Friday, July 25, 2008

Making History in Chicago

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

GLBT History

This item caught my eye in the e-mail I receive routinely from "The Windy City Times:"

Out & Proud in Chicago Book Now Available
A new book edited by Windy City Times Publisher Tracy Baim is now available at Women & Children First Bookstore in Chicago, 5233 N. Clark Street, (773) 769-9299; Unabridged Bookstore, 3251 N. Broadway; and will soon be available at other locations.

Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City’s Gay Community (Agate Surrey, 224 pages, hard cover, $30) features dozens of writers, including Baim, Marie J. Kuda, Jorjet Harper, John D'Emilio, Jonathan Ned Katz, Chad Heap, John Poling, Owen Keehnen, and more.

Lavishly illustrated with almost 400 historical color and black-and-white photographs, and drawing on the scholarly, historical, and journalistic contributions of a breadth of authorities on Chicago's LGBT culture and scene, this is a first-ever, one-of-a-kind overview of Chicago’s LGBT community and its history.

Published as a companion to the WTTW public television documentary of the same name, and to the Web site, the book is organized into a few main chronological sections, from the 1800s through the 2000s.

I ordered the book and wrote to Tracy Baim to thank her for publishing it. Tracy wrote back, "...the book includes a piece on 10% show ... with pic of you and others (unfortunately you with eyes closed!)"

"The 10% Show" was the cable access TV show that I co-anchored while it ran, from 1987-90. She also asked me to complete as many questions of a survey as I wished, to be included on the web site later this summer. The preface to the survey read, in part:


I am working on a GLBT Chicago history project. I am sending this document to you in hopes you will agree to be a part of it. I will do some followup interviews, but will primarily rely on your answers to the following questions. Please do not be modest. I have selected you because I feel you have had an impact on our Chicago GLBT community and I want to document that legacy, including through your own eyes. Write as much as you want! These will be edited, but I would rather you err on the side of more text. There is also no guarantee on who will make a final cut....

Here were a number of my responses so far:

15) Who did you first “come out” to and what year? Please write a short narrative about your experience in coming out, whether one time or over many years. For example, did you ever use a pseudonym.

I came out first to one of my two older sisters, Kathy, when I was 15, in 1980. Then again, by leaving a love-letter on the kitchen table for my mother to find, when I was 17, just a month or so after my dad of blessed memory died. Then officially to my mother and two sisters by U.S. Mail at 21. I remember hiding some lesbian literature I had bought at Walden Books in the bottom of a full Hefty trash-bag on trash-day when I was living with my newly widowed mother, not long after my dad died; my sisters,who were five and a half and nine years older than I were out of the house by then.

16) What troubles did you face as a GLBT person? Describe any incidents in school, at home, at work, or in the community?

Once, when I was 11 and going to Deena Gans' birthday party, I refused to wear an undershirt under a Danskin striped shirt that I liked. Most of the girls in my class already wore bras and I was ashamed that I was still wearing undershirts -- that I didn't need a bra.

As I walked out the front door, my mother yelled, "Butch!" at me in response to not wearing an undershirt. I ran to the end of the driveway, wondering what she meant until another mother arrived to drive my friend and me to Deena's.

18) Did you have mentors in the Chicago GLBT community; if so, who are/were they?

My mentors were Jack Ryan, producer of "The 10% Show" and Liz Heusmann(sp?), assistant director (if I remember her title correctly) of Horizons Community Services . Jack helped me see GLBT culture in all its marvelous variety and Liz helped me help youth feel better about their sexual orientation by training me to be a youth group advisor.

20) When you were coming out, what were your favorite GLBT bars in Chicago, and what years?

The Closet on Broadway, Summer of 1987; Paris on Montrose, Fall, 1987-Spring, 1995 (or whenever it closed); Augie's & CK's on Broadway, Fall, 1987-1992, and there was one in the suburbs we went to twice, where the lesbians with '80s "big-hair" went, but it wasn't as much fun, and was run by heterosexual men, I think.

21) What were the key issues faced in the GLBT community when you first came out?


22) What issues do you see as key in the GLBT community today?

Having our humanity acknowledged routinely; same-sex marriage; AIDS; transgender human rights

23) How has AIDS impacted your life personally? Please write a narrative about how AIDS or other health issues such as breast cancer may have impacted you personally, or your role in the GLBT community. Please also list any leaders or friends whose death impacted your activism.

I lost my friends and fellow Or Chadash (New Light) synagogue congregants, Robert Kingoff (age 28), and Rob Elterman, also in his late-20s or early-30s if I remember correctly. May their memories be blessed. I loved Robert so much that once, I asked him to be physically intimate with me. He knew he had AIDS at that point, but hadn't yet told me. He simply responded, "Sarah, I don't want to risk ruining our friendship."

Several months prior to his death, I flew down to North Carolina to spend time with him and his family. I brought an AIDS benefit audiotape with me and played Nenah Cherry's version of Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin." His parents let us stay in their condo on the ocean.

