Ten Money Questions for Michael Jacoby
Michael Jacoby is a filmmaker and director of Ten More Good Years, a new documentary about LGBT elders and the governmental and social injustices experienced by those growing old and gay in America. It’s screening around the world at a number of film festivals this fall and has been licensed by both the Sundance Channel and LOGO. Of course, money plays a part in aging and it’s only natural for Queercents to want to understand more. Michael hopes to change a few perceptions with his film and answers below. Enjoy!
1. How does the film challenge the stereotype of LGBT elders as a largely affluent group?
Ten More Good Years follows four LGBT Elders who represent the vast majority of our community in that they are NOT wealthy. The common belief is that queer older adults have lots of disposable income. The truth is the average annual income for LGBT seniors ranges between $16,000 – $22,000. As a result of antiquated federal laws an policies many LGBT elders, the groundbreakers of our civil rights movement, are finding themselves in situations similar too, if not exactly like, those presented in Ten More Good Years.
2. What did it cost to make your film? How did you raise the money?
Initially I set out to raise the money to make Ten More Good Years by applying for Grants. This process can be daunting and takes a long time for approval. I began the project without Grants and began racking up credit card bills. My first purchase was the camera. At the time I was working at a restaurant on Cornelia Street in the West Village called Po. I had been working there for quite some time and had made a lot of friendships with the regulars.
One of the regulars was a doctor, who happens to be straight. He asked me one evening what I was up too outside of the waiting job and I told him I was in the process of making a documentary on LGBT aging and the unique challenges that our Elders face. He asked me to meet him the following day for a drink. When we met he told me that his parents owned a nursing home in the Bronx and he grew up working there. He said that he really appreciated the fact that Elders were on my radar at all, gay or straight. He then asked what I needed to really get started and then wrote me a check for $25K. The true production of the film began then.
He and I became business partners on the film and remain business partners now with our company LookOut Films. Over the course of the next three years we both invested more and more money, most of which for me has been on credit cards. The documentary was later accepted by The Film Forum Sponsorship Program. As part of this program donors could make tax deductible donations toward the making of the film and still can if they are interested in helping with the distribution of the film. So far I have been able to raise around $20K from supporters, close friends and family. Last December Frameline in San Francisco approved Ten More Good Years for a finishing grant of $5K. At the end of the day the film cost somewhere between $150,000-$200,000 to produce and distribute from start to finish.
3. How do LGBT elders experience financial discrimination?
To sum this up concisely I’ll borrow from a recent article written in Aging Well Magazine. The results of many of these examples can be seen throughout Ten More Good Years.
“Banned from legal unions and marriage, LGBT couples do not benefit from the legal rights automatically conferred on married couples. For example, surviving partners are not eligible to obtain Social Security survivor benefits or Social Security spousal benefits that allow the surviving partner the right to one half of the spouse’s Social Security benefit if it is larger than his or her own benefit. Medicaid stipulations that protect the assets and homes of married spouses when the other spouse enters a nursing home or long-term care facility do not apply to LGBT partners.
Inheritance of a shared home or assets and benefits such as annuities are not protected for same-sex couples. However, there are ways around some of these restrictions. For example, signing a jointly held mortgage or designating a same-sex partner as the beneficiary of an annuity or retirement plan via a will can direct assets to a same-sex partner.
Economically deprived non-spouse beneficiaries can take advantage of the Pension Protection Act, signed into law in 2006, which allows receipt of a rollover from a 401(k) retirement benefit or withdrawal of money from a partner’s retirement fund in case of emergency. Surviving same-sex partners can also transfer the deceased partners’ retirement funds into an IRA account for use over their own life times.
Recent data reported by the Human Rights Campaign state that “Internal Revenue Code § 2056 exempts amounts transferred to a surviving spouse from the decedent’s taxable estate. For same-sex couples who are legally barred from marriage, this exemption is not available, creating an inequity in taxation.”
The Family and Medical Leave Act that guarantees family and medical leave to employees to care for parents, children, or spouses does not provide leave to care for domestic partners or domestic partners’ family members. Domestic partners of federal employees are excluded from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program and from reimbursement for expenses incurred by a domestic partner.
The federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act does not require employers to provide domestic partners with the continued coverage guaranteed to married couples but rather only to “qualified beneficiaries” (spouses or dependent children).
Older adults in general are legally protected from ageism in the workplace, yet LGBT elders can be terminated from employment on the basis of sexual orientation without additional cause and without recourse. This threat increases the likelihood of invisibility, isolation, and financial insecurity.”
– Florence Gelo, DMin, NCPsyA, is an associate professor in the department of family, community, and preventive medicine at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia.
4. Did you find that lesbian women are less financially prepared for retirement than gay men?
I did not find there to be a huge difference between elder men and women. Because of the fact that women make less money than men the financial statistics are obvious; elder women have less money than elder men. The inability for LGBT seniors to collect Social Security or Pension Benefits from a deceased partner applies to both Gay women and men. What is different in large part is due to the AIDS pandemic. So many men lost partners, and without the financial support of their partner after they passed, many men wound up in financial situations that they did not plan for. Many of these men found themselves unable to pay rent and wound up in shelters. After losing so many friends and so many from their “family of choice” depression set in.
