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Hundreds at Howard Brown fundraiser, ChiQ kicks off with sold out event
by Vern Hester
2018-04-30

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Howard Brown Health presented ChiQ, a benefit aimed at raising funds for healthcare and wellness in the LGBTQ community, April 28 at the South Shore Cultural Center.

The event, which has evolved from the original 1990s and early 2000s Lesbian Community Cancer ( later Care ) Project Coming Out Against Cancer events, then into the Garden of Eve, featured two DJs. a burlesque troupe, a raffle, a silent auction, an open bar and a buffet. The sold-out affair, with more than 350 people, also served as a new chapter in LGBTQ history with many members of LCCP, the original organization behind what is now ChiQ, attending; LCCP merged with Howard Brown Health in 2007

In a story in Windy City Times about the last Coming Out Against Cancer in 2006, then LCCP Executive Director Jessica Halem said, "The annual benefit serves two primary goals. First, it is a fabulous way for women and men to enjoy the company of thousands of LCCP supporters. Second and most important, the money raised helps provide critical services and programs for women."

The focus of ChiQ has remained consistent as funding from the event will enable Howard Brown Health to continue to provide gynecological care, alternative insemination, breast and cervical cancer screenings, HIV and STI screenings, and prevention and wellness education for all women.

The festivities began with a performance by burlesque troupe Jazzy's Juke Joint which delighted the crowd with several striptease performances while DJs Sandra Suave and All the Way Kay provided a wall-to-wall soundtrack of old and new dance tracks. Howard Brown Health Chief Operating Officer Kristin Baker and Director of Geriatric Education Cec Hardacker greeted the crowd and then introduced married couple Melody Gaal and Jennifer Jacobsen who spoke about how they were greatly assisted in starting a family with the services at the health center. Jacobsen proudly displayed her baby bump as members of the audience cheered the couple on.

With so many former supporters and members of the original LCCP in attendance, despite the dancing and frivolity there was a lot of remembrance from the difficult and dark days of the 1980s and '90s. Maureen Sweeney and Corinne Kawecki spoke about being among those who helped launch and run the agency, which was founded in 1990.

"It was a completely volunteer organization," Sweeney said. "In the beginning we had the hotline in our home and we would do direct care. There were about 20 of us and we worked with a lot of AIDS patients at ( Gay ) Horizons. When there were so many people diagnosed with cancer we waited for a response from Horizons but when it didn't come we had to do something."

"That first time we had a benefit, Coming Out Against Cancer, was at a place that isn't around anymore … it was at 1800 N. Clybourn," Kawecki said. "We were so surprised, we had so many people there and we took in about $30,000. With that money we were able to set a budget and do more advocacy work and outreach. It was a sincere group of strong women … we came at a time when women wanted to see things happen."

Hilary Marsh and Mary Jo Graden had a different kind of memory of past events. Marsh said, "We had had our first date the week before but we were going to Coming Out Against Cancer with other friends, not together. It was so funny because ironically we wore the same exact outfits and it turned out to be our second date. So now, this time around it's our tenth anniversary and ( ChiQ ) is at the same location 10 years later."

Garden added, "Back then there were 2,000 women at this event … the entire community was here … it was a huge deal. Everyone was here and they had the whole building ( ChiQ was held in just the ballroom ) with something going on in the other rooms."

The event also featured photos and images from the Windy City Times and Gerber/Hart Library archives.


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