Marcia J. Lipetz, 71, a foundational person in the Chicago LGBT community, has died. A no-nonsense professional, she fought for women's rights and social justice since she was a teenager growing up in Louisville, Kentucky. And, she was part of some of the more significant organizations in Chicago's LGBT community.
Lipetz final battle was against a fatal cancer that sapped her energy and captured her full focus. She and her wife Lynda Crawford coped with the day-in and day-out struggles of hospice in her final months.
In the early afternoon of Aug. 8, Lipetz spoke with Windy City Times in her Evanston condo. With a beautiful view of the Northwestern University campus and a deep-blue Lake Michigan framing her sofa, Lipetz was relaxed and melancholy, thinking back on her life and careers surrounded by two energetic and loving rescue dogs Callie and Keeper.
Two of the more critical organizations Lipetz helped lead are the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, where in the late 1980s she was the first full-time executive director, and Center on Halsted ( previously known as Gay and Lesbian Horizons, then Horizons ), where she served on the board in the 1980s, and later returned to be part of the team that worked on creating and building the Center on Halsted.
Lipetz also worked on the launch of Fred Eychaner's WPWR Channel 50 Foundation in the 1990s, an entity she ran for 11 years. Now known as the Alphawood Foundation, it is a critical supporter of the arts, activism and LGBTQ community organizations.
Lipetz later was president and CEO of the Executive Service Corps of Chicago, where she used her expertise and skills to benefit Chicago's nonprofit community.
Most recently, Lipetz started Lipetz Consulting, and among her clients was the Chicago Community Trust, working as an advisor on the LGBT Community Fund.
Lipetz also chaired the board of the Donors Forum of Chicago ( now called Forefront ), and she served on the Illinois Attorney General's Charitable Advisory Council. Other boards she served on include the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago and the United Way/Crusade of Mercy Chicago Council.
Her early mentors in the lesbian community were Pauline Bart, Jean Hardisty and Eileen Kreutz.
"One defining moment [for me] was serving as an openly gay delegate to the 1996 Democratic National Convention," Lipetz said of her life. "Walking onto the floor for the first time was a magical moment for someone who watched political conventions all of her life."
Lipetz was born in Louisville in 1947. Her parents were social workers and involved in anti-racist work during the tumultuous 1950s and 1960s. As a Jewish family, they were involved in interfaith work, and Lipetz attended an integrated high school. She was active in civil-rights work at that school.
She graduated from Douglass College of Rutgers University and earned a master's degree in sociology from Ohio State University and a Ph.D. in sociology from Northwestern University. She taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Northwestern and Spertus College.
At Douglass in the 1960s, during the peak anti-war protest years on college campuses, Lipetz was involved in student government, including fighting a policy that said it was a violation for students to be involved in protests.
While she was at Ohio State, National Guard troops from her campus were sent to nearby Kent State to quell protests, resulting in the killing of four students in 1970.
From Ohio State she returned to Louisville to teach community college.
Lipetz said she did not really know she was a lesbian until age 24. Her first "coming out" experience was in 1973. "I was teaching a class in social problems and did a unit on homosexuality," Lipetz said. "It was the early days of feminism, and lesbian issues were controversial. I wanted to know more, and that was a hint of more to come."
The women's movement really attracted her attention, so Lipetz chose Planned Parenthood in Louisville as the first board of directors she would serve on. Her second board was the ACLU in her hometown. She said she enjoyed speaking and debating on women's choice issues.
Another proud achievement was being part of a group of about 40 people who got the ERA ratified in Kentucky in 1972. There was a male Democratic governor and a female Democratic lieutenant governorand she signed the bill. Lipetz said they simply didn't have any reason to think they couldn't accomplish sweeping change, and helped to pass about 100 bills fighting for women's equality there.
When she moved to Chicago to attend Northwestern, however, she had a big wakeup call. She was schooled in the "who sent you" stranglehold of Chicago and Illinois politics, regardless of political party. It made it much more difficult to fight for change.
Her first professional job was working for the American Judicature Society, evaluating the criminal courts and the integrity of the American justice system. When federal funding for that important work dried up, she went to work for the University of Illinois Medical Center.
