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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Chicago Whispers
A Very Personal Gay and Lesbian History
by Sukie de la Croix
2000-08-09

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Talking to Kathy Edens

The first gay bar

I went to ...

"It was Lost and Found. I was working at a hospital and I was 23 then. I had no clue, I was totally naive back then. The girls that I worked with said, 'We want to take you out to different kinds of places.' They didn't say it was a gay bar, they didn't say anything. So they brought me into the Lost and Found when it was located on the corner of Irving Park and Sacramento. So we were in there about 5:30 and there were about five of us, drinking Black Russians. Then one person comes in and another person comes in, and I'm looking around and thinking, 'Man, is that a guy or a girl?' I was just very, very latent. So they said, 'It's a woman.' So I said, 'Oh, with her cigarettes wrapped up in the sleeve of her T-shirt like that?' They said, 'Yes.' Still, nothing registered. These other women I was with were all lesbians and I didn't have a clue.

"These women said, 'Now we're going to take you to a gay bar.' So we left there and we went to another bar called O'Banion's. They're still not telling me they're gay. So we're in O'Banion's and this gorgeous Black woman comes up and asks me to dance, and I said, 'No thank you, not right now. Maybe when there's a fast song.' So, of course, the next song was a fast one, and so I went out there and was dancing with this woman. When I went back, all the women I work with are making out! So they were saying, 'Oh this isn't really my cousin, it's my lover ...' Then about six months later I was with one of those women.

"O'Banion's was a very long bar and there was a couple of pool tables, then you walked in the back and there were tables and chairs. It was a big place, and there was a huge dancefloor."

Working at the

Lady Bug ...

"I started working in the bars in 1979 at the Lady Bug. I used to work at Grant Hospital and there was a bar called Tutsie Johnson's that was on Clark Street. It was a tiny gay bar owned by Norma Pearson and we would go there after work in our white uniforms.

"I met a bunch of women down there, one of which was Marilyn, and after knowing her for six months she said, 'I'm opening a bar and I want you to be a bartender.' I said, 'Oh my God, I can't do that. I can't work for tips. I'm a professional here.' She said, 'I really think you should consider it.' So I worked at the hospital on a Friday, then at night at the Lady Bug. Then I had Saturday off, and then I would work at the Lady Bug on Sunday night, and Monday I would go back to the hospital to work. I did that for a month and when I realized that I could make X amount of money working in a bar, I quit the hospital job. For a women's bar way back then, the tips were good.

"I would say the Lady Bug was the first upper-class women's bar. Marilyn owned the bar, and Vera was the manager. Vera was my Mona Lisa, she was my role model. She was a bitch and I loved her. So now when people call me a bitch, I say 'Thank you very much.' Way back then we were used to darker bars, more rowdy bars, but the Lady Bug was nicely done, nicely kept, and it was small. You know that tapas bar by Bucks, that's where the Lady Bug was. I worked there until 1985, just before they closed.

"Vera, the manager of the bar, who was everyone's inspiration, had passed away, and so everyone was deflated, and the owner couldn't deal with it anymore, so she didn't much care. So I had to leave there. I couldn't stand seeing the bar go down the tubes like that. That's when I took a year off."

Suzy B's ...

"When Debbie ( Rae ) was looking for a bar she took me to several places that were for sale, and she said, 'What do you think about this place?' And I was, 'Oh, I don't know.' Then when we walked into where Suzy B's was, I said, 'This is it. I feel it.' We sat there and we drank, and they bought the place. It was just an old man's neighborhood bar, and there was a beautiful skylight in there; they had a fake ceiling below that. It was very dark, but it was just the layout of the bar, it was small and comfortable. I used to go there a lot."

Politics ...

"I didn't get involved in any of the political groups, or organizations, until about seven years ago. At that time it was called The Illinois Federation for Human Rights, which is now Equality Illinois. I started by selling the Xmas trees at the Xmas tree lot, and I was a part of the celebrity pie toss. Last year I went for $2000, and I had the highest bid. This year I was second, but that's OK."

Women's separatism ...

