? I've even thought about nursing homes. If...if I'm in the middle of some rural state, which would be nice, will they be comfortable with this gay man, let's say, I would have a partner at that point. I would hope they would be but I sure can't guarantee it. And I'm talking today. I'm not talking in the past.
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KATHY: So David, you’ve been seeing a financial planner...What have they told you about retirement?
DAVID: I am talking to them on the 20th. You could check in with me after that.
KATHY: We’ll come back to David’s story in a bit… but first… Tobin… after hearing that, how are you feeling?
TOBIN: I feel like listening to David talk about being an older gay man who is just now figuring out retirement, I hear that and I think: he can’t be alone. Like, this has to be a thing.
KATHY: Well, I can tell you David isn’t alone among queer people in feeling a little financially unprepared for retirement. You know by now from this series that the economy is just really stacked against queer people. Because of discrimination, queer folks make less money than straight people -- which is a major setback when it comes to retirement.
TOBIN: Yeah, that makes sense to me —like, if you make less money, it’s harder to save money.
KATHY: Exactly. One study from last year showed that LGBT people are less likely to be regularly saving for retirement, and they are at a much higher risk of not being financially secure when they did retire.
TOBIN: Uh huh, uh huh, uh huh. So what I’m hearing from you is….we are doomed?
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KATHY: Well, I don’t think so… but despite my enthusiasm for retirement planning, I am unfortunately not an actual expert in this. So wanted to talk to someone who is. And lucky for us, David set us up with the perfect person: his financial planner. I am so excited.
TOBIN: The nerd level in these episodes is...off the charts.
KATHY: Beth Jones started the firm, Third Eye Associates, with her wife Susan.
BETH: You guys have, like, a traveling studio. [LAUGHS] Amazing!
KATHY: I loved Beth immediately. She met us at her office in Manhattan and she was PREPARED.
KATHY: I see you have a notepad and a calculator.
BETH: Of course.
KATHY: You're just so prepared.
BETH: Well, I don't know what I need to do. So, I'm always ready for everything.
KATHY: Beth has been working as a financial planner for over two decades. As a lesbian herself, it was really important for her to work with other queer folks — especially because so many of them are in a tough spot when it comes to retirement. Beth says the first thing she does with all her clients is have them think about their relationship with money… and dig into what she calls internal and external obstacles. External obstacles are the things that stand in your way, something that you may not have much control over.
BETH: Internal obstacles are things we say to ourselves. So maybe we have bad habits or we tell ourselves that we're bad with money or we say over and over: "Oh, I don't understand money or I don't understand investments" so then you don't do it, it's one of a justification for not getting a plan together and getting off your butt and putting something...putting something down to make it happen.
KATHY: And when it comes to making a plan… Beth says the most important thing is actually really basic… even though it’s not something most people do regularly: look at your cash flow..
BETH: It's critically important. So, how much is coming in, how much is going out, and where are you spending your money. So a lot of people spend whatever they make. Some people spend more than they make. It's really...it's really a problem to plan when you don't pay attention to how you spend your money.
BETH: So I discovered this the hard way because for the first twenty years of my career I was not putting away any money for retirement. I was in a difficult situation. I had a business that was failing. I had another business that was successful but it wasn't making a lot of money. So, it was very difficult. So I was one of those people that had to catch up. So I got very clear about what was coming in, what was going out, and where could I find money.
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KATHY: But even though Beth is all about people recognizing those internal obstacles… and modifying their behavior accordingly, she doesn’t think it’s all on the individual. She says it’s also important to recognize external obstacles, like discrimination at work, or high out-of-pocket healthcare costs. In the past, a really common obstacle queer people faced in their old age was not being able to transfer financial benefits to their partners… but that’s less so since marriage equality became the law of the land in 2015. And the law also brought big changes that affect people's ability to retire.
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BETH: Social Security benefits is the biggest one. So, if you are married and, god forbid, your spouse dies and your spouse earned more money and had a larger benefit Social Security then you get the higher of the two, either yours or theirs and if theirs was higher, you get their benefit. I mean, when I do people's plans and we run the projections and we look at them starting to claim at 70 if they're thinking they're going to live to 95 or more. I mean, it's hundreds of thousands of dollars of difference in benefits over their lifetime. It's a lot of money.
KATHY: Hundreds of thousands of dollars that queer people were simply cut out of before. So marriage equality gave many queer folks access to the same retirement benefits as straight people. But what if marriage isn’t really an option for you, or if you just don’t see yourself getting married. What then?
BETH: Well a lot of people have to get extremely creative. So I have a fair amount of single women who are older and planning their retirement and they don't have as much money because they weren't paid as much as other people are paid and so they haven't saved as much. But what they're looking at...alternative ways to live in community such that several people share a house.