AIDS Foundation of Chicago
Lipetz's connection to AIDS came early on in the epidemic. She volunteered with the Reproductive Rights Advisory Committee of the ACLU of Illinois, and then issues of HIV/AIDS bias started to pop up. While at UIC, the unit Lipetz worked for had created educational materials related to HTLVIII ( what later was labeled HIV ). So there were lots of educational materials available locally.
Lipetz and gay businessman Fred Eychaner co-chaired an ACLU task force to create a policy related to discrimination issues. Lots of bad information about HIV/AIDS filled the news and streets in that 1984'85 time period. The ACLU task force's approach was to "protect individual rights and liberties as well as public health."
"We developed the first policy in the U.S. for an ACLU, and that allowed us to accept a case for a physician at Cook County Hospital who had lost his privileges," Lipetz said. "Deaths were too numerous to countgay men were diagnosed and died in 18 months, Black women in four months."
This work lead to the creation of the local ACLU's AIDS and Civil Liberties Project. John Hammell was the first director of that project and the Gay and Lesbian Rights Project of ACLU. Hammell died of AIDS complications in 1995.
While Mayor Harold Washington's gay liaison Kit Duffy was the AFC's first executive director when the agency launched in 1985, Lipetz came on board as the first full-time ED, in 1987.
"This married my interest in philanthropy and my growing knowledge of HIV," Lipetz said. "There was this whole underground made up of nurses and social workers" fighting HIV/AIDS.
The big challenges included pushing to make sure Chicago was a part of the national dialogue since the coasts often received the most funding and attention; fighting between local organizations who were competing for funding; no consistent pipeline of funding; and very few private foundations were giving money to the cause.
As the AIDS Foundation's first full-time executive director, Lipetz, an open lesbian, helped bring the various parts of the LGBTQ and the HIV/AIDS communities together to battle a plague that was killing people within weeks or months of diagnosis. She helped to build consensus, secure funding and develop a response to the pandemic.
Much of the structure that she and others created is still vital to AFC's work today, including the service providers council. "The blueprint was there," Lipetz said. "AFC would be the gatherer of funds, to disperse to other agencies, to pick up the gaps, and to enhance others, for example with the case management collaborative.
"We brought the community together to make the decisions on funding. We were the demilitarized zone."
That doesn't mean there were no controversies. There were plenty, including among the populations most impacted by the disease. She said AFC's approach was to just not take the bait.
As a woman working on HIV/AIDS, she noted that a great number of other women stepped up to help because so many gay men were either struggling with the disease, or helping their partners and friends.
"AIDS had a huge impact on all of us," she said. "We watched as the community members shriveled, and we felt helpless about what to do. We coped with the constant death. I purposely touched and hugged everyone I couldbecause there were so many fears about touching people with AIDS. I went to as many memorials as I could, and I just dug down and did the work."
But then, it just "got too expensive," she said. "We created a parallel care delivery system, and there was not enough money to go around. Too many groups started, some were vanity projects. And race issues, about distribution of resources, began to effect the work. When FQHCs [Federal Qualified Health Centers] started to get involved in care, that really helped."
The stress was real. "I lived and breathed AIDS for more than three-and-a-half years," Lipetz said. "It was killing me, the pressure, the personal attacks, vendettasit was not healthy. I left on my own, with three month's notice. I spent a lot of time pulling together materials for the next leader."
Amy Maggio was interim ED, followed by Karen Fishman as the next executive director of AFC.
Lipetz said her interest in philanthropy probably stems from her parents and the Jewish tradition of charitable giving.
After her AFC work, she went to a consulting project for WPWR Channel 50, which was looking to grow its reputation in public affairs. The station was owned at the time by Eychaner, whose own philanthropy was starting to increase. Lipetz said she was mindful that a foundation might develop from her work there.
The funding would go to a "progressive agenda" and for the things many foundations won't fund, such as operating budgets and advocacy, plus also funding of the arts and children's projects. They also would focus on women's domestic violence issues.
"We started with small grants," Lipetz said of the foundation. She started as secretary to the board and then became executive director of the foundation. She worked there for 11 years.
