Johnson County group advocates for LGBT seniors


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When Patrick Cronk officially came out of the closet at 28 years old, his mother, father, and six siblings shunned him.

Cronk, the secretary of the Visibility Action Team and a lord archbishop, said the hardships didn’t end with his coming out.

The now-57-year-old was banned from attending his mother’s funeral, has lived through the murders of two lovers in hate crimes, lost four ex-lovers to AIDS, and buried 17 of his friends as a pastor. Life for Cronk, as he describes it, has been a nightmare.

“It was a very difficult for me,“ he said. “I was a throwaway. I knew from my parents [they] wouldn’t have it in their family. But I knew when I opened the door, it would be over with.” 

Cronk is not alone. Experts estimated between 1.75 million and 4 million Americans 60 years old and over identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, according to the Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders website. 

In Johnson County, one group tries to advocate for this demographic of senior LGBT individuals.
The volunteer Johnson County Livable Community Visible Action Team started in February 2011 to promote the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer elders in the area. The group is now working to become an affiliate of the largest national organization advocating for senior LGBT individuals: Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders, or SAGE.

The group hosted a potluck social Monday before the viewing of Mambo Italiano, at the Senior Center, 28 S. Linn St.

“The focus [of the Visibility Action Team] is to create visibility about people who are LGBTQ and over 50,” said Jefri Palermo, a development coordinator for the University of Iowa School of Social Work and cochairwoman of the Visibility Action Team. “We are really trying to reach out to the administrators of the nursing homes, long-term-care facilities, and retirement communities to train them to pay attention to what’s going to make somebody, who’s in the LGBT community, feel welcomed.” 

The Visibility Action Team hopes to become a SAGE affiliate organization next spring.

Palermo said if the group becomes an affiliate, that will allow it to apply for funding so it can hire a staff and expand the organization.

“As soon as we develop affiliate status with SAGE, then I think we will be in a good place to apply for grants, which will allow us to expand,” she said.

Palermo said it is important to educate and reach out in the community.

“There’s a large LGBT population that lives here and is aging here, because it’s a great place to live and retire,” she said. “But we’re somewhat invisible. We felt there was an unmet need to address our unique concerns.”

Currently, the Visibility Action Team host four events a year.

Emily Light, a community outreach specialist at the Senior Center, emphasized the importance of having an organization such as the Visibility Action Team.

“There are LGBT seniors who may not be aware of resources that are available to them and may feel alienated from resources within the community,” she said. “The Senior Center has some programming that focuses on LGBT issues. And the purpose of that is not only to offer programming for gay and lesbian seniors but also to signal to community members that this is a safe and friendly place for all community members.”

Cronk would like to believe that times are not as bad as they use to be.

“The first thing I’ve noticed about Iowa City is that people are friendly,” he said.

Cronk says as long as his health does not give out, he will continue to be an advocate.

“As long I can breathe, I will be fighting for GLBT rights,” he said. “It’s never going to be a rosy path, but it does get better. Even at my age, once you start reaching 60, you still have to fight every day. But you have more support as you move along in life.”

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