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CDPH hosts '50 Years Since Stonewall'
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2019-07-01

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Publisher, producer and LGBTQ activist Tracy Baim gave the keynote address at the Chicago Department of Public Health's ( CDPH ) LGBTQ Health & Outreach Program's Pride Health reception, "50 Years Since Stonewall: Collaborating to Achieve Health Equity," June 28 at the Chicago Cultural Center's Preston Bradley Hall.

CDPH LGBTQ Health & Outreach Liaison Antonio King opened the evening's festivities with the line that he said his mom uses to describe his job—"they pay me to be gay." In addition, he spoke about his 15-year history with CDPH and how proud he is to do this work. He explained that the balloon towers that were present throughout the venue represented the many Pride flags that celebrate the various identities in the LGBTQ community.

"My responsibility is to bring visibility, voice and viability to those LGBTQ family members who have not always been consistently represented or acknowledged," said King.

King introduced special guest Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who spoke about the Stonewall Uprising and the roles that transgender icons Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera played during that time. Lightfoot said there is still so much work to be done toward full equality across the country. She explained that, unlike many LGBTQ people during that time, when she came out to her parents in the 1980s they were immediately loving and accepting.

Lightfoot conveyed a grim statistic to the crowd: that 11 transgender people have been killed across the country during this calendar year. She explained that there is still an extremely high rate of LGBTQ youths experiencing homelessness, especially among Black and Latinx youth, adding that this is unacceptable. She explained that efforts need to be accelerated to achieve the goal of HIV-infection elimination by 2027.

Lightfoot said she took an HIV test at a Southside Walgreens the previous day for National HIV Testing Day to raise awareness and encourage others to get tested. She explained that health equity is the key to everyone, no matter who they are, getting the healthcare they need. [Editor's note: More info about that event is at WindyCityMediaGroup.com .]

Baim—who is the founder and owner of Windy City Times as well as publisher of The Chicago Reader—outlined the history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic that began in 1981. She said media bias against most of the people with HIV/AIDS was evident immediately. Baim explained that then President Ronald Reagan ignored the epidemic.

"In 1984, when Chicago had fewer than 100 diagnosed cases of HIV/AIDS, I started work at GayLife newspaper," said Baim. "We started to see our friends and colleagues, advertisers and community members get diagnosed and many of them die within days. At times gay newspapers had several pages of obituaries."

Baim spoke about the many organizations that stepped up to help with the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Chicago including Howard Brown Health, Gay Horizons ( now Center on Halsted ), Open Hand, Kupona Network, Project VIDA, Chicago Women's AIDS Project, Chicago House and AIDS Foundation of Chicago.

"Political activists were fighting back horrible legislation, including quarantine bills," said Baim. "Funeral homes would not take bodes, dentists would not treat those with HIV and landlords kicked out surviving partners."

Baim said there were many people that pushed back against this discrimination during that time including Bobbi Campbell, Dan Turner and others that led to the creation of The Denver Principles. She explained that these principles are still applicable today and encouraged everyone to find them online. Baim also spoke about three notable Chicago men who died of AIDS and the work they did—Robert Ford, Dr. Ron Sable and Danny Sotomayor.

"There are approximately 35,728 people living with HIV in Illinois and 19,704 of them are in Chicago," said Baim. "In Illinois nearly 47 percent are African America, 27 percent are Latino and 19 percent are white. As of this year, we have lost about 700,000 people to HIV/AIDS in this country alone. This is more than the combined losses in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War and in Afghanistan and Iraq."

Baim said the fight to end HIV/AIDS is a war that some still do not acknowledge to this day, despite the high number of deaths from the disease.

Chi City Foods and DAB of Consulting Founder Xavier ( they prefer to only use their first name ) and social-justice activist Pat McCombs were also featured speakers.

Xavier said it is important to think about those LGBTQ individuals who are the most vulnerable and what can be done to help them. They explained that their work centers on making local produce available in every neighborhood because it is a social and economic strategy that will help everyone's mental, reproductive and sexual health.

McCombs—an anti-discrimination activist for more than 35 years—said, during the 1980s, being an advocate included leading the social network gathering organization Executive Sweet alongside Vera Washington after the founders stepped aside. McCombs also spoke about the work of late activists Jackie Anderson, Vernita Gray and Renae Ogletree within the LGBTQ community as well as the efforts of Affinity Community Services and the Lesbian Community Cancer/Care Project ( the latter which has merged with Howard Brown Health ).

CDPH Acting Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady spoke about CDPH LGBTQ Health & Outreach Program's beginning in the early 2000s and the Getting to Zero campaign to eliminate new HIV infections.

"The policies that protect LGBTQ Chicagoans are policies that protect the rights of all Chicagoans … to achieve health equity," said Arwady.

Read the keynote remarks in full at www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Moments-in-the-Public-Health-Response-to-AIDS-CDPH-LGBTQ-Outreach-Keynote-June-28/66482.html .


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