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LGBT council faces uncertain future
News posted Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011
by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times

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In their first meeting since they got word that city budget cuts hit Director Bill Greaves and wiped out their council, members of the city's Advisory Council on LGBT Issues sat down Oct. 19 to discuss their options and formulate a response.

"We can go down fighting," said Gary Chichester, a council member, who arrived prepared with a document laying out opposition to the changes.

Members expressed frustration that they had not been consulted about the changes and what they called a lack of transparency surrounding how and why they were made.

Last week, Greaves notified the council in an email that his position was cut.

In addition to Greaves' departure, the city's eight advisory councils were repackaged into just three, among them one on gender and sexuality that will replace the LGBT and women's council. The other two proposed councils are one on veterans' affairs (already a council) and another called "Equity" that combines the councils on African, Arab, Asian and Latino affairs.

"This was announced by the commissioner as a done deal," said Council Chair Beth Kelly, who met with Mona Noriega, commissioner of the Department of Human Relations, earlier in the day and reported little clarity on the meaning of such changes.

Council members wondered aloud why they were not consulted, where the changes were coming from and what the re-organization would mean for those sitting at the table.

Kelly said she asked Noriega what would happen to current council members.

According to Kelly, Noriega said verbatim, "I have been asking that question, and I don't have an answer."

Council members pressed Greaves for additional information. Greaves, who has been private about his reaction to the changes, remained quiet throughout most of the meeting, however.

Council member Gary Chichester said he found it "offensive" that words "lesbian," "gay," "bisexual" and "transgender" had been removed from the council names.

Others worried that three councils could not adequately respond to the needs of the entire city.

According to Kelly, new city ordinances will need to be drafted to account for the changes. However, she said, commissioners will have no input in writing them.

"This reorganization is a very top-down decision," Kelly said.

What the changes mean for the current council remain unclear, and Greaves has declined to comment on record about the changes to Windy City Times.

The news comes at a sensitive time for the council, which has been grappling with a loss of city funding and support for its Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame a few months before the annual induction ceremony.

That induction will take place Wed., Nov. 9, at the Chicago History Museum.

Mayor Daley handed out Hall of Fame awards in past years, but organizers say that Mayor Emanuel has given no indication if he will present the awards. According to council members, the mayor said he will attend the event.

Former Illinois Sen. Dawn Clark Netsch has agreed to hand out the awards. Lesbian icon Rosie O'Donnell was also asked and offered her support for future events, although she will be taping her show that night, Chichester said.

Among other unanswered questions remaining is what will happen to the decades of city-owned records from the council. According to Greaves, the city has nearly four full filing cabinets of materials on everything from council meeting minutes to historical records of the Hall of Fame. Greaves said the documents are well-organized and in good condition.

Council member Bill Kelley said he wants to preserve the historical record of the council for the community, possibly to be entrusted to the Gerber/ Hart Library.

However, council members are not yet ready to throw in the towel. The group has agreed to fight the proposed changes. They will distribute Chichester's letter against the changes throughout the community and the City Council.

"It's not just a done deal," said Chichester. "So we can still make noise."

"For me, this is not about being antagonistic or feeling that something is being taken away from us," said Kevin Smith, a council member. "This is about making sure there still a strong presence of LGBT issues and women and the others as well."

The council will meet in December, even though it had taken that month off in past years. If the budget proposal goes through as is, the council has just two meetings left.

The council will take a commemorative picture in December. Kelly said she would personally see it to it that the pictures were printed and handed out to members.

Silent about how the changes will affect him was Greaves, who ate dinner at the meeting and whose reputation in the 11 years he has held the job has become that of a person who never takes a day off.

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