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Renee Hanover dead at 84
Posted Jan. 5, 2011, updated Jan. 9.
by Tracy Baim.
2011-01-05

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Long-time lesbian activist and much-honored attorney Renee Hanover died Jan. 5. She was 84. Hanover moved to California several years ago to be near her daughter Nancy. When she left Chicago ten years ago, the Chicago LGBT community held a large send-off for her at Star Gaze bar.

The funeral service for Hanover was January 9 at Congregation Or Chadash, followed by interment Wunders Cemetery. While several people shared wonderful memories of Hanover at the Jan. 9 service, a community memorial will be planned soon.

Renee Marcus was born April 18, 1926 in New York City. She was a first-generation American—her father was from Russia, her mother from England. What radicalized her on gender issues was an experience in Hebrew school, which she attended with her sister. Renee excelled, winning a first prize award that would mean she could lead a parade. But because she was a girl, she was initially refused the honor.

When she was in New York, Renee also was involved in labor organizing because she was an office worker. She joined the Communist Party in New York, and was still involved in the CP when she moved to Chicago in 1952. She became disillusioned with the CP when they did not support efforts on fighting racism. Renee married young ( taking her husband's last name, Hanover ) , later divorced and then raised her three children while working her way through college and law school in the 1960s.

She was dismissed from law school in 1964, four months shy of her degree, for being a lesbian. She later returned to graduate. She opened what is believed to be the first law office in the U.S. focused on women's issues and was also believed to be the first "out" lesbian attorney in the county.

Hanover was inducted into Chicago's Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1991. Her tremendous contributions to Chicago's LGBT and mainstream communities includes work on dozens of non-profits, defending gay men against police entrapment, fighting to desegregate beaches in Chicago, helping overturn the Chicago anti-cross-dressing law, representing African-American lesbians protesting heavy carding at white lesbian bars, representing the Black Panthers, and much more. She was a colleague of legendary Chicago lesbian Pearl Hart.

Hanover was one of Chicago's most cherished lesbian activists. She worked inside and outside the system to save and change the lives of tens of thousands of people.

Hanover successfully worked to overturn the Chicago "zipper" law banning cross-dressing and worked on numerous cases of gay men arrested by police in public spaces.

Hanover, a powerful presence in any meeting, was a traditional anti-war leftie, always challenging the government. Starting in July 1961, she helped organize a "freedom wade-in" at the South Shore's Rainbow Beach to help desegregate Chicago's beaches. It took three years, but eventually she and her allies won.

Ferd Eggan, who died in 2007, wrote of Hanover in an essay titled "Dykes and Fags Want Everything: Dreaming of the Gay Liberation Front": "I remember best a demonstration [ in the early 1970s ] against the beating and killing of a Black drag queen by the Chicago Police Department. … We came to understand that our gay rights would be nothing but privileges for the well-to-do unless we acted for the most vulnerable, most easily victimized queers. Long-time lesbian lawyer Renee Hanover, who had struggled for years already as an advocate of union and leftist communities in Chicago, was one of the maybe 20 of us in the freezing sleet on Chicago Avenue that day."

That was Hanover—you could count on her in the boardroom, in the courtroom, or on the streets with ACT UP protesters or draft-resisting revolutionaries.

She was the attorney for the first public gay dance in Chicago, in 1970 on Chicago's South Side.

She also took on the gay establishment, fighting for African-American lesbians kept out of women's bars. The April/May 1975 edition of the Chicago Gay Crusader newspaper reported on the case against C.K.'s Lounge, where Hanover represented the complainants in their successful legal fight for unbiased access to the club.

The June 24, 1977 edition of GayLife newspaper reported on comments Hanover made at the huge and historic protest against anti-gay singer Anita Bryant's appearance at Medinah Temple in Chicago. The June 14 protest brought together thousands of LGBTs. Hanover stated: "This would have to be the most moving event we have ever had." She said the community is a part "of all the people who are covered by the Constitution." Hanover told the crowd that she was asked to speak June 17 before the Texas Bar Association opposite Bryant.

During the 1987 March on Washington weekend in D.C., the 61-year-old Hanover was among those arrested at a protest in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. For more than 40 years, she was involved in a wide range of causes. As an out lesbian attorney as long ago as the 1960s, Hanover made history alongside very few out colleagues.

Her practice with Hart inspired Hanover's own work. "Her legal career consisted in large part of defending underdogs—aliens, alleged subversives, homosexuals, prostitutes, among others," Hanover said when Hart died. One could say the same about Hanover.

Hanover cared about senior gay issues and was part of a pioneering 1980s group working on those issues well before they became popular. She was a director of Lesbian and Gay Seniors ( LEGACY ) for four years. She was a co-founder and steering committee member of Old Lesbian Organizing Committee.

