The city of Gulfport has a history of being in front of equality issues – from being the first in the county to support domestic partnership and then same-sex marriage, to the opening of the LGBTQ Resource Center at the library earlier this year. Now, with the launching of a new support and resource group at the Gulfport Multipurpose Senior Center, LGBT seniors have a place of their own.
“The support and resource group is the first of its kind in the area and one of the first in the state of Florida,” said Richard Radovic, facilitator for the group, which held its first well-attended meeting on Monday, August 3. “Seniors face many concerns, but when you add in the LGBT issue, many of these seniors are alone and have no connections for a variety of reasons.”
The meetings, open to men and women ages 50 and over, focus on the unique challenges facing the older LGBT population. At the first meeting, over 20 men and women decided unanimously on a simple mission statement: To provide support and a voice for LGBT seniors. The group also decided on discussion topics for coming meetings.
“It’s important to create a space for real dialogue,” said Radovic. “We want to have guest speakers and really cover a topic, which is hard to do in one meeting.”
Radovic notes that the topic of greatest importance to the group is personal safety and safety in the community.
“Seniors are the group hardest hit by crime,” said Radovic. “They want to feel safe and secure.”
During the month of August, the group is discussing carjacking, person crime and theft. The Gulfport Police Department provided materials that deal with these issues and guest speakers have been scheduled. In addition, upcoming topics will include housing, sexuality, local resources, anti-discrimination, legal issues, estate planning, and budgeting and finances.
Radovic explains, “LGBT seniors need a safe place to go where they can be themselves and discuss [these] confidential issues.”
Radovic, who settled in Gulfport five years ago with partner Jon Ziegler, has been an active volunteer with the Gulfport Merchants Association, Gecko Ball events and the Senior Center Foundation. He says that when he approached Senior Center Supervisor Rachel Cataldo with his idea for the support and resource group a month ago, she felt it was a great fit for the Senior Center and the community.
“Gulfport has so much going for it that other towns don’t have,” said Radovic. “I knew I wanted to do something more connected to the community.”
Radovic notes that future plans for the group include dialogue with other entities, a mentoring program with seniors talking with LGBT kids, and a speaker exchange with the Metro Wellness Center in St. Petersburg.
For more information or to sign up for the group, contact the Gulfport Multipurpose Senior Center, 5501 27th Ave. S., at 727-893-1231 or 727-893-5157. For the months of August and September, meetings will be held every Monday at 5:30. Beginning in October, the meetings will be held every first and third Monday.