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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Gilda's Club provides outreach to LGBTQ community
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2012-04-11

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Gilda's Club Chicago is one of many groups worldwide that honor the memory of Gilda Radner, the comedienne who died from ovarian cancer and had a wish that "no one should face cancer alone." One way that Gilda's Club Chicago provides support is through its new LGBTQ group.

The LGBTQ support group had its first meeting in April 2011, according to Mark Petroelje, the group's facilitator. Petroelje explained that Gilda's Club Chicago had a desire to reach out the LGBTQ community and contacted him to be the group's facilitator since he is a counselor and therapist at Live Oak ( which has partnered with Gilda's Club Chicago to form the LGBTQ support group ) as well as an openly gay man.

The seeds of the group started in late 2010 with Rebecca Fritz, the adult program manager at Gilda's Club Chicago, who saw a need for an LGBTQ group within the club, said Thom DeVries, program director at Gilda's Club Chicago.

The LGBTQ group ( under the networking umbrella of support groups for men, women and children living with cancer and their families and friends ) within Gilda's Club Chicago meets every first and third Wednesday 6-7 p.m.

"The intention of the LGBTQ cancer support group is to provide a safe space for LGBTQ people to talk about the impact that their cancer diagnosis and treatment have had on their sense of self, their relationships with others, and the goals or plans for their lives," said Petroelje. "The group is free of heterosexist bias and expectations, so participants can talk freely about sexual behaviors, dating/relationships, difficulties with medical professionals, family issues, coming out, and gender nonconforming behaviors and attitudes.

"The group is open to any person who self identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer and has been diagnosed with cancer. I believe that all people carry with them survival strategies and strengths—as well as the capacity to know what they need. My role as the facilitator is to foster and maintain a safe space. The group is here to support the participants and provide a time and a space for them to talk about and ask for what they need in the moment."

Speaking to one of the group's members, Janet Anne, an open lesbian with cancer, she said, "My fight is not a positive thing, but I do have a positive attitude. I refuse not to be happy. ... Without Gilda's Club, I'd be imprisoned at a homeless shelter or sitting in a library trying to keep warm. Gilda's Club is more than a place. It's a refuge. It's a resource. It's a social space. My LGBTQ support group is a place where I know I'm not alone, a place where I can cry, and a place I can get hugs."

Stephen Majsak is an openly gay man and director of development at Gilda's Club Chicago. He told Windy City Times, "When you are valued and supported, you bring all your best attributes to the community. That's what Gilda's Club is all about. We just do it for people when cancer is the common issue. ... It's a free, member-driven approach so you can find someone who can support you in a way that fits your situation—and then you can give the benefit of your experiences to someone else when they need it."

LauraJane Hyde, chief executive officer of Gilda's Club Chicago, said, "Gilda's Club Chicago is proud to serve the LGBTQ community by offering a networking group for LGBTQ people living with cancer. It is so important that all people have a place to go where they are welcome, and Gilda's Club is that place for our city."

"We are a very welcoming community and we encourage people to look us up and see what we have to offer because we have a lot to offer," said DeVries.

Jimmy Kays, a manager at the Boystown nightspot Sidetrack, said "I lost a dear friend of mine last August to cancer and learned of Gilda's Club shortly afterwards. I was so impressed with what the club had to offer that they will be the beneficiary for the second annual Over The Rainbow—a benefit of hope being held at Sidetrack Nov. 14, 2012, 7-10 p.m. Visit www.facebook.com/OverTheRainbow773.

See www.gildasclubchicago.org and www.liveoakchicago.com for more information.


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