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The year in review: Local news
by Andrew Davis
2008-12-31

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For Chicagoland LGBTs, 2008—if nothing else—proved that the community will rally around its own:

Up in smoke: Illinois' statewide smoking ban took effect Jan. 1. People who worked at and/or managed some local LGBT nightspots reported that business was scarcely affected.

Natural election: The Feb. 5 primary elections made history as Anita Alvarez became the first Hispanic and the first woman to take the Democratic slate for the post of Cook County state's attorney; she eventually defeated Republican Tony Peraica in November. Also, Democratic Illinois state rep candidate Deb Mell ran unopposed, paving the way for her to become the first out lesbian in the Illinois General Assembly. On the flip side, openly gay Cook County Board of Review commissioner candidate Jay Paul Deratany fell just short of ousting incumbent Joseph Berrios.

Center of attention: Center on Halsted received the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Outstanding Non-Profit Real Estate Project at the 14th Annual Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards.

The thin blue line: As part of new Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis' recent massive department overhaul, former 20th District Commander Kathleen Boehmer became the first woman to lead the Town Hall Police District, located in the heart of Boystown.

A matter of principal: A bill that would have repealed a state law that requires health departments to notify school principals of a student's HIV status was defeated in the Illinois House 62-43.

The write stuff: Gay writer Dwight Okita was originally one of 5,000 entrants in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, Amazon.com's first writing competition in search of the next great American novel—and just missed taking the grand prize for his work, The Prospect of My Arrival.

Model behavior: Openly gay Chicagoan Ronnie Kroell—who became a 30 Under 30 honoree in June—did his city proud by coming in as the runner-up on Bravo's reality-TV program Make Me a Supermodel.

No more words: Several local LGBT people have come out in support of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, then-Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama's controversial former pastor, following media uproar over short clips from his past sermons. Obama eventually distanced himself from Wright.

Capitol idea: The eighth annual HIV/AIDS Lobby Days was a "huge success," according to the event's organizers. Over 120 people rallied in the rotunda of the State Capitol April 2, calling for sound HIV/AIDS policies.

A steep bill to climb: A measure that aimed to extend survivor benefits to the same-sex partners of Chicago Public School teachers failed, 43-67, after a long debate. HB 4731 was sponsored by openly gay state Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, who vowed to keep fighting for its passage despite the setback.

Si, se puede: Rainbow flags dotted Chicago's May Day rally, as an LGBTQ contingent marched along with groups demanding the legalization of the undocumented; worker's rights; and an end to raids and deportations.

Villa Park saga: Nicole Abusharif, accused of murdering partner Becky Klein at their Villa Park home in 2007, was released from DuPage County Jail in May after a judge raised her bail for violating her home confinement; she is still awaiting trial. Robert L. Edwards, 42, of Elk Grove Village, was convicted in November of two counts of obstruction of justice in connection with Klein's death.

Sexual healing: On May 27, Berwyn's city council voted 8-0 to add "sexual orientation" to the language in its city ordinance that protects against discrimination. Aldermen also voted to update other language within the ordinance and rename it the Human Rights Ordinance.

Pride in the name of love: As part of Pride Month, local television station WTTW-11 showed the special Out & Proud, a documentary about the local LGBT community, despite a bomb threat that it received. In a related development, the book Out & Proud in Chicago—edited by Windy City Times Publisher Tracy Baim—is released in September. The book is the first full-length history of the LGBT community in Chicago ever published.

Racial dimensions: The Coalition for Justice and Respect organized a "Unity March Against Racism and Harassment" in the Boystown area in June. This was the latest such event in Chicago to address the tensions that have pitted youth of color against police officers, condo dwellers and business owners.

A new venue: For the first time ever, Dyke March Chicago took place away from Andersonville as hundreds of participants marched in the primarily Latino area of Pilsen.

The rain event: Despite showers and a long delay mid-event, 450,000 celebrated the 39th annual Pride Parade June 29. The grand marshal was Eric Alva, an ex-marine who is a proponent of overturning "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Giving them the benefit: On July 1, Cook County commissioners approved a measure that changes a county ordinance to benefit same-sex couples who get married in another state. Only two commissioners—Liz Doody-Gorman and Gregg Goslin—voted against the measure.

Splitting the difference: Due to conflict and disputes, a schism developed in the Windy City Black Pride organization, resulting in Windy City Black Pride and the newly formed Chicago Windy City Black Pride holding separate celebrations.

Bad luck: Gentry on State, 440 N. State, closed its doors quietly in August. The site is now The Lucky Lady, an after-work beer-and-shot bar with a primarily straight clientele. Gentry's Web site simply says, "Thanks for the Memories ... Gentry on State & Gentry on Halsted no longer exist."

