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Women of All Cultures Together marks 20 years
by Sarah Toce
2014-04-23

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Members of WACT. Image from Melvyna Gaynor


Chicagoans unite over many things: Cubs or Sox baseball, the Hawks and the Bulls, loaded hot dogs on Navy Pier, parties in Boystown or Andersonville, new retro merchandise at Gaymart.

But lesbians have an extra-special bonding experience every month. The group is called Women of All Cultures Together, or WACT. What? Never heard of them? That might just be intentional.

The Pot Luck Brunch group was formed in 1994 by Marilee Snyder, Evette Cardona, Phyllis Johnson and Claire Huang to provide a social-networking experience for women who did not want to participate in the bar scene. The slogan was a prompt tongue-in-cheek "A girl's got to eat." It was also called Women of All Colors and Cultures Together at the time.

But what happened during the first 20 years resulted in much more than the act of absentmindedly inhaling Giordano's pizza.

Rita Adair says she feels a part of history being involved in WACT.

"For me it is a testament of women from all cultures who love women and desire a venue to network. I am very excited to know that for 20 years, without a political, religious or connection to another group, [WACT] has lasted and is doing well. This is history in the making, and I'm proud of WACT," Adair said.

Phyllis Johnson remembers: "I think [the 20th anniversary] is remarkable. Maybe the lack of an agenda is positive. Maybe more than ever the need to gather to socialize with a mix of old friends and new women is always needed. The anniversary is an opportunity to explore the possibilities of reaching beyond the systemic separation of cultures that still exist in Chicago's lesbian community."

"WACT holds a special place in my heart and soul. It's creation coincided with my coming out," Cardona said. "It introduced me to organizing in the lesbian community, and this was before Internet, Facebook or email—60, 70, 80 women who would gather every month, all done by word of mouth. And because of WACT I was able to meet amazing Latina lesbians outside of salsa night at Paris Dance, who were interested in forming a social network for Latina women who loved women. That network became Amigas Latinas, which was a transformative experience for me and hundreds of Latina women throughout the Chicago area."

Not everyone started with the group at its infancy. For Torlene Williams ( known to the other ladies in the group as Toi ), the celebration is infinitely sweet regardless of tenure.

"Having moved to Chicago seven years ago, being a part of this group has allowed me to meet many interesting and diverse women who have helped me integrate into the city. I also met my partner in this group," Williams said. "The intellectual, emotional empowerment, as well as support, has been astounding. We meet, converse and provide therapy on everyday living in this complex world and lifestyle. I am grateful. The organization has operated without a budget, formal structure and controversy because we all accept each other as human beings, supporting and strengthening who we are."

"We are everywhere and no one in particular is in charge," is what the group states on their material. Supporting "all lesbians and bisexual women," WACT attendees are "interested in meeting and befriending each other across ethnicities, ages, incomes, etc. We are about togetherness."

Togetherness includes working with other service organizations and gay-friendly community resources like The Literary Exchange, Affinity Community Services, Gerber/Hart Library, Horizons ( now Center on Halsted ), Evanston Group, Chicago 35, Women and Children First Bookstore, and Lezin Color.

A humble 10 ladies attended the first potluck brunch in 1994. Growing steadily throughout the decade and then fading in the 2000s, WACT is nothing if not resilient.

Now, in honor of the members' 20th year of friendship, support and acceptance, WACT is throwing a big party at the Chicago Theological Center, 1407 E. 60th St., on Saturday, May 3. Presenters will speak and a history of WACT will be displayed. Music by DJ Doris, line dancing lessons, networking and—of course, food—will be available. Parking behind the building is free.

Adair expects more than 150 people will attend.

Can't make it to the anniversary celebration? Attend one of the next WACT brunches, and bring a dish to share on the first Sunday of every month.

Find out more about WACT by visiting their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/events/1424956277761473 .


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