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Year in Review: Top Local News, Passages, Milestones
by Andrew Davis
2004-12-29

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Pictured Deborah Mell, daughter of Chicago Ald. Dick Mell and sister-in-law of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, came shining through for same-sex marriage rights in 2004. Her arrest made national news. #2 The GLBT community played a critical role in Sen. Obama's election. Photo by Tracy Baim. #3 Passages: Charles Clifton (left) and #4 Kevin Clewer, whose murder sparked media coverage, but with no suspect arrested.

A look back at some of the top stories in Chicago in 2004—from marriages to murders, the birth of new activists and the deaths of legends in our local community.

1. Gay and lesbian marriage: It should come as no surprise that one of the top Chicago LGBT stories of the year involves a topic that captivated—and polarized—the country. Gay and lesbian marriage, which would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, became part of the local consciousness.

Same-sex marriage advocates made their presence known by protesting, often at the offices of those who they thought could bring about change. The office of Cook County Clerk David Orr, in particular, became a familiar meeting place for supporters of gay and lesbian marriage to rally.

At times the long arm of the law intervened. In May, Angela James, Cathyann Joseph, Andy Thayer, and Gary Naham were arrested for disorderly conduct for demanding marriage licenses at Orr's office; the protesters subsequently became known as the 'Orr Four.' By December, all of them had either been found not guilty or had the charges dropped.

The fight for gay marriage sometimes involved people with relatively high profiles. Deborah Mell, daughter of Chicago Ald. Dick Mell and sister-in-law of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, was arrested in March at a protest after colliding with a Chicago police officer. In July, she was acquitted of battery charges after prosecutors could not provide any witnesses to corroborate the officer's story.

Even Mayor Richard Daley could not avoid being thrust in the middle of the controversy. As Daley left the annual Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame gala in October, he signed a petition supporting gay marriage at the request of an activist from the Chicago Anti-Bashing Network and Equal Marriage NOW! coalition. However, the document also demanded that Cook County Clerk Orr issue licenses and let the courts decide the matter—and Daley had no intention of pressuring Orr. The mayor later admitted that he signed the petition without reading it because he was told the document supported same-sex marriage—an admission that opened him to attack from various critics. In November, things appeared to have smoothed over when the activist organization Equal Marriage NOW! presented a giant 'Thank You' card to Daley outside his office for his support of gay marriage; however, the presentation also included some words from activists about how the mayor could do even more for the cause.

The fight in Chicago, however, did not prevent area couples from going elsewhere to get hitched. Partners John Pennycuff and Robert Castillo were among the thousands of couples to wed in February and March in San Francisco after the city issued licenses allowing gay and lesbian partners to marry. Unfortunately, the California Supreme Court voided the nearly 4,000 same-sex marriages and ruled unanimously that San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom overstepped his authority by issuing those marriage licenses. The brief wedding period, however, did allow for a groundbreaking moment: In March, the Chicago Tribune displayed its first same-sex wedding announcement by publicizing the union of Lee Neubecker and David Greer.

With all of the activity that has taken place locally ( and nationally ) , one thing is certain: The issue will not disappear anytime soon.

2. Gay murders haunt the city: Over the course of 2004, North Side neighborhoods were stunned by killings that had nervous residents ( erroneously ) speculating about the possibility of a serial murderer. In March, Kevin Clewer was brutally stabbed in his Lakeview apartment; the circumstances of the crime made some people link the killing to the August 2003 murder of Brad Winters, who was stabbed in his Lincoln Park home.

On Halloween, police found the body of high school teacher Charles Gibson in his Edgewater apartment. He also had been stabbed multiple times, again fueling speculation of a serial murderer who targeted gay men. However, officers refuted the theory and arrested a suspect, Ollie Rockman, in November.

Chicago police said in December that DNA evidence proves that the murders of Clewer and Winters are not linked. As of the press date, no suspects had been apprehended in either case.

3. Here come the judges: Sheryl Pethers's victory in the heavily contested Democratic primary for Cook County's 8th Judicial Subcircuit race ( in which an opponent did not concede until April ) was distinctive for a couple of reasons. In November, Pethers became the first open lesbian to be elected to the bench in Illinois. The other remarkable detail is that she won the primary by only 53 votes out of 40,000 cast—proving that every vote, indeed, does count.