Out of site: Callling it "the end of an era," Bailiwick Repertory founder and artistic director David Zak notified patrons in a letter that the company would leave its space at 1229 W. Belmont at the end of this year. Jeremy Wechsler and Theatre Wit will take over the space in 2009.

Happy anniversary: The Cook County Clerk's Office held a celebration marking five years since it established a domestic-partnership registry.

A family affair: The mother, brother and nephew of singer and Academy Award-winning actress ( and Chicago native ) Jennifer Hudson were killed. William Balfour, 27—the estranged husband of Hudson's sister, Julia—was charged with three counts of first-degree murder and one count of home invasion in connection with the deaths of Darnell Donerson, Jason Hudson and Julian King.

Yes, he did: Chicago's Grant Park became the focal point of the nation Nov. 4, when Sen. Barack Obama delivered his victory speech after winning the presidential election, making history as the country's first African-American president-elect.

In focus: Hundreds of LGBTA activists braved the bitter cold Nov. 8 to demonstrate downtown against anti-gay Focus on the Family leader James Dobson. Dobson was among those being inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.

Protesting the 8: An estimated 3,000-5,000 people attended a gay marriage rally at Chicago's Federal Plaza, at Adams and Dearborn, Nov. 15 as part of a nationwide series of simultaneous protests against the passage of the Proposition 8 gay marriage ban in California.

School is out: A proposal for a Chicago LGBTA high school was abruptly taken off the agenda of the Chicago Public Schools Nov. 19 board meeting. Supporters and opponents of the proposal came to the downtown office of CPS, only to be handed a memo from The Office of New Schools informing them, "The Social Justice Solidarity High School proposal has been withdrawn from consideration during today's Board meeting."

Notes on a scandal: On Dec. 9, FBI special agents arrested Gov. Rod Blagojevich and John Harris, his chief of staff. Blagojevich stood accused of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud as well as solicitation of bribes. ( As of press time, Blagojevich had refused to step down, although Harris had resigned. ) The family of the governor's wife, Patti—including the father, Alderman Dick Mell, and her sister, newly elected State Rep. Deb Mell—went on television to defend Illinois' first lady.

Clash in Boystown: Things became quite intense at the Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted, when five members of God Hates Fags—also known as Kansas' anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church ( headed by the Rev. Fred Phelps ) —showed up Dec. 13 near the facility before a forum was scheduled to take place. More than 100 pro-LGBT counterdemonstrators showed up to support the center.

Strike up the band: Several Chicagoans were selected to be in the first LGBT band that will march in President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration parade.

Passages:

Lisa Tonna, a former manager of the Center on Halsted's Anti-Violence Project and interim managing director of the Lesbian Community Care Project, passed away Jan. 8 of cancer.

Earnest Hite, Jr., a prevention coordinator with the organization known as Better Existence with HIV, was killed in a car accident Jan. 14. He was 53.

Eugene Sawyer, a businessman and former Chicago mayor ( 1987-89 ) who was a longtime ally of the LGBT community, died at age 73 on Jan. 19.

Mary York, a Chicago attorney—who, as part of the firm Mulryan and York, was inducted with her legal partner Rosemary Mulryan into the Chicago Gay & Lesbian Hall of Fame in 2004—died Jan. 23 after a long battle with renal cancer. She was 52.

Gloria J. Shoff, executive director of the Northalsted Area Merchants Association, passed away in late January. Shoff, a lifelong Chicagoan who resided on the North Side, was 72.

Michaeline Chvatal, one of the founding members of the local lesbian feminist choral group The Artemis Singers, passed away Feb. 16. She was 60.

Antonia "Tata" Flores, a lesbian who, among other things, recruited other lesbians every June ( since 1997 ) to represent the Dykes on Bikes in the annual Gay Pride Parade, passed away Feb. 17 of breast cancer. She was 50.

Tom Koontz—a Midwesterner whose life took him to New York, Puerto Rico and Chicago, where he was, among other things, a recent sales associate for Windy City Times—died Feb. 29. He was 56.

James Owen, an employee at the gay bar Little Jim's and partner of the late gay-rights activist Thom Dombkowski, passed away March 31 at the age of 54.

Kathleen Rose Winter, 51, passed away May 4. A lifelong Chicagoan and former Windy City Times writer, Winter was active in several fields of pursuit, including advocating for the rights of people with disabilities, athletics, writing, performing, and public speaking.

Larry McKeon—the first openly gay and the first HIV-positive member of the Illinois General Assembly—died May 13. He was 63.

Dewey Herrington, known as the "Mayor of Broadway," passed away Aug. 12 from complications from degenerative brain disease at the age of 62.

Ron Ziebarth, a popular bartender who served drinks at various LGBT establishments over the past 25 years, was found dead Sept. 23. He was 52.

Studs Terkel—a Chicagoan who was an actor, radio host and Pulitzer Prize-winning author—died Oct. 31 at the age of 96.


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