Being one's "authentic self" was the theme as comedian Wanda Sykes and athlete Adam Rippon headlined Chicago House's 2018 Speaker Series and Luncheon entry on Sept. 14 at the Chicago Hilton and Towers, 720 S. Michigan Ave.
Chris Hush of NBC-5 emceed and moderated the event, and discussed his decision to be out of the closet in his professional life. As a gay reporter in Florida, he was deeply affected by the 2016 shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, which he covered for three months.
"When I got to Chicago, I decided to break down those walls," Hush said.
Hush spoke with Sykes and Rippon about the challenges they faced about being out in show business and figure-skating, respectively. Sykes said that, when it came time to make a decision about whether to let the world know she was a lesbian, "I was willing to roll the dice, go ahead, and see what happens."
Rippon said that he was afraid of being perceived as weak, but ultimately decided he could never feel strong if he could never be willing to show the world every part of himself. He added that his mother for a time encouraged him to not come out publicly; she'd lost many friends to HIV/AIDS and had difficulty reconciling those memories with her son's sexuality.
He added, however, that, "After I came. out, my mom has been my number one and biggest supporter."
Sykes spoke about difficulties with her family as well: "Their reaction is what made me more hesitant to come out to the public. ... [But] what we do in our own community is, if our own family turns against you, you build your own family."
Chicago House CEO Scott Ammarell, in opening remarks, spoke about slight changes the organization had made to its logo and identifying colors, which are now bolder. He also discussed demonstrations occurring at the Chicago Hilton and other hotels around the city that day. He said that the decision to go ahead with the luncheon was not meant as a commentary on the labor issues, and encouraged Hilton management to resolve its issues with its workers.
Attorneys/activists Nabeela Rasheed and Ray Koenig also spoke at the gathering.