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New group aims to help the gay elderly community

BY EMILY HOERNER | APRIL 26, 2011 7:20 AM

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Jerry Baughman said he lives a comfortable life as a member of the Iowa City gay community. But it hasn't always been that way.

"It hasn't always been easy to be out [in Iowa]," the 62-year-old said. "[Community members] have had to kind of blend and mix in."

The University of Iowa alumnus, who met his husband in Iowa City, has been involved with the Iowa Pride Network and other organizations involving lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues.

Baughman said he's always been "out" in Iowa City, but he is entering a new demographic: aging individuals of that community.

Though he said he doesn't personally anticipate any new problems with age, the newly formed Visibility Action Team, a segment of the Johnson County Livable Community for Successful Aging, aims to focus on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

The team, which was officially started February, hosted its first project Sunday night at the IMU.
More than 100 members of the community — both young and old — gathered at the Bijou to watch a documentary about the mistreatment and secrecy of aging lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender members.

The movie's director, Stu Maddux, said though the environment for those citizens has improved, that time may be just a "blip on the radar" for elderly people.

"Many of them have memories of when they were in their 20s, memories burned into their mind of being beaten, given electroshock therapy," Maddux said. "When those things happen to you, it doesn't matter how things have changed."

Jefri Palermo, a development coordinator for the University of Iowa School of Social Work and a member of the Visibility Action Team, said the movie shines some light on an issue that hasn't been dealt with in Iowa City — lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender members getting old.

Palermo said she thinks the lack of resources for that population can be fixed by using what Iowa City has to offer, such as the UI College of Nursing and School of Social Work.

"If it can be done anywhere, it can be done here," she said.

Emily Light, a community-outreach specialist at the Johnson County/Iowa City Senior Center, 28 S. Linn St., said a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender social group has existed at the center for around two years, and members supported adding a monthly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender movie series.

UI anthropology/women's studies Professor Ellen Lewin, who has conducted research on same-sex couples, said the issue of an aging lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community is relevant in the Iowa City area, as well as throughout the country.

"There are retirement communities all over the country that are targeted toward gay and lesbian people," she said.

Though there isn't any specifically lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender retirement housing in Iowa City, communities have cropped up in such places as San Francisco, she said.

But Palermo said there are some local mobile home parks that elderly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender residents have informally made into living communities.

Baughman said he has mixed feelings about forming lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender livable communities in Iowa City, however.

"If you have a retirement community just for gay and lesbian people, you're ghettoizing it. It was a nice ghetto, don't get me wrong, but it was a ghetto," he said referring to similar communities in Los Angeles. "I'm all about diversity."


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