Hanover's work on women's issues was also important to her and to Chicago. She helped anti-rape efforts, the Women in Crisis Can Act hotline, Women Employed, Lesbians in the Law, Chicago Lesbian Liberation, Daughters of Bilitis, Lesbian Community Cancer ( now Care ) Project, the National Organization for Women, Chicago Women's Liberation Front, and dozens more.

But she was also involved in numerous legal efforts, including the National Lawyers Guild ( executive board ) , the Chicago Lawyers Committee to End the War in Vietnam, and the ACLU. She initiated the first gay and lesbian workshops at any national legal conference. She was also a charter member of the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago ( LAGBAC ) .

Hanover represented in court many feminists and feminist groups, including the underground abortion group JANE. She actively supported and participated in the annual Women and Law Conferences nationally, from the second through twenty-second years of the conference. She was part of a ground-breaking lesbian professional organization, and helped found a 1970s women's brunch group that is still active today.

She also represented the "D.C. 12" gay male defendants against criminal charges stemming from the Black Panthers Constitutional Convention in Washington, D.C.

Hanover also provided testimony for important legal efforts. She testified before the Chicago City Council, the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, the Federal Communications Commission, the Illinois Department of Insurance, the Illinois Department of Labor, the Illinois Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Illinois Fair Employment Practices Commission, the Texas Bar Association, and more.

In 1973 alone, she testified twice at the Chicago City Council, once at hearings on rape, and another time at the judiciary committee hearings on two gay-rights resolutions.

She was very much a co-gender activist, working with Mattachine Midwest, Beckman House, Chicago Gay Alliance, Gay Liberation Front ( she was a founding member in 1969 ) , ACT UP and Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force campaigns.

She was in mainstream groups, Jewish organizations ( Havurat Achayot and Congregation Or Chadash, plus non-gay Jewish groups ) , progressive causes, and dozens more too numerous to list.

The Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame has a more detailed roster of her involvement ( see www.glhalloffame.org ) , and many of her personal papers are maintained by the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York.

Her long-time friend William B. Kelley wrote the following on the Hall of Fame website: "She has also been an invaluable organizer of efforts to address specific community problems. Without employing mere rhetoric, she has always pointed out connections between lesbian or gay issues and other social phenomena, and, by bridging a practice and theory gap between lesbian and gay activism and other social change movements, she has been a living argument against ghettoization. Hanover has embodied gay and lesbian pride and visibility every time she appeared in court or negotiated on behalf of a gay or lesbian client, and every time she testified or lobbied knowledgeably in policy making settings. All this advocacy was unpaid, and even her law practice was often pro-bono. Her ability to motivate others and to size them up accurately has been of great aid to her own and others' advocacy efforts."

In June 1992, Hanover contributed a column to Outlines gay newspaper ( which purchased and merged with Windy City Times in 2000 ) , based on her remarks receiving one of her many honors, this from the Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force, May 16 of 1992. She stated in part: "I remember too many years ago when I represented the Black Panthers and the Blackstone rangers and was trying to start a bail fund." Out of that, she realized the gay community could also use such a fund, which eventually lead to IGLTF's formation.

He acceptance speech urged the community to come together across all divisions, including race and gender. " [ We ] cannot afford this infighting and trashing," she said. "We've got serious work ahead of us and we need the contribution of each and every one of us. We've got to advance the interests of the entire gay and lesbian community. The best tribute you could give those we honor tonight is for each and every person here to make a commitment and actively join our struggle."

In addition to IGLTF and induction in the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame, Hanover received many other honors during her career. The Chicago National Organization for Women gave her their Wonder Woman Award, LEGACY named an award for Hanover after honoring her, and she received the Joe Alongi Award from IMPACT, a now-defunct gay political action committee.

What is most important to remember about Hanover is not just her work, but Hanover as a person. She was short and mighty, a mentor and friend to all generations of LGBTs, an amazing force for change of both individuals and institutions. She was out and proud and unapologetic, well before that became the norm. She was a role model for so many Chicagoans and others around the United States—lawyers, activists, politicians. Her retirement to Los Angeles was a sad blow to the Windy City; Chicago may never see the likes of Renee Hanover again.

Hanover was preceded in death, by a few months, by her former partner Dillie Grunauer, another Chicago activist legend.

Survivors: Her children Stan ( Pam ) Hanover, Paul ( Nancy Katz ) Hanover, Nancy ( Gerardo ) Reyes; grandchildren Michael Andrews, Sarah Solon-Hanover, Julie, Jonathan and Susan Hanover; great grandchildren Jasmine, Jelani and Khadjia Andrews.

Memorials to: Congregation or Chadash, St. John of God Care Center in Los Angeles, The Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York, or Gerber Hart Library.

( This obituary includes excerpts from the book Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City's Gay Movement, 2008, Agate, by Tracy Baim )


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