Christina Santiago, a well-known LGBT advocate and the manager of programming for Howard Brown Health Center's Lesbian Community Care Project ( LCCP ) , died Aug. 13 when strong winds toppled a concert stage at the Indiana State Fair, killing five.
Santiago's partner, Alisha Marie Brennon, was among 45 injured. Brennon was expected to survive, a friend said. She had surgery Sunday night, and on Monday she was moved from the intensive care unit and her neck brace was removed.
Concertgoers in Indianapolis, Ind., were waiting for country music duo Sugarland to take the stage when strong winds collapsed the stage Saturday night. Weather.com reported that winds were between 50-70 mph. at the fair.
Santiago, 29, was among those killed.
Santiago, a self-identified Puerto Rican lesbian and feminist activist, grew up in the Bronx in New York City and received a degree in women's studies and sociology from the University of New York at Albany.
Just a year after starting her work at Howard Brown Health Center, Santiago was honored with a Windy City Times "30 under 30" award for her work as women's healthcare advocate in 2007.
In addition to her position at Howard Brown Health Center, Santiago was active in Amigas Latinas as board programming chair ( she had been on the board three years ) , and helped organize Dyke March Chicago. In May, Planned Parenthood of Illinois gave Santiago their Bright Horizons Award.
"It is with the heaviest of hearts that Amigas Latinas reports that the LGBTQ community lost one of our fiercest and brightest warriors, Christina Santiago," Amigas Latinas said in a statement. "Santiago, a self-identified 'Nuyorican' lesbian feminist, was committed to empowering queer women of color and advocating for access to healthcare in the LGBTQ community. As Programming Chair for Amigas Latinas, Santiago coordinated countless educational events and fundraisers for Amigas Latinas, including our Health and Wellness series and our community platicas. She was a charming, efficient and energetic motivator who mentored volunteers and staff alike."
Santiago was compelled to work in the healthcare field after the death of her mother due to breast cancer.
Brennon works at the law firm Pierce and Associates. She is from Williamsburg, Iowa and graduated from Robert Morris University. She also played in 2010 for the Chicago Force women's pro football team.
Dozens of friends posted messages on Facebook about the incident, and news traveled fast in the LGBT community Sunday. A memorial was planned quickly for 5 p.m. that day at HBHC/LCCP, and an additional memorial will be held soon.
At the memorial, several people spoke about Santiago and Brennon, as several TV cameras reported on the high-profile event. The cameras and reporters were eventually asked to leave so that the event could continue in a more appropriate, and somber, tone. Dozens of people packed into the space.
Rosa Yadira Ortiz, Amigas board president, spoke through tears about the loss of her friend and colleague.
"I lost my go-to buddy today," she said. "She will be seriously missed. As often as we have differences, she really brought us together in a way that very few can do."
Amigas co-founder Evette Cardona also spoke about Santiago's "really good work for the community. She would want the work to continue. We don't know why this happened; we do know that life is fleeting. Continue the fight, pick up the torch, and keep the fight going."
Paul Fairchild, former board member of LCCP, remembered Santiago as a "young baby dyke" when he first came to LCCP. "I then watched her blossom into this amazing young woman. She was a leader, a future leader, and the community has a great loss," he said.
"The sudden and devastating loss of Christina has left the entire community, including her Howard Brown Health Center family, heartbroken," said Jamal M. Edwards, president and CEO of HBHC, in a prepared statement. "Christina was an amazing womanone of our very brightest starswho worked tirelessly to improve the lives of women, particularly lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer women. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Christina's friends and family, and her beautiful partner Alisha Brennon, who is also a dear friend of HBHC."
During her career at HBHC, Santiago was recognized as a rising star. She recently received HBHC's 2010 Spirit Award; the highest staff honor. Santiago was an instrumental figure in the expansion of HBHC's women's health services division as the manager of LCCP and a strong advocate for the LGBTQ women's community.
Santiago was helping lead HBHC's new women's health initiative for LBTQ women through the LifeCycle Project, a healthcare initiative designed to meet the growing needs of the entire LGBTQ community throughout the entire lifecyle.
On Aug. 15, HBHC planned to provide grief counseling services for staff. HBHC is discussing plans to establish a memorial fund in Santiago's honor.
Community photographer Kat Fitzgerald said she will compile the many photos she has taken of Santiago over the years into a tribute.
Donations in Christina Santiago's name can be made at www.amigaslatinas.org through the "Just Give" button. Designate your donation in the name of Christina Santiago.
Howard Brown Health Center is also accepting donations of two kinds: one for Santiago's and Brennon's families for expenses, the other for LCCP. Donations can be sent in the mail to Howard Brown Health Center, 4025 N. Sheridan Road, Chicago, IL 60613. Or see www.howardbrown.org/hb_services.asp. Designate whether you want to donate to Christina's family fund or to LCCP.