Barbara’s Story
“If sickness comes along, it can drain all your money in one day. That’s what happened to me.”

Barbara, New York City

I was one of the lucky ones growing up. When I told my parents I’m gay, my mother looked at me and said, okay, let’s eat. Sure, there was discrimination as a gay person growing up, but as a teenager, I had more problems being Italian in my neighborhood than being gay. But as a lesbian senior, it’s extremely hard to live in this society. When other seniors are going to Hawaii, I can’t even afford to go around the corner.

Most of us in the gay community never thought we’d end up poor. We were intellectual. We had good jobs. But many of us don’t have the support system as we age that straight people do – the children, the nieces and nephews, and others. So, when we get old, we either live poor or we commit suicide. And if sickness comes along, it can drain all your money in one day. That’s what happened to me.

My wife Pat scrimped and saved to have a better life. But when Pat got cancer, and later dementia, we had to use all of our savings to care for her. Now Pat is gone. The rest of my family is gone. I’m alone – living on $800 from Social Security and a little extra from widow’s benefits. But who can live on $800 a month? Not a human being in this day and age when prices keep going up and Social Security only has gone up about 1% in the past few years.

I knew that after 41 years together, my life was going to be different when Pat died. But to be standing in a line with people who need food? It’s humiliating. But the food pantry, and free senior dinners, is how I get enough to eat. Food has become so expensive, that I can’t buy much after I pay for rent, utilities, and medicine. Fresh vegetables are out of my realm, so I eat canned. I’d love to have a fresh carrot in the afternoon, but I can’t afford it. If I didn’t have the food pantry, I’d have to eat cereal, which makes my stomach awful.

I’m fighting for my life to have a little bit of money to get the things I need. I’ve tried to go back to work – even though I’m 70 years old and almost blind from macular degeneration – but every place I’ve tried has refused to hire me. They said I’m a liability because of my eyes.

No way did I ever think I’d be in this position. I did everything right in my life: I worked two jobs as a teenager to help my family. I was there in the beginning with feminist organizations and at Stonewall. But where did it get me? This country has to start treating elders with respect. And the younger generation needs to start protesting more – not just when the weather is nice, but all the time. You just can’t do one or two marches and then say, ‘I did it,’ and stop.