KATHY: Hm, Golden Girls style.
BETH: Yeah. Where they're sharing the expenses but they can afford to pay a five or six hundred dollar rent. But really not any more than that because they just don't have the funds.
KATHY: I am somebody that worries about retirement because I don't necessarily want to have kids one day.
KATHY: And I feel like the big question is: how will we take care of ourselves? Because I am my mother's retirement plan. So...she's like, I'm going to be fine in retirement because you will take care of me.
BETH: Yeah. Right.
KATHY: But I don't want to have kids myself.
BETH: No, of course. I mean, not everybody wants to have children.
KATHY: Yeah. What do you...what should I do for retirement?
BETH: Um, I really believe that we will continue to build facilities that are open to everybody, regardless of economic status, where it's really the community will take care of the community as it pretty much has been since, you know, Stonewall. I mean it's always been the community taking care of the community. So I think that that will continue to grow more and more because we have to have someplace to go when we can't take care of ourselves, right?
TOBIN: Coming up… what does a queer-friendly retirement community look like today? Two words: Go-go dancers.
KATHY: Nancy will be right back.
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TOBIN: For a lot of the people we’ve talked with for this series…. Retirement is their biggest queer money fear.
KATHY: Are you wondering how you’re going to pay for retirement? Do you have a strategy that seems to be working?
TOBIN: Tell us about it! In the Nancy Facebook group today, we’re talking about the costs of queer retirement. We want to hear your stories — and your advice.
KATHY: Find us by searching for Friends of Nancy on Facebook… or by visiting nancypodcast.org/facebook
KATHY: So, before the break... Beth, the financial planner, was talking about the role that community plays in making sure queer seniors have a place to spend their retirement. Obviously there’s no single “community” for the more than one million queer people over the age of 65 in the U.S… But there are some places specifically geared towards creating community among queer seniors. One of them is SAGE. It’s a LGBT elders advocacy organization that runs community centers across the U.S. They’re a lot like any other rec center — with zumba and craft night, but they also have a collection of lesbian novels and a regular gay cinema night. We visited one of their centers in Manhattan. Lujira Cooper is 72 years old and a regular at SAGE. Like many queer seniors... she relies mostly on Social Security benefits to cover the costs of day-to-day living… but she also teaches a writing class at SAGE to supplement her income.
LUJIRA: You'd think about retiring. You think about moving away, going off someplace and just vegetating in the sun. However, I don't think you think it through and I don't think I thought it through, because it didn't happen. And it's not a negative that it didn't happen, it just didn't happen. I mean, that I think is where the thing about being having a close community comes in handy because I have no relatives I wish to speak to for various reasons. I tend to be a very solitary person. I don't really like people. I get to a point where I just want to be a hermit. But I love SAGE and 90 percent of the people here I do like. And part of it has a lot to do with staff. They're always pulling me in to do stuff so it just makes my life richer.
KATHY: Joe Nigrelli lives in Manhattan and is also a member of SAGE.
JOE: Getting old wasn't a concept for me. I worked with software, tailoring software to the business needs of corporations. I talked to co-workers and I found some—many of them made more money than I did and I'm not sure that I was really flamboyantly gay, but I was gay. I was straight-out gay. And people who I knew were homosexual did indeed make more money if they were hidden as opposed to not being hidden. I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to engage into pretending that I was not who I am. So what's the option: is to stop working till they pay you more? Or to work at a lesser pay and get some money for that. And I chose the second. It worked out easier.
KATHY: Joe lives on Social Security and doesn’t have a lot of money to spare. And he’s not alone. According to a 2018 study, one third of LGBT elders live at or below twice the federal poverty level. Which is why Joe really appreciates being able to go to SAGE.
JOE: I do think about money, but SAGE offers you dinner each night for three dollars. You can go to Starbucks and one coffee costs three dollars. So you're getting a full meal and dinner service for three dollars. Even at Starbucks, they don’t do that for you, so...
K: Both Lujira and Joe are still living on their own, in their own apartments, but for queer seniors who need to move into assisted living, it can be challenging to be out. In a 2014 report from the Equal Rights Center, half of seniors in same-sex couples reported experiencing discrimination when applying for housing. But there are currently less than two dozen retirement homes in the U.S. catering specifically to queer seniors. Dick Busby lives in one of them: Stonewall Gardens in Palm Springs, California.
DICK: I am 89 years old. But in six months I'll be 90 and I'm looking forward to that. So, I just assumed I'd probably live at home until I died. But as I got older, I realised that I needed some sort of help.
