WATSONVILLE—A 2017 report from SAGE, the country’s largest advocate for LGBT elders, found that roughly one-third of LGBT older adults live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Worse, that report also found that many members of that community deal with family rejection, employment discrimination, violence and isolation because of their sexual identity.
“I think people often don’t know or care what older adults in the LGBT community go through,” said Sharon Papo, executive director of The Diversity Center of Santa Cruz County. “It’s a part of the community that, sadly, lives in the shadows for many reasons.”
Steve Trujillo said he knows this all too well. The 66-year-old community advocate has dealt with those barriers and more throughout his life and in his time living in Watsonville’s Pajaro Village, a sprawling older adult community on the city’s east side.
Though Watsonville is seen as an open and accepting community, Trujillo, a gay man, said he and other LGBT residents have been the target of harassment in that community, including one instance in which the president of the Pajaro Valley Homeowners Association tried to have him arrested for moving a video camera.
“That afternoon [Watsonville Police Department] is at my door telling me the homeowners association president wants to press charges against me for felony vandalism,” Trujillo said. “The officer said, ‘we’re not going to do that because you didn’t do anything that’s felony vandalism.’”
He added: “That’s just one example.”
Despite that, Trujillo has continued to fight for LGBT equality in his community and in the greater Santa Cruz County.
His efforts were recognized by Papo and The Diversity Center at the nonprofit’s annual gala on Oct. 12 at Paradox Hotel, this year dubbed “The Cosmic Gala.” Trujillo, two other Watsonville residents—both declined to be interviewed for this story—and four Santa Cruz residents were named this year’s Community Heroes for refusing “to bow to oppression” and demonstrating “tremendous skills in self-advocacy and resiliency,” according to The Diversity Center’s website.
Papo called Trujillo a “tireless and dedicated advocate” in the community and said his impact has been felt around the county.
Trujillo said he nearly started crying when he learned he would be honored by the Diversity Center.
“It means a lot,” Trujillo said. “It makes me feel like the work I’ve been doing for the community has made a difference.”
Trujillo said there is still much work to be done, including one giant project he has spearheaded over the last few months: the creation of an LGBT advisory commission for Santa Cruz County.
He is currently gathering signatures from members of the community to be presented at a future Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors meeting. So far, he has gathered roughly 300 signatures, including current Supervisor John Leopold, Watsonville Mayor Francisco Estrada and candidate for state senator John Laird.
The commission on a voluntary basis would meet, discuss and issue reports to the supervisors on how issues would affect the LGBT community, Trujillo said.
There are at least four other counties in the state that have similar advisory boards: Los Angeles, San Diego, San Mateo and San Francisco.
The County of Santa Cruz has more than 30 commissions, committees and advisory boards, including a Women’s Commission, a Seniors Commission and a Latino Affairs Commission.
“The time has arrived because of the growing LGBT population,” Trujillo said. “The time has come to make a significant change in the way the county and the cities view our population. We don’t feel we can be discarded, left out and marginalized. We need to be fully included.”