The first time the City Club of Chicago held an LGBTQ event, it did so with what panel moderator and Equality Illinois CEO Brian Johnson called "leaders" of the LGBTQ community. City Club chairman Edward Mazur began the June 19 luncheon, held at Maggiano's, 111 W. Grand, by invoking the name of a long-ago memberzlegendary social worker and lesbian Jane Addams.
"I think Jane would really look down and appreciate this program," Mazur said about the event, called "Taking Pride in Our Story: Chicago and Its LGBTQ Community." Addams was a lesbian.
Others concurred. "I never thought I'd see the day we'd be having a Pride Panel," said Kim Hunt, executive director of Pride Action Tank, a frequent attendee of other City Club events because of her background in transportation planning. She was joined by Howard Brown CEO David Munar, transgender rights advocate Reyna Ortiz, and Windy City Times Publisher Tracy Baim.
Johnson began by turning to Baim for an overview of Chicago's LGBTQ history. Joking that she only had four minutes, Baim listed Henry Gerber, Addams and Lorraine Hansberry among notable LGBTQ Chicagoans. She also told the tale of a pre-Stonewall Chicago bar raid, that of the Trip bar in 1968. While most bars were forced to close for months after a raid for investigation, The Trip fought for the right to stay open during the process, and won.
"LGBTQ people have been part of Chicago" since this city began, said Baim, who added that LGBTQ history hasn't been taught in schools. "Even LGBTQ people don't know our history, and if we don't know it, we don't know our place in the world."
Johnson asked Ortiz to discuss the role of trans women of color in past and future movements.
"We fight the ugly battle," Ortiz said. "We don't have the luxury of concealing our identities." She called Chicago "very trans-affirming" and said the goal of fighting for her community's rights was to make it easier for the next generation.
"It's very important for us to instill pride on our youth, so they don't have to encounter all the things we encountered in the past," Ortiz said.
Munar shared his perspective on the AIDS crisis, which he called "a natural disaster". According to Munar, more than 300,000 gay men died in the 1980s and '90s, and the lifetime odds of becoming HIV+ remain high for gay men of all races, most of all African Americans. He explained how HIV/AIDS shaped institutions like Howard Brown, which had to move from being an STI clinic into providing all levels of care, including palliative, for HIV/AIDS patients. He illustrated HIV/AIDS's impact on modern healthcare through the Denver Principles, which dictate that treatment must include the voice of the people affected by the disease.
Munar also recalled moments from his time working with AIDS Foundation of Chicago; how the foundation's switchboard lit up the night Magic Johnson came out as HIV+ in 1991, and a woman who called up after her 23-year-old son and his partner had both been diagnosed to ask, "I've already kicked them out of the house, do I burn the bed?"
Kim Hunt related the series of legislative victories the Illinois LGBTQ community has won, starting with the city's nondiscrimination ordinance in 1988, and updated multiple times since. Other victories Hunt mentioned included civil unions and marriage before the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, the Youth Mental Health protection act, and the Vital Records Modernization Act, which lets people change the gender markers on birth certificates.
Hunt also highlighted the work of the activist community, crediting a sit-in by queer immigrant activists in Sen. Dick Durbin's office with helping lead to the DREAM Act.
"While we can thankfully point to many wins, the struggle is real for many LGBTQ+ communities in Chicago and beyond," Hunt said.
Johnson asked the panelists what ways LGBTQ people still remain unequal, and in particular, what populations within the LGBTQ community are the most challenged. In her response, Baim talked about how familial homophobia, unique to the LGBTQ community, may lead to increased physical and mental health care needs. She added that while Chicago is "a bubble", it attracts people from all over the Midwest who may bring their prejudices with them.
"We all know that laws don't change behavior or opinions," Baim said. "The progress we've made is not permanent."
She also alluded to her work with Hunt on both LGBTQ homeless youth and seniors.
"We have very vulnerable populations within the LGBTQ community, you just don't hear about them," Baim said. "Mainstream media often just covers the glamour and success and the Pride parades."
Hunt added that while LGBTQ youth account for 7% of the population, they comprise up to 40% of homeless youth, and 20% of youth in the criminal justice system. Since there are not more LGBTQ senior centers, older adults end up in mainstream nursing facilities often after a lifetime of discrimination leaves them in poverty. There, they are subject to bullying from staff and other residents and they may choose to go back into the closet.
Munar called rates of trauma across the LGBTQ population "enormously high", and said that two issues stand out across Howard Brown's mental health practice: shame, perhaps from unresolved issues, and toxic shame, "the idea that you are bad". He echoed the fact that LGBTQs have higher rates of health issues, in addition to higher rates of poor health outcomes and uninsurance.
"It's not that LGBTQ people aren't taking care of their health, it's back to trauma, and shame, and toxic shame. It's in our bodies, how we absorb societal pressure," Munar said.
Ortiz, who runs multiple drop-in clinics, remembered an undocumented trans woman using the DREAM act. Despite being very well-versed in options for the trans community, Ortiz called this woman's options "slim to none".
Johnson closed by asking panelists to uplift a few efforts within the community. Hunt discussed her work with tiny homes as a solution to LGBTQ homelessness, and mentioned that Chicago is one of two cities looking at tiny homes for homeless youth. Munar felt Chicago excelled at reframing the sexual health conversation, particularly with PrEP and PEP efforts.
Baim wanted better resourcing for the LGBTQ community, and more support from foundations.
"Being here today gives me hope," she said. "The LGBTQ community has a tremendous amount of assets and brainpower that are [providing] solutions on healthcare and housing and all sorts of things. And everything we do is meant to lift all boats, for all ages, all races. There needs to be more inclusion of these amazing people within our community in the fabric of Chicago."
Video of the event is here: www.cityclub-chicago.org/video/2306/taking-pride-in-our-story-chicago-and-its-lgbtq-community .