K: So, Dick started shopping around for retirement homes. Before he found Stonewall Gardens, he visited a few other places…
DICK: I went to this place that was really quite lovely. And I walked in the front door, there was like a circle of chairs right in the middle of the room and these chairs were all filled up with elderly ladies. And as I walked in, one of them yelled out, "Are you coming here to live?"
DICK: And I said, “Well, I'm going to check it out and see.” And so she said, "Can you dance?" And I said, “I don't, not very well.” She said, "We'll teach you how. Don't worry." And so, I had thought to myself, “Oh my god I'm going to be dancing with all these women.” And as I said, I'm gay and I don't dislike women it's just I did want to be doing that all my later years. I asked one of the people who worked there I said, do you ever have any gay people coming to...? They said, “No, I don't think we've ever had any gay people here.” And I thought to myself at the time: “I wonder how I would fit in if I moved here.” It was still my best option at that time. And I was going to go ahead and move in, but when I discovered Stonewall, that just changed everything and I do know that I'm much happier here than I would have been there.
DICK: They tell me that it's more expensive, I didn't realize that but I was lucky that having been in the Army during the Korean War and being a veteran, I found out that there was a program that the V.A. had for people who had been in shooting wars that they would have money given to them by the V.A. if they needed to go to some place to live. And so I applied for it and they gave me $1700 a month to augment my payments. And so with that, that gave me enough money to pay for here. I could probably have afforded it if I didn't do anything else. If I had just spent it for rent, I would have been able to stay. But I wouldn't have had dry cleaners or go to a movie or done anything because it just would have been impossible.
KATHY: Even that might have been worth it to Dick...He says he's rarely been as happy living anywhere else than where he is now.
DICK: We have a bar. It's a gay bar next door and it's called the Toucan...
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You see people in wheelchairs and walkers and walking canes and maybe some eight or ten people will go next door every Sunday afternoon at 3:30 and enjoy the Toucan Trot. The bar has a few tables in it and a tiny stage. And from time to time, they have go-go dancers who dance on the bar and the guys from here enjoy it because these young good-looking guys are dancing and they tuck money into their waistbands.
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DICK: And as a gay man, I can't think of going someplace else that would be as enjoyable for an elderly person. We talk about things that we did when we were young, you know, how we came out as gay people, what we did when we were young, where we went, the things that we did, the love affairs that we had, those sorts of things and I couldn't do that, I know, had I gone to the other place. The difference is just so great.
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KATHY: David, you just had your appointment with Beth, the financial planner who we talked to. Um, how are you feeling?
DAVID: Really good. She had figured out that i’ll probably have to work til I’m 70, which I expected. I now want to think about when I’m 70, 80, 90. I mean my grandma died at 102, so I better…
DAVID: Yeah! And then that’s what we worked on. I don't see a big fancy retirement but I see a retirement.
KATHY: I hope I can continue to visit you once you retire.
DAVID: I hope so. [KATHY LAUGHS] You can come over...
KATHY: Your apartment is so lovely.
DAVID: We can sit and play Scrabble.
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TOBIN: Oh my god, we have done it!
KATHY: A whole week of episodes.
TOBIN: Thanks to all of you for sticking with us...all of you queers out there...hopefully we made you think a little bit about money…
KATHY: Maybe you learned something…
TOBIN: Maybe you enjoyed hearing from us on the regular...
KATHY: Maybe you didn’t. That’s ok! [TOBIN LAUGHS] It’s fine, we’re not hurt. [TOBIN: Mmhm.] We’re going back to our normal schedule after this though.
TOBIN: Oh, thank god.
KATHY: But, if you just can’t get enough, and you haven’t gone to our site to tell us your queer money fear...go there now! It’s not too late. Nancypodcast.org/money!
TOBIN: You can still get yourself one of those fancy-pants “Queer Money Matters” patches!
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TOBIN: Get the patch.
TOBIN: Ok, a couple thanks. We couldn’t have done this series without the help of our wonderful WNYC fam — Charlotte, Angela, Ashley, Caroline, Nicole, Kathy, and Sahar.
KATHY: And the folks at Morning Consult and Money Magazine.
TOBIN: Alright, let’s do credits.
KATHY: Our producers—
TOBIN: Isabel Angell and Alice Wilder!
KATHY: Production fellow—
TOBIN: Temi Fagbenle.
TOBIN: Stephanie Joyce.
KATHY: Sound designers—
TOBIN: Jeremy Bloom and Jared Paul.
KATHY: Executive Producer—
TOBIN: Paula Szuchman.
KATHY: Special thanks to Tigue who contributed music to this episode.
TOBIN: I’m Tobin Low.
KATHY: I’m Kathy Tu.
TOBIN: And Nancy is a production of WNYC Studios.
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