Torie OsbornTorie Osborn has been a social activist for 40 years. Most recently, she was the highest-ranking gay or lesbian official in Los Angeles, while serving as special assistant to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. A couple of months ago, her thoughtful essay appeared as the Modern Love column in The New York Times. The theme: love, money and “paperwork” as she describes. I tracked her down to elaborate on the financial parts of both her personal and professional life. These are her insights…

1. How has working in the nonprofit sector influenced your perspective on money?
Working in nonprofits, until recently, meant no pension plan and lower salaries (it’s changed in the past decade but I didn’t have a 403-b, the nonprofit equivalent of a 401k, until I was 47!) – BUT the trade off is a sense of helping build a better world that lends passion and purpose to life!

2. As the former architect of Mayor Villaraigosa’s policy plan on homelessness, how does poverty and lack of affordable housing impact a city the size of Los Angeles?
LA has the lowest home ownership rate of any city in the country; last year only 3% of the population could afford the average house – and there is not enough middle income rental housing, let alone for working and poor people. That’s the major reason LA is America’s homelessness capital. It’s a huge problem for businesses because they can’t attract young talent, and middle class public sector employees who are the backbone of the city – teachers and firefighters and nurses — can’t afford to live in LA. People feel that the homeless are different from them, but a survey last year shows that 1/3 of people worry about being without a home, and 50% took someone in who didn’t have a home sometime in the past year. Economic insecurity is creeping quickly up the economic spectrum, and, along with healthcare, is reaching a crisis point.

3. What did you learn about money in your previous relationship?
I learned that we have to plan for the worst: There is no economic security; nothing is guaranteed. I thought we were “married” – and I supported her for 5 years, paying off her credit cards, and foregoing contributions to my retirement because she would have a good job and benefits. But then she left and I would have had nothing without domestic partnership laws.

4. Was your MBA worth the time and investment?
My MBA demystified finance and the stock market, increased my management skills, and raised my market value as an employee. My fiscal management skills are among my best executive management tools.

5. How can gays and lesbians protect themselves from being the financially disadvantaged partner?
It’s not always possible, but you can try to maintain financial independence (more than I did last time around!) and don’t depend on anyone financially.

6. In 1990s you were the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington DC. Was there a personal price you paid for activism?
I’ve been an activist since I was 15! My life is rich with meaning; I feel part of something larger than myself – which, by the way, is stirring these days, bigtime. There have been times when I put my movement activism first but I never regretted it. In fact if I have any regrets it is that I put a relationship on a par with my work for the first time this last round for nearly a decade. And then she walked out. So I think my activism will come first again now…

7. If you decide to get married again, will you sign a pre-nup?
I don’t have a lot of assets but if a pre-nup is the smart thing to do, I’m there!

8. What did your parents teach you about money?
My dad taught me at 8 or 9 to balance the check-book and about budgeting – my parents were very open about money. I think they taught me that other things matter more, though. But I got practical money management tools from an early age. It didn’t make me save or get a pension, though! I was too busy helping make social change. They were not philanthropic at all, but very politically aware. I had to learn about giving money well on my own.

9. You grew up on the east coast, attended college in Vermont, worked in Washington and currently live in Los Angeles. How does geography play into financial perceptions and the meaning of money?
I don’t see geography playing a role; what plays a role is what you value and I value community, social activism, and spiritual growth far more than accumulating money. I will say that I believe money is energy – and that it’s important to respect it, manage it, and give it away wisely – and take care of yourself.

10. Will you ever retire?
I can’t imagine retiring from my passionate political activism, but I will happily leave the 70 hour a week jobs to the younger ones. I’m heading toward a more balanced life with more writing and teaching and mentoring and I’ll never retire from doing those things.

More about Torie Osborn
From January 2006 through January 2008, Torie Osborn served in the cabinet of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa, and continues as a senior advisor to the Mayor. She inaugurated a new position as public liaison to the philanthropic community, and designed the Mayor’s policy plan on homelessness. She also helped develop the Mayor’s anti-poverty agenda on housing, jobs and economic development, coordinating with nonprofits, business, philanthropy, and city and county agencies.

In February 2008, she cut back to part-time with the Mayor’s office in order to continue her longtime leadership affiliation with the independent sector. She is currently serving as a senior strategist, advising both the United Way and The California Endowment on expanding community engagement in order to advance long-term change. She is also completing a Durfee Foundation Stanton Fellowship examining the relationship of philanthropy, local government and nonprofits in tackling poverty and homelessness.

From 1997 through 2005, Torie was executive director of the Liberty Hill Foundation, one of the nation’s most admired social-change foundations. In the mid-1990s, she was executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington DC, the nation’s oldest gay and lesbian civil rights organization; NGLTF membership doubled and revenues tripled during her brief tenure. Torie was also the executive director of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center from 1988 to 1992, during the height of the AIDS epidemic in Los Angeles.

She has been a contributor to the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. She has made appearances on The MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour, Good Morning America, National Public Radio and CNN’s Crossfire. Major profiles about her have appeared in the New York Times, the Boston Globe and Los Angeles Times. She was a monthly columnist for the Advocate for a year (1994), and her award-winning book, Coming Home to America (St. Martin’s 1996), is about the LGBT communities’ contributions to the ongoing national debate on values and visions for America’s future. She is currently working on a memoir.

Torie holds her B.A. from Middlebury College and her M.B.A. in Finance and Marketing from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. She has lectured at over 40 colleges and universities, philanthropic groups, corporations, and communities, and been the recipient of over 50 awards, plaques and commendations from business, government and civic groups.

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Some other activists in the Ten Money Questions archive discussing money and a cause are Donna Rose, John Aravosis and Candace Gingrich.