"I don't believe in it. I still have a hard time with the lesbian parade. I, personally, am a gay woman, I'm not a lesbian. That separatism, I wouldn't have anything to do with that. I'm a gay woman because I prefer to love women, but I do not hate men, and I do not dislike them. I went to the Mountain Moving Coffee House once to see Vanessa Davis, but I just don't fit in with those people. They're not a part of my clan."

Kathy Edens is the lead chair for Equality Illinois' big gala fundraiser in January 2001 at the Chicago Hilton Towers. The theme will be "Swing Into the New Millennium," and will feature the big band sound.

Future historians take note: The memory section in this column contains just that—Memories!—and are only to be used as a starting point for your research. Send your stories to Sukie de la Croix at Outlines. He also interviews over the phone or by e-mail sukiedelacroix@iname.com .

What a Difference a Gay Makes

The Gay/Lesbian Movement, 5, 10, 15 & 20 Years Ago

Aug. 6-12

1995: 5 Years Ago

U.S.: The Michigan Womyn's Music Festival celebrates its 20th year, with comics Kate Clinton and Marga Gomez, among many others, entertaining the crowds. t Paul Rudnick's Jeffrey is in movie theaters. t Rob Eichberg, author of Coming Out: An Act of Love, and co-founder of National Coming Out Day, dies of AIDS at age 50. t Frank Maya, one of the first gay comics to make a name for himself in the mainstream, dies of AIDS at age 45. t Canada: A British Columbia lesbian couple, Tracy Potter and Sandra Benson, win a Human Rights Council case against a doctor who refused to inseminate them. Dr. Gerald Korn, who operates the province's only sperm bank, is ordered to pay the couple $2,500 for loss of dignity and $900 to reimburse them for the cost of seeking insemination in another province. t Latvia: In Riga, a Latvian-German lesbian couple get symbolically—if not legally—married, by exchanging vows and commitment rings. It is believed to be the first openly gay or lesbian wedding in the Baltic nations. t Italy: In Turin, a group of bank robbers— known in Italy as the "AIDS gang"— are released from jail once again, after their fifth bank hold-up in 15 days. The three men, who are secure in the knowledge that they will not be imprisoned because they have AIDS, rob banks in full view of security cameras without bothering to cover their faces. Under Italian law, patients with AIDS cannot be sent to prison.

1990: 10 Years Ago

U.S.: In New York, a private investigation ordered by the Covenant House board of directors finds "extensive evidence" of sexual conduct with young men by Father Bruce Ritter, the Franciscan priest who founded the youth shelter in 1968. As a member of the Meese Commission on Pornography, Father Ritter denounced the commission's "refusal to take an ethical or moral position on pre-marital or extra-marital sex, either heterosexual or homosexual.

1985: 15 Years Ago

U.S.: A publicist for Burt Reynolds denies rumors that the star has AIDS. t Julie Dubbs files suit in San Francisco against the CIA because it denied her security clearance because she is a lesbian. t The National Federation of Priest's Councils, representing 30,000 Roman Catholic priests, endorses a statement by the Catholic Coalition for Gay Civil Rights, which calls for civil rights for homosexuals. t A federal judge rules that federal employees via the Combined Federal Campaign Fund, could designate where their dollars were spent, resulting in $38,000 to gay organizations. t A North Carolina woman is awarded $420,000 by a federal court after it ruled she was fired for allegedly making a "pass" at her female boss. Billie Ann Chaudron said she was dismissed from her job after telling her boss that she loved her. t The U.S. Department of Justice release $293,904 in funding to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, following a two-month delay caused by Attorney General Edwin Meese, who along with 12 congressmen accuse the group of being pro-lesbian. t Britain: London suburb Mayor Bob Crossland declares himself the first openly gay mayor in Great Britain. He said his Mayoress will be his live-in lover, Martin. t Canada: A civil-rights bill protecting gays and transsexuals is defeated by the British Columbian legislature in Vancouver.

1980: 20 Years Ago

Italy: Zanzibar, a women's bar in Rome, is raided by the police, some with guns drawn. One of the owners of the bar is punched and three other women are arrested.


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