We stayed in separate rooms and I recall feeling a bit afraid of his coming into my room forcibly and infecting me. How crazy! Nothing like that happened. We were like a couple of childhood friends with grownup privileges, e.g., getting to stay in the condo unsupervised.

We went out to local gay and lesbian bars both nights and he still seemed robust; he kept saying that if I met a Southern woman, I'd never go back to Northern ones. Meanwhile, gorgeous as some of them were, and even as I watched them shyly from across the bar, Robert was way more fun, and we stuck together both nights.

Re: breast cancer, I used to think of it as a remote worry, until my aunt died of it, and then a couple of years ago, my sister Kathy was diagnosed with breast cancer and has so far survived it, and then my 82-year-old mother was diagnosed last fall and had it removed via a lumpectomy, thank God.

24) How would you describe the “diversity” within the GLBT community of Chicago? Specifically, how do you feel racial, gender, class, age and other issues divide or bring the community together, both in your personal experience and as part of the larger community?

With the youth group and by playing three seasons of rugby recreationally, with the Windy City Women's Rugby Football Club, I had a more diverse experience than I might have had if I had not been involved in both. There were a number of people of color among both groups. I did, also, once meet a woman from the South Side, who was 22, and who told me that she had never before met a Jew till meeting me.

Also, I remember going to a lesbian chavurah (prayer group) that was run mostly by Jewish lesbians in their 40s, 50s and 60s, and I found it comforting, though I also wondered why more women my age weren't drawn to it. (Hard to believe, now that I'm 43, that women in their 40s seemed old to me then!)

25) If you consider yourself a “political” activist, how do you define this? For example, were you involved in any political or legislative campaigns?

I just remember that seeing the Carol Mosely Braun bumper-sticker on my partner Pat's black Saab during our first date made her car into a double-chick magnet.

26) Describe in as many words as you would like, what you feel your personal legacy is to the Chicago GLBT community, whether political, social, business, volunteerism, archival, etc.

Just as Jack Ryan, producer of "The 10% Show," expanded my cultural horizons with all the shoots I got to crew for, I hope that in my role as co-anchor of "The 10% Show," I helped a number of GLBT Chicagoans to feel that there was a rich world out there, full of culture and frivolity and deep matters alike, e.g., the Lesbian Kiss-in at Water Tower Place; interviews of the founders of the 'zine, "Thing" and of author David Levitt, and of International Ms. Leather; and of the heterosexual, female documentarian whose subject was a self-professed Kentucky drag-queen....Also, particularly with the Saturday afternoon we spent, reading about flirting in literature, I hope I helped some of Chicago's GLBT youth feel hopeful about their futures.

27) This project is also about “defining moments.” Can you discuss some of those in your own life, whether as a youth, a teen, an adult, etc. (Examples: Growing up in poverty; coming out to your family; losing a job because of your sexuality; having children or grandchildren; a health diagnosis; your parents’ impact on your life choices; etc.)

Defining moments from my life included becoming self-aware of my attraction to girls upon seeing my unusually, physically-mature friend in a white bikini when we were 11; feeling romantic about, but comparatively not excited by, my high school boyfriend; losing my father to bile-duct cancer when I was 17; living and studying in Jerusalem for a year at 20; coming out to my family at 21; getting together with Pat at 27; helping start up IBM's GLBT Sales team in 2001, which is thriving more than ever; being unable to conceive a child via IUI, nine times, between age 36-38 before abandoning my pursuit of motherhood; living in India with Pat for six months for my work last year.

28) Please write anything additional you would like about the Chicago community, yourself, or others you admire and want to remember.

Chicago made me the activist I was then and still am today. I learned everything I needed to know while I lived in Chicago -- how to make a living; how to be a volunteer in the community for mutual benefit; how to help advance GLBT people and how to ensure our inclusion; how to find romance with a series of similarly young, searching women; how to play rugby; how to interview people on TV; how to come back to my Judaism via the lesbian chavurah and Congregation Or Chadash, the gay synagogue, where Pat and I met; how to find the love of my life...

Like Tom Tunney, Tracy Baim was Chicago's premier GLBT community leader throughout my nine years in Chicago, and for the past 12, since we moved to New Jersey, at the time, for Pat's work. I want to wish Tracy, "Chazak, chazak v'nitchazek!" ("Be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened!" -- this is recited after the designated leader completes the chanting aloud of the final book of the Torah each year. Since Tracy is a premier leader of the community, I wish the same for Tracy and for all of us.)


Anonymous said...

Hi, I just came across your blog. I also knew Robert K. It was with great sadness that I learned of his passing. In the 1980s on Sundays, while he was attending law school, we used to play football together on the Chicago lakefront, north of Belmont. We hung out a bit, going to parties and dinners together. I remember his voice recitals. He had a close friend, Mayer. Robert and I shared a southern heritage, he was a true gem. I loved him very much as a friend. Robert told the best stories and really knew how to "throw down!" I still miss him.

Sarah Siegel said...

It's lovely to hear from another person who adored Robert and appreciated him. Thanks for your sweet commnt about him.