On the other hand, while many cheered Pethers's win, many in the GLBT community jeered Judge Susan McDunn's victory. The strong feelings against McDunn stemmed mainly from two adoption cases involving lesbian couples. In 1998 and 1999, McDunn tried to stop the couples from adopting the children—and even gave files to anti-gay organizations. However, despite the pleas and prayers, McDunn held on to her seat by winning about 65 percent of the vote. ( A retention judge, like McDunn, keeps her seat by securing at least 60 percent of the vote. )

4. Big Chicks stays open: In July, Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed legislation that saved the liquor license for Big Chicks and authorized the issuance of a license to Tweet, its companion restaurant. The bill was drafted and sponsored by Rep. Larry McKeon. McKeon and other elected officials and community leaders struggled for several months to help Big Chicks stay in Uptown after the city moved to close the nightspot and refused to issue a liquor license to Tweet, reasoning that the businesses were located under 100 feet from a religious institution. The new bill amended part of the Liquor Control Act.

5. Rainbow Sash protest: In May, about 10 members of the Rainbow Sash movement were denied communion at Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral. In response to a notification from the group, Cardinal Francis George had said communion would be refused to anyone wearing the sash. He said that wearing the sash was turning a religious act into a political one, but opponents said it was George and the church who were politicizing the services. ( The issue first arose in 2000, when a local chapter of the Rainbow Sash Movement was denied communion at Holy Name Cathedral. ) In a letter that urged bishops in the archdiocese to deny the organization's members the Eucharist, George stated that his decision was based on a national policy of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

6. Circuit defeats petition: For a moment, it seemed like all was right in the battle between the North Halsted nightclub known as Circuit and the neighboring condo complex called the Dakota. However, after the nightspot's owners agreed to buffer its sound to accommodate the condo owners, some of the residents started passing out a petition in May to make its precinct 'dry,' a label that would strip Circuit of its liquor license.

Fortunately for the bar, the Cook County Circuit Court overturned the petition in October by determining that the document was short by 20 registered voters. However, it turned out that the people who live in the Dakota, which is located at 3631 N. Halsted, would have lost anyway. A group consisting of the nightclub's employees, legal team, and outside supporters managed to remove another 36 names from the petition before the hearing. Circuit hopes to re-open in early 2005 after hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on changes.

7. The fight against reggae: Reggae music is a bit of a conundrum: Although its beats are inviting, the lyrics sometimes are not, with some artists going so far as advocating violence against groups of people, including gays. In August, tobacco giant and tour sponsor R.J. Reynolds pulled the plug on a concert series by Jamaican artist Beenie Man, whose songs are littered with homophobic lyrics. Among the shows cancelled was a Chicago gig scheduled in October at the House of Blues.

Just a few weeks later, the Jamaican musician Capleton—whose songs also call for violence against gays—performed at the same venue. A band of people organized by the Chicago Anti-Bashing Network ( now known as the Gay Liberation Network ) picketed outside the House of Blues to protest his performance. However, House of Blues canceled a performance by the artist at its New Orleans venue that was slated for Oct. 11—National Coming Out Day.

8. Keyes and Obama make history: It was definitely one of the most colorful and historic political races in state history. Although the race was groundbreaking because it was the first time that two African Americans had faced each other in a senatorial contest, the margin of victory added another stunning chapter. By beating Republican ultra-conservative talk show host Alan Keyes in a landslide victory, Democrat Barack Obama became the only African American currently in the United States Senate. Obama garnered 70 percent of the votes while Keyes only snared 27 percent. Obama's 43 percentage point margin bested the previous record for a U.S. Senate race in Illinois. Keyes did not help his cause by spewing rhetoric that even offended members of his own party.

9. Arrests and protests at Gay Pride Parade: This year's Gay Pride Parade had the usual flair, with colorful floats and even more colorful marchers. However, protests and arrests gave the event a kick that organizers did not anticipate or want. Anthony Cisneros, a Republican congressional candidate who was seeking to unseat incumbent Rep. Luis Gutierrez, tried to crash the parade when he simply showed up at the parade with about a dozen anti-gays carrying signs. However, after being told that organizers would press charges if he tried to march, Cisneros and his backers stayed on the sidelines.

Unfortunately, a contingent of activists encountered the anti-gay group and a fight ensued. The only people who ended up being arrested were members of the pro-gay group. Jeremy Hammond, Neal Rysdahl, and Robert Bernstein, were charged with one count each of resisting arrest for struggling when handcuffs were being applied, aggravated battery to a police officer and reckless conduct.

