It was in the early part of 1998 when I first became involved in the LGBTQ community, working to educate and help people in the various neighborhoods in Chicago.
Among the many agencies I volunteered and worked with while in the Windy City, I always remembered the two years I spent at Horizons Community Services. There I volunteered in the Anti-Violence Project (AVP) under the superb leadership of Gerardo Montemayor, who in the community evolved into a role model, a brother and friend.
Mr. Montemayor recently passed away from pneumonia on June 27 at the age of 36. He not only touched us all, but also made us think. He was very opinionated and outspoken about the work he produced.
It was there in those very same small rooms where Mr. Montemayor, his co-worker Tony, my best friends Kevin and Moe, three or four volunteers and I became acquainted with one another while learning to be domestic violence crisis counselors.
The time I spent there was fun, especially getting to know Mr. Montemayor, who was an advocate for the community and a very inspiring individual who always pushed us be Latino role models. 'He was perfect for this line of work. He strongly believed in it and he was an amazing person to work with,' remembers Sasha Walters, Director of Advocacy Services at Rape Victim Advocates (RVA).
After working at Horizons, Mr. Montemayor joined RVA to serve as the agency's director of education and training. In that role he provided prevention education and professional training to over 4,500 individuals each year, 3,600 of whom were adolescents between the ages of 13 through 19. His work was done through Chicago schools, hospitals, police stations and community groups.
It was in the summer of 1999 when I first joined Project VIDA to become the agency's program manager for their young men's program. There, I introduced the participants of my support group to Mr. Montemayor, who helped educate them on sexual assault. Every time he came down to Project VIDA he would be bombarded with inquires about the subject he cared so much about. He would also tell me how much of a joy he had coming down to Little Village and doing his work.
During several national conferences, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Sexual Violence Prevention Conference and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Creating Change Conference, he presented on sexual assault prevention curriculum. Mr. Montemayor was instrumental in the development and maintenance of RVA's Web site, which has received over 1 million hits since it launched three years ago. He was a huge part in RVA's volunteer program and even participated in the training of almost 400 medical advocacy volunteers.
'Gerardo is and will be terribly missed by his fellow staff and the volunteers in the RVA family. His was a voice of strength and reason through the grind and drama of 24/7 crisis work,' said says Vicky DiProva, Executive Director of RVA. 'No doubt about it, Gerardo contributed to the field of sexual violence services and prevention in significant ways—he was an exceptionally skilled educator and spoke the many languages of our diverse, targeted audience. And as a champion of oppression and privileged training, he implored people to just do the right thing. I admired his ability to expect (and sometimes demand) the best of people long after I would lose energy and give up. But above and beyond, we are going to really miss the little things we came to associate with Gerardo—his welcoming attitude, his love of gadgets, pop Divas and Pikachu, our shopping trips to Ikea and CostCo, and the chocolate-filled stress drawer.'
Mr. Montemayor was a tireless champion of men who have been impacted by sexual violence. It was he who fought for the inclusion of men as allies in the anti-rape movement and he who brought awareness to the movement about the struggles of deaf and hard-of-hearing survivors of sexual assault. In addition, it was he who brought awareness about the special challenges faced by people of color.
In 2002, he was invited by Cultural Bridges to be trained as a trainer in their cultural diversity training program. We can all say that Mr. Montemayor was passionate about teaching social-service providers and direct-service volunteers about cultural competence and male privilege.
Before I left Chicago, Mr. Montemayor visited the offices of Project VIDA, during my second time around at the job. I had invited him to speak to the guys again about sexual assault and he gladly obliged. However, before that time I had run into him and his partner while working out at the gym. He was happy and high spirited, informing me about meetings or special events that were happening in the community.
He meant a lot to so many people in Chicago, and he will be truly missed.