Saturday, June 22, 2024

Cambridge GLBT commissioners Toni Snow, second from left, and Robert Parlin discuss their work with audience members at a Boston Derby Dames roller derby event held March 20 in Wilmington. The commission has been working to raise its profile.

Being part of a commission without a staff has never deterred John Gintell from doing work he cares about — improving the lives of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transsexuals or transgendered people in Cambridge — but he’s also never stopped seeking city-funded personnel to help with the work.

In the GLBT Commission’s fifth year, co-chairman Gintell is pleased to say help is on the way, albeit borrowed help.

“Mayor David Maher is really committed to applying some his staff to working on the Seniors Housing and Medical Care project,” said Gintell, referring to a commission priority of supporting older members of the GLBT community in public housing or medical need. Despite Cambridge’s accepting image, that group may be mostly hidden out of fear, and ignorant of their rights or treated insensitively when hospitalized.

“We are just getting started and intend to work with the GLBT Aging Project in Boston and look to see what other resources and or experience is available from other organizations,” he said. “The emphasis will be to work with the various housing and medical care institutions in Cambridge to see … their policies and practices with respect to GLBT people and help improve them where needed.”

Improvement to Gintell generally means better training on sensitivity to GLBT issues, a path the commission has been down with Cambridge police.

He recalled a town hall meeting in 2004, a year before the commission was formed.

“We divided up into lots of little groups and listened to what people said. There were about 10 of these little groups, and I think in almost every one people raised issues that they’ve had with police,” Gintell said. “In one of our commission meetings about three years ago we were just going around the table and four different people recounted incidents where there had been some kind of assault … and when they reported it to the police, it was just sloughed off.”

But training and sympathetic ears at the department have eased those tensions, as well as resulted in an improved policy on hate crimes. “We are working well with the CPD,” Gintell said, noting that Christopher J. Burke, a superintendent at the department who has “taken a genuine interest in the GLBT Commission” has been helping in establishing a relationship with the Fire Department, where the implementation of GLBT sensitivity training stalled in the spring.

Burke agreed relations between police and the GLBT community were good.

Reviving the gay/straight alliance at Cambridge Rindge & Latin School was an early goal of the city’s GLBT Commission. (Photo: lkatz)

Along with the swift revival of the high school’s gay/straight alliance, building a relationship with police was an early and significant achievement for the commission. More recently, members have been making themselves more visible at events — partnering with the U.S. Census and staffing tables at roller derby events and the Harvest Co-op and RiverFest in Central Square, at Mayfair in Harvard Square and at a Cambridge-Somerville health fair. “This is kind of new for us, actually,” Gintell said. “We’re trying to do some more outreach so we can become more visible. The thing I keep discovering is that people don’t know we exist.”

That sounds a little like the aim of the commission’s Seniors Housing and Medical Care project. The commission suspects there are many seniors caught in a generational or geographic conflict: reluctant to come out in liberal Cambridge because fellow seniors are known to be the least sympathetic to the GLBT community, or because although they can marry in Massachusetts, they want to live together in federal housing where rules don’t respect same-sex marriage.

“Somebody told me of a lesbian couple basically afraid of being outed. They don’t trust the management, they’re afraid of how their peer residents are going to treat them, stuff like that,” Gintell said. “Some of that’s nothing we could cure, but there may be other cases where there’s something we could do.”

Assistance with the project from Maher’s chief of staff, Lee Gianetti, and deputy director of constituent services and public engagement, Leo Gayne, should extend into the fall, when the commission will look for a grant-funded intern, Gintell said. The intern, to be supervised by Lee, is also intended to help with the project.

The lack of staff compels action by commission members, which is “good and bad,” Gintell said, but he’s pleased by Maher’s offer after years of gentle entreaties to the city manager and other officials.

Another encouraging sign is the launching of receptions and dinners at the “Cadbury Cafe,” serving GLBT seniors, their friends and caregivers as a program sponsored by Cadbury Commons, the Council on Aging, the GLBT Aging Project and Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services.

Another commission goal was establishing an GLBT community center, or at least a regular gathering, and these events — with only a $1.75 suggested donation, or $5 for adults under 60 — take place the fourth Wednesday of each month. The at 6 p.m. gatherings are at Cadbury Commons, 66 Sherman St., in North Cambridge near the Friends School. The next event is July 21. Transportation is available upon request for Somerville and Cambridge residents, and there is a free Shuttle from Harvard Square Bus Station. For information, call (617) 628-2601, ext. 605.