Center on Halsted
Lipetz first served on the Horizons board of directors in the mid-1980s, during the era when the agency hired its first full-time executive director, Bruce Koff. While she left the board when she took on the AFC job, fearing any conflicts of interest if Horizons applied for grants from AFC, she said she was always a supporter, attending galas and donating funds.
A few years later, when Patrick Sheahan was Horizons board president, he recruited Lipetz back into the fold. Her roles on the Center's board included vice chair and board of governance member.
"The time was right for a community center, a real center that included arts, recreation, meeting rooms, etc.," Lipetz said.
Lipetz joined a committee of the board first, and they operated independently, with no control by Horizons. Their mission was to explore the concept of a community center in the city. There had been several LGBT centers since the 1970s, but the last, Rodde Center, had closed in the early 1990s.
Sheahan, Vicky Raymont, Julio Rodriguez and later Dave Helverson, Evette Cardona, Marcia Festen and a handful of others worked on focus groups, town halls and research for just what and where this center would be.
The committee became a full part of the board, and Horizons itself morphed into the Center on Halsted. The building at the corner of Waveland and Halsted opened in 2007, after years of heavy lifting by the committee, board, donors, politicians and other key players.
"I spent eight years working on this," Lipetz said. "After that, it was time for other voices. You need different leaders at different times. I knew they needed to diversify and get fresh voices."
Lipetz, for her years of dedication to Horizons and the Center, was honored with the 2018 Human First Award at the Center's annual gala.
Her most recent work was helping with the LGBT Giving Council at Chicago Community Trust. "I set up the systems," she said. "I was seen as professional and neutral. I helped make site visits and make recommendations."
What matters now
About a year and a half ago, Lipetz started to get sick. It was adenocarcinoma. She and Lynda, together 16 years and married 13, coped with this final hurdle together.
Lipetz had two rounds of surgery and chemotherapy, but in August said there was nothing left to do. She went into hospice a few weeks ago. "I don't want to sustain the pain," she said, her black lab/dachshund mix in her lap.
"My friends have been very present," she said. "People take shifts."
Asked in 2007 for the Chicago Gay History Project what she felt her personal legacy is to the Chicago LGBT community, she said: "I guess I'm a buildersolid hard work that builds for the futureand I'm enormously proud of the work of the ACLU and the future of Center on Halsted."
She said her "defining moments" were: "Coming out to my sister; taking a partner home for the first time; buying our first house; being in a relationship with children; the Democratic National Committee; AFC's first fundraiser [a huge 1987 gala downtown featuring Angela Lansbury among many others]; testifying in Springfield; the Center on Halsted's ribbon cutting and being in the gym, theater, and youth space for the first time."
Receiving the Human First Award was a highlight for her. "I had that feeling that this was going to be it," she said. "I am happy, I do not feel I have a lot of unfinished business. I have been a feminist, a lesbian, Jewish, an academic, a philanthropist. I got to be all these things and more."
The Alphawood Foundation posted a statement on their website: "Alphawood Foundation honors the memory of Marcia Lipetz, our first executive director and a moving force in the creation of our organization. Marcia was a giant in our city and will remain forever in our hearts as we continue the work she started. We remember her with profound thanks."
The AIDS Foundation of Chicago sent a statement saying it was "saddened to learn that Marcia Lipetz has passed away. Marcia was a trailblazing social justice leader fighting for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community as well as those living with and vulnerable to HIV. As AFC's first full-time executive director and an honorary board member, Marcia was fundamental to AFC becoming the organization that it is today. This is a significant loss to both AFC and the Chicago community. We hope you'll take a moment to recognize the impact of Marcia and her decades of work to advance human rights."
See 2007 Chicago Gay History Project video interview with Lipetz here: www.chicagogayhistory.org/biography.html .
Lipetz asked that any donations in her honor should be made to the Center on Halsted or a progressive organization of your choice.
A memorial service for Dr. Lipetz has been confirmed for Sunday Sept. 23, noon at Chicago Jewish Funerals, 8851 Skokie Blvd., Skokie. Interment private. Shiva or a reception will follow the service at the funeral home.