When you have financial instability and depression working together you have a recipe for disaster. I think that the elder population of today are still dealing with the ripple effect of HIV. Nobody prepares for an unforeseen epidemic. Many women came to the aid of gay men and spent their own dollars to fight AIDS when the government would not. This generosity helped to bring queer men and women together for the first time according to AIDS Activist and Lesbian Feminist Ivy Bottini. Today I think a younger generation of the LGBT population, both men and women, are not saving for retirement. We are living day to day and finding ourselves more and more in debt.
5. What have learned from your own parents about retirement?
My parents live in a different world than I do. My mother will be retiring soon and told me that she feels very secure. I just spoke with her the other day about how if my father dies she will receive his pension benefits which are wonderful because he worked for the city of Los Angeles for so long. If she dies first he will receive her SS because she made more money than he did. Either way they are set and don’t need to worry about where their next check will be coming from in the event of one or the other passing.
Their reality is different than mine. I know I need to save for my retirement and I would like to be in a situation where I could save money for retirement, but the fact is I simply cannot at this time in my life. I live in debt and at the moment have to think about how to pay that off first. I’ve learned that Social Security would be nice to fall back on but I doubt it will be there for me when I am ready to retire anyway. Save, save, save is what I’ve learned in a nutshell.
6. While making the documentary, did you meet a lot of LGBT elders that still have to work out of financial necessity?
All of the elders that I followed in the film still had to work to make ends meet and they ranged in age from 64 to 87 year old.
7. How does housing play into the aging equation?
If you are an elder LGBT person you grew up in a time when tolerance towards homosexuals was almost unthinkable. Gay men and women where thought of as mentally ill, often times institutionalized, given dishonorable discharges from the military and forced to serve time for it, abandoned by family, friends and co-workers if found out. Men and women lost jobs because of their sexuality and arrested for dancing arm in arm. These same people overcame these challenges and made it possible for me to be answering these questions for a queer publication affiliated with a queer television network. They are truly heroes.
Yet, when they reach an age where they need to move into assisted living facilities or nursing homes they must then reintroduce themselves to the very same people who discriminated against them when they were younger. Most of these bigoted people have not changed their minds about homosexuality and in their elder years are no less apprehensive about expressing their disdain for queer people and queer culture. So, housing does indeed play into the aging equation because after all these years of hard work to get our community this far they deserve the right to feel comfortable, out and proud where ever they reside. No one should ever have to go back into the closet.
8. Are you a full time filmmaker? If not, how do you fund your daily life so you can make films?
I am a full time filmmaker now. I have been lucky enough to find small film jobs to help pay the rent and cover the minimum payments on the credit cards. I will be starting on a new documentary in November and am now raising the money to make that film so that I don’t find myself further in debt. I’m very excited about this next project and hope to have it finished by the summer of 2009.
9. How should younger gays be preparing differently for retirement than their straight counterparts?
SAVE, SAVE, SAVE. That’s the best advice. Put a little bit aside every month if possible, cut back on the non-essentials and think about the future a bit rather than focusing on the here and now all the time. There is nothing to fear in aging, but there is a lot to fear in aging without money. I think I’d give the same advice to anyone these days, straight or gay.
10. How much does it cost to purchase the film online?
Currently the film is available for home use and educational use. Home use versions can be purchased two ways: one is via download for $9.95 and the other is available on DVD for $29.95. Educational use DVD’s come with a educational guide that is written to coincide with scenes from the film and the prices vary depending on the institution purchasing the film. Any type of purchase can be made online at TenMoreGoodYears.com.
More about Michael Jacoby
Michael Jacoby has been involved with the film industry for twenty years. As a child growing up in Los Angeles he was exposed to the craft on a daily basis. He began making films as a boy on his father’s Super 8 and fell in love with acting around the same time. His love for both filmmaking and film acting grew. He graduated from UCSB in 1992 with a Bachelor of Arts in Film. Following his college education Michael moved back to his hometown of Los Angeles and went to work for IRS Media as a Production Assistant and Script Reader.
In 1995 he moved to Barcelona, Spain. With a desire to immerse himself in a different culture he rented a room with a Catalonian, took Spanish classes on a daily basis and took up acting once again by working with La Agencia as a commercial talent. After a year and a half in Spain he returned to Los Angeles.
Michael began working as a Production Coordinator for The Wow Factor in 1998 and within the same year moved to New York City. He began studying acting again at William Esper Studios and upon completion of his studio program he promptly landed his first lead role in the feature “He’s Different,” a role on a nationally syndicated television series called “Hack” and two national commercials followed shortly there after. Michael also began working as a voice over talent represented by Access Talent.
Today Michael has merged all of his passions together. Three years ago he started his own film company called LookOut Films, Inc.
Read other Queercents interviews in the Ten Money Questions archive.