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Black Caucus Meeting Stirs Controversy
by Andrew Davis

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A conference of the Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus ( CBGMC ) took place Aug. 9 at the Chicago Department of Public Health ( CDPH ) Training Building at 1642 N. Besly—and centered around a unique exercise that shed light on some controversial issues but that also baffled some of the attendees, who were under the impression that another topic would be discussed.

The caucus began smoothly enough, with CGBMC President Kevin Tindell providing updates regarding the organization's committees. However, the night's first bump occurred when Tindell erroneously said that the Quality of Life Bill—a measure establishing a statewide lottery game in which proceeds would ultimately help HIV/AIDS-related organizations—had passed through the Illinois General Assembly and been signed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich. ( The former has occurred but the latter has not. ) A couple of people raised their hands in an effort to correct Tindell, but were instructed to wait until the end of the meeting if they had comments, frustrating them.

( The day after the meeting, attendee Michael O'Connor contacted Windy City Times to express his frustration, calling the presentation of the report 'a clear example of political illiteracy among the African-American GLBT leadership in this city.' He added that he cleared up the situation with Tindell during the first break but that Tindell failed to make a retraction, leaving O'Connor 10 seconds at the end of the meeting to clarify things. Tindell responded by e-mail: 'The bill is on the Govenor's desk but it is not signed yet because the budget has not been signed as of [ Aug. 13 ] . I acknowledged the correction and thanked [ O'Connor ] publicly in the meeting before it ended. I cited that I was wrong in stating that it had already been signed.' )

Then, the meeting moved on to an exercise that involved the entire gathering. CDPH's Lora Branch presented the crowd with an interactive hypothetical that focused on Doug, a 32-year-old volunteer at a youth center, and Jamal, a 16-year-old who goes to the center ( the only place where he is 'out' ) and who has had sex with an HIV-positive man. One night, Doug gives Jamal a ride in his car; Jamal confesses his problems and ultimately says that he wishes he had a boyfriend like Doug.

Moderator Diana Beasley, a management counselor, then split the audience into several groups, who then discussed legal issues, role-play issues, boundaries and sources of support as they related to the scenario. After a half hour, everyone came together and discussed said topics. ( They were assisted by a panel of experts who consisted of CDPH attorney Wendi Wright, Rev. Juan Reed, Department of Children and Family Services' Thayer Johnson and Renae Ogletree of Chicago Public Schools. ) What ensued was an at-times passionate discussion that touched on everything from abortion to disclosure of possible criminal activity.

Several people were confused by the very fact that the exercise even took place. In fact, one attendee asked, 'What is the basis of this being held at the CBGMC meeting?' Branch answered at the meeting's conclusion that the night's subject 'was just the tip of the iceberg. We're going to get into much, much more depth with this topic. Someone asked, 'Why are we addressing this?' [ It's because ] it's an important issue. Should we address it today or never? Today. Every issue that comes to this room is going to be addressed in a public forum until we get the answers.'

Although the forum produced some answers, some people were not satisfied by the night's proceedings. An e-mail making the rounds stated that the allegedly morally ( and possibly, legally ) corrupt behavior of the leader of an agency head would be specifically discussed at the meeting. However, the closest the forum got to that claim was the exercise—which angered a few of the attendees.

Developments will be reported as they happen—and several people indicated that things are definitely not over concerning the issues involving the agency head.

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