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Local LGBT branch of Mensa to relaunch
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2015-01-20

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After nine years of dormancy, Chicago's LGBT Mensa group is in the process of reactivating with a new name—the LGBT and Allies Special Interest Group ( SIG ) of Chicago Area Mensa, part of American Mensa, Ltd. The group, originally known as Gay SIG, was founded in 1978 by Dick Stein.

Sixteen local area Mensa members met on Dec. 20 at Ann Sather Restaurant on West Belmont Avenue to discuss next steps including outreach to potential Mensa members in the wider LGBT community. Currently, the LGBT and Allies SIG of Chicago Area Mensa has 30 gay men and three women who are allies, but no women who identify as lesbian. Jim Cundiff, coordinator of the LGBT and Allies SIG, noted that the group is formulating a variety of social activities and informational campaigns to reach out to women, people of color and transgender persons.

"I'm excited that we now have the beginnings of a committed, organized group. Our next mission is to reach out to under-served communities and expand our presence in the community as a whole," said Cundiff. "Historically we've gotten all our members through the larger Chicago Area Mensa group ( ChiMe ) newsletter. This is the first time we're going to market directly to the LGBT community. To do that we have to go through the Chicago Area Mensa Board of Directors local secretary Heather Booton [the head of the local group]. I'm meeting with her on Jan. 24."

Cundiff explained that American Mensa is a social organization for people with high intelligence and curiosity—individuals who score in the top two percent on accepted, standardized intelligence tests. The organization has about 56,000 members in the United States and approximately 110,000 members globally.

"I re-activated the group because I wanted people who identify as LGBT as well as those who are super smart to have the opportunity to make friends just like I did when I joined three decades ago," Cundiff said. "I met my husband, Dale Woods, through Mensa 28 years ago and we're probably the first same-sex couple in the U.S. that met through Mensa and subsequently got married. We met at [Gerber/Hart board member] Norman Sandfield's house. Norman is also member of the LGBT and Allies SIG of Chicago Area Mensa."

As well as being a social group, Cundiff noted that the LGBT and Allies SIG will focus on service projects and recruiting efforts. Among the groups that Cundiff has already reached out to are the Chicago Gender Society and Illinois Gender Advocates. Cundiff said they will be reaching out to lesbian and people of color focused LGBT groups going forward. As far as service projects, Cundiff shared that the group is already at work on a compendium of scientific literature on homosexuality, bisexuality and transgender identity for distribution to the public in venues such as the Gerber/Hart Library and Northalsted Marketdays. The group will also focus on educating the public on the need for gifted student programs in all Illinois public schools and ad hoc volunteer programs benefitting the LGBT community.

"I don't think we've been successful at being a part of the larger community, i.e., be of service to the community. In our case the SIG within Mensa has two communities, the Chicago Area Mensa group and the LGBT community and we haven't done that in the past," said Cundiff. "I think that's one of the reasons the group deactivated itself nine years ago. It didn't have a sense of identity. One of my goals is to commit to being of service and have a sense of purpose rather that just being what one member called 'an insular group'."

"We plan on having small consistent publicity in places where the LGBT community shows up. We've never done that before. We want to break our insular attitude and expand it beyond just gay males," said Cundiff. "The problem we've had in the past is we've had women as members of our SIG but there were so few that sometimes it would be one woman who showed up at our events out of the five on our list and because of that they would lose interest. We need to develop a critical mass. What I would love to see happen is have a woman member take on a leadership role and represent that part of the community. That would be a great way to show that women are valued within the LGBT and Allies SIG. I want this to be an inclusive group."

Cundiff shared that among the many Mensans across the country is lesbian Mayor Annise Parker of Houston, Texas.

To join Mensa, individuals can submit prior evidence of qualification or take a proctored IQ test. Applicants have to provide evidence of a score in the top 2 percent of the general population on an accepted, standardized intelligence test. The partial list of accepted tests and scores can be found at www.us.mensa.org/testscores.

The next test for Chicago area Mensa will take place Saturday, Jan. 24, at 4 p.m. at 3705 Pleasant Dr., Rolling Meadows. The cost is $40. To secure a seat for the test, contact testing@chicago.us.mensa.org or call 312-666-1091.

For more information visit www.us.mensa.org or call 800-66-MENSA .


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