10. Bailey controversy: Several transsexual women complained to Northwestern University that Michael Bailey, a sex researcher who was head of the university's psychology department, had written about them in his book, The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism, without getting their approval to be research participants. The transsexual women are also unhappy with the thesis of Bailey's book, in which he ditches the theory that men who want a sex change to become women are women trapped in men's bodies.

In December, reports surfaced that the school had concluded its investigation into the complaints against Bailey. However, the school did not reveal its findings or say whether it punished Bailey. A university spokesman did state that Bailey left his post as department chairman in October, although the researcher remained a full professor at the university. As an additional indignity, Bailey's book was disqualified as a Lambda Literary Awards finalist in March after judges requested the book's removal.

11. Boy Scout protest: The Boy Scouts of America held its national conference in Chicago in May—but it may be a while before the organization returns. Several groups protested the scouts' anti-gay and anti-atheist policies outside the Hyatt Regency, where the association met. The New England Coalition for Inclusive Scouting, a group made up of former scouts, former scout leaders, and concerned scouts who are still in the movement, held a press conference in a hotel across the street. Then, Scouting For All, a national organization advocating diversity in scouting, brought together a dozen speakers, including representatives of PFLAG, NOW, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, for a rally and day-long protest.

12. Chicago gets Gay Games for 2006: The Windy City scored a huge coup when the Federation of Gay Games announced in March that Chicago was selected as the presumptive host city of the 2006 Gay Games. As one of the most anticipated and celebrated LGBT events in the world, this quadrennial international athletic and cultural event will draw over 12,000 participants and 15,000 spectators from around the globe. The Chicago Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates the event will generate at least $25 million for the local economy. Chicago's plan proposes Gay Games VII for July 15-22, 2006, with Opening Ceremonies at Soldier Field; 30 sporting competitions taking place at four Sports Villages; Band and Choral concerts at the new Frank Gehry band shell; and Closing Ceremonies at Wrigley Field.

Passages:

Gay Boy Ric: Gay Boy Ric was a Windy City Times TV columnist and a frequent guest on The Howard Stern Show. He was also known for his Web site that savaged rap artist Eminem. A mainstay of the entertainment industry, Gay Boy Ric was an actor/writer/comedian and pop/rap singer. He performed numerous one-man shows in L.A. and New York, most recently Gay Boy Ric: For Straight Guys Only! at Theatre/Theatre in L.A. and Surfing with The Straight Boys at The Comedy Store in L.A. In addition, he wrote a nationally syndicated column called GAY TV and was host of the public access program The Gay Boy Ric TV Show. Ric was born in Lake Charles, La., and was raised as a military kid overseas in Turkey and Spain.

David Lochman: David Lochman, who was born in 1916 in Springfield, Ill., was a radiologist by profession and an iconoclast by nature; he passed away Dec. 5. This accomplished individual attended University of Chicago Medical School and eventually took part in World War II. His boldest move, however, involved his coming out in his later years. Lochman supported numerous local groups, including the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the gay Episcopalian group Integrity/Chicago. Lochman is survived by two daughters and several grandchildren.

Joy Rosenblatt: Joy Rosenblatt was a long-time devotee and supporter of lesbian-feminist women's music and culture who passed away at age 57 on April 15 in Chicago. Rosenblatt and wife Donna Malina were married in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, on Nov. 27, 2003. Over the years, Joy was a member of several community groups, including Mountain Moving Coffeehouse and Or Chadash. In addition, she shared the Jodonnay Designs jewelry business with her partner Donna and helped Cedar sell Willow Moon Designs clothing line at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival every year. Rosenblatt is survived by Malina and countless loving friends.

Alexis Bowlds: Alexis Bowlds was a longtime activist who was born Aug. 7, 1963 in Marion Indiana; she passed away on June 9, 2004 at the University of Chicago Hospital following complications from heart surgery. Alexis moved here in 1999. She volunteered her services at the Lesbian Community Cancer Project, Mountain Moving Coffeehouse, and Chicago Filmmakers; she also was a photographer for Dykediva.com . She loved art and taught it to children. She is survived by her partner, Renee Potter, and many friends.

Samantha Mattox: Samantha Mattox defined activism. Mattox died on May 15 of complications due to HIV/AIDS at Kindred Hospital. Mattox rallied around issues including queer liberation, women's liberation, freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal, and justice for striking workers. She joined the coalition for the National Young Women's Day of Action, which took place in Oct. 21, 1998, and she also worked with the Coalition or Positive Sexuality to educate high school students. At Roosevelt University Mattox participated in Ten Percent, a GLBT student group, the Black Student Union, and student government. As if that was not enough, she also was a contributor to BLACKlines and volunteered with the West Side Pathfinders Prevention Education Fund. After her diagnosis, Mattox received a '30 Under 30' award certificate from the Windy City Times. She is survived by her mother, Robinette Mattox; her partner, Fred Mecklenburg; and numerous relatives and friends.

