For more than four decades, life-long Chicagoan Pat McCombs has been a mover and shaker in the city's LGBTQ community as a social-justice activist.
McCombs is the oldest of seven kids and was raised on Chicago's South Side, where she attended DuSable High School. She got her bachelor's degree in special-education learning disabilities from Chicago State University and a master's degree in curriculum and instruction from National Louis University.
"I knew I wanted to be a teacher when I was eight years old and that was one of the games I played with the other kids in my neighborhood," said McCombs. "I spent [more than] 40 years as a Chicago Public School's ( CPS ) special education teacher at Doolittle Elementary School and Walsh Elementary School and numerous schools with summer programs."
Following her retirement from CPS in 2007, McCombs was case manager with Prologue Charter Schools from 2010-2015.
Beginning in the early 1970s, McCombs and fellow Aquarians formed Aquarius Air Connection because they wanted to gather socially outside of the bars.
When McCombs discovered that LGBTQ bar patrons of color were being double and triple carded at North Side bars or were denied entry, she decided to take action to expose this discrimination.
"My friend Harriet Robinson and I formed the Black Lesbian Discrimination Investigation Committee and went with other queer women to protest in front of the now-defunct Augie and CK's Bar, then the most popular lesbian bar in Chicago, because women of color were being harassed by the bouncers at the entrance," said McCombs. We filed complaints against this bar and others with the Chicago's liquor commission because of their discriminatory acts. They sided with our committee and told the bars they had to clarify visually at the entry which IDs they would accept. This victory made me feel like I could make a difference in our community."
In the late 1980s, McCombs got involved with the women of color group Executive Sweet as a member. When the founders Pamela Terrell and DJ Sheron Webb left McCombs and a friend of hers, Vera Washington, took over as the organization's leaders. Their newsletter and newspaper, both called Sweets, went out to more than 1,500 women.
"We sponsored many parties throughout Chicago including fundraisers for Windy City Black Pride, numerous boat rides, dances and group traveling events to other cities for Black Pride," said McCombs.
McCombs explained that Executive Sweet prioritized safety when they were choosing the locations of various parties. She said it was very important that all women felt safe coming to the parties and when they left for the night.
"Our biggest hurdles in acquiring certain party locations were due to discrimination in the LGBTQ community and racist beliefs by many bar owners," said McCombs.
In addition to her work with Executive Sweet, McCombs volunteered as a Michigan Womyn's Music Festival orientation and registration coordinator and Womyn of Color Tent coordinator for many years as well as being an attendee every year until it ended its run in 2015.
McCombs has done volunteer work for a variety of organizations including the Chicago Black Lesbians and Gays, the Lesbian Community Care Project, Mountain Moving Coffeehouse for Womyn and Children, Affinity Community Services, Women of All Colors and Cultures Together and was the Chicago Black Pride vice president and board members for two years. She also wrote two poems for the now-defunct pioneer Chicago lesbian newspaper Lavender Woman.
For her years of service and activism, McCombs was inducted into Chicago's LGBT Hall of Fame in 2000.
"It was one of the highlights of my life to be recognized for my work in the community." said McCombs. "Executive Sweet was given an historic achievement award by the Chicago Area LGBT Chamber of Commerce in 1999. That was also an honor and surprise."
Attending plays, poetry events, movies, parties, any social events with women, camping and doing arts and crafts are the things that fuel McCombs during her down time. She said staying active is so important, especially for those who are older.
McCombs will be celebrating her 70th birthday in February with friends and family members. Her message to everyone is to "keep less stress in your life."