Charles Clifton: Charles Clifton, executive director of Test Positive Aware Network ( TPAN ) in Chicago, passed away in August at the age of 45. Clifton was first associated with TPAN in 1996 when he moved to Chicago to pursue graduate studies at the University of Chicago. In Chicago, he served as co-chair of the Public Policy Committee with the Service Providers Council of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, was a member of the Chicago HIV Prevention and Planning Group, and a founding member of MOCHA ( Men of Color HIV/AIDS ) Collaboration. Nationally, Clifton was treasurer on the steering committee of the AIDS Treatment Activists Coalition, served on the community program committee for the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, and was conference co-chair of the North American AIDS Treatment Action Forum ( NATAF ) . The tireless Clifton also served on the board of the original bidding organization to bring the Gay Games to Chicago; he was among the 10 Chicagoans who traveled to South Africa in 2001 to bid for the Gay Games.

GiGi Nicks: Georgie 'GiGi' Nicks, director of patient advocacy for the Women and Children's HIV Program at Stroger Hospital and a national crusader for those with HIV, passed away in August at the age of 52. She was diagnosed with HIV in 1990 and with AIDS four years later. Born in Cleveland, Miss., she worked for various philanthropic groups in Chicago before being diagnosed. In 1994, she became a founding board member of the Washington D.C.-based AIDS Policy Center for Children, Youth & Families, now known as AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth & Families. She is survived by her son, Jabari, and many other relatives.

Michael Shimandle: Popular Chicago bar manager Michael Shimandle, 60, died Sept. 20. He managed Buddies' bar for more than 16 years. Shimandle was born in Chicago Aug. 21, 1944 and raised in Riverside, Ill. He attended Fenwick High School in Oak Park and the School of the Art Institute where he majored in interior design. Shimandle began his career at Marshall Field & Co. as store display manager. As design manager and merchandise display planner, he planned several of the original Crate & Barrel stores in Chicago. Shimandle created and managed a number of theme bars and restaurants, including The Bushes, Bughaus, Crazy Mary's at Bulldog Road, and Buddies', which he ran for over 16 years until it closed earlier this year. In 1981 he was named Owner of the Year for Bushes by Gay Chicago magazine. Shimandle promoted and supported many sports, pride activities, health fundraisers and public affairs programs for more than 25 years.

Milestones and Transitions:

1. The closing of Buddies': It happened on April Fools' Day but it was no joke. On April 1, the gay establishment known as Buddies' was suddenly closed down after the owners sold their building at 3301 N. Clark. Co-owners George Brophy and Martin Enright explained that they were under a gag order not to discuss the plans with anyone—including staff members—until the sale went through. Buddies', which was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 2003, sponsored many community non-profit organizations and sports teams. The French-Italian country eatery Socca is scheduled to open mid-January in the former Buddies' location.

2. I Am My Own Wife Snags Tony: Many followers of the theater may know that Doug Wright's I Am My Own Wife snared the Tony Award in 2004 for Best Play. They may also be aware that the play's sole performer, Jefferson Mays, won the award for leading actor in a play for his portrayal of German transvestite Charlotte von Mahlsdorf and about 40 other characters. What many may not know, however, is that the play was first produced at Chicago's About Face Theatre—and that Mays starred in the original production.

3. Vital Bridges—6 Million Meals: Vital Bridges, an organization that provides prevention, counseling, food, and housing assistance to people impacted by HIV and AIDS throughout Chicago, marked an interesting milestone. In October, Vital Bridges' food services provided their six millionth meal for HIV/AIDS survivors. While reaching the six millionth of anything might be cause for jubilation in most circles, achieving this feat was understandably bittersweet in this situation.

4. 25th Anniversary of Women & Children First: In 1979, Ann Christophersen and Linda Bubon opened Women & Children First in a small storefront on Chicago's Armitage Avenue. Now located in Andersonville, the business has grown into the world's largest feminist bookstore. To mark the 25th anniversary of the store's opening, Christophersen and Bubon had three months of events that culminated in November's Bookstore Bash and Benefit at The Swedish Museum.


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