Alleging discrimination based on gender identity, TransGenesis founder and Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame inductee Lorrainne Sade Baskerville has filed a complaint with the Chicago Commission on Human Relations against the DuSable Museum of African-American History.
"I'm fighting my own Black people," Baskerville said. "I'm very hurt. I'm tired of all this discrimination."
The DuSable, however, said the unfortunate situation is the result of a misunderstanding and miscommunication...nothing more.
On Dec. 21, 2000, Baskerville signed a contract reserving a room at the DuSable, 740 E. 56th Place, for her organization's benefit on Feb. 8. She put down a $254 deposit and began advertising for the event.
She was pleased and proud after her first meeting with DuSable staff, emotions bolstered by the fact that she was holding her event in the same room she had won the Bayard Rustin Award in several years earlier.
But the trouble began on Jan. 2, 2001, when she was notified by Tracey Williams, manager of facility rental for the museum, that there had been a mistake and that Feb. 8 was taken, as was the rest of February.
Baskerville said when she tried to reschedule for March 23, she was told that that date was also unavailable, and Williams offered to return TransGenesis' check rather than offer another alternative.
Baskerville said she felt uneasy about the situation and, according to the CHR report, she had a TransGenesis board member call the DuSable to schedule an event for Feb. 8 without identifying himself as a member of the organization.
He was informed by DuSable staff that both Feb. 8 and March 23 were available, and he was sent a rental agreement package.
The realization that the DuSable had effectively closed its doors to her was a blow, Baskerville said.
"I was having nightmares, I couldn't sleep," she said. "The Hall of Fame disappeared, my degree, my accomplishments were a blur when I realized I'd been discriminated against because of my gender identity. It all became cloudy ... . My awards, they didn't protect me at all."
Miranda Stevens-Miller, of It's Time! Illinois, echoed her sentiment.
"No one is safe," Stevens-Miller said. "It's just atrocious that an institution of the caliber of the DuSable Museum has discriminated against someone of the caliber of Lorrainne Sade Baskerville, a Gay and Lesbian Hall of Famer."
But Raymond Ward, director of media relations for the DuSable, said the situation isn't what it seems.
"First of all, the lady in facility rentals was at fault," Ward said, "because museum events come first," and a museum event had long been scheduled for Feb. 8, Baskerville's first pick for her event.
Second, he said, February is the DuSable's busiest month of the year, with one-third of their business coming from Jan. 15 to March 1. As for the March 23 date, the museum had already booked singer Nancy Wilson to conduct a book-signing in the space, something Baskerville was not told. She also was not notified when that event was cancelled, re-establishing March 23 as a possibility.
"This was done in a very unprofessional manner," Ward said, adding, "I don't want anyone to think the museum is prejudiced toward anyone."
To make amends, Ward said he would offer Baskerville the space she wants on March 23 free of charge and would even send her flowers to apologize.
"I'm really upset that her feelings were hurt," he said. "I will take her through every step myself."
Baskerville was unavailable to comment on Ward's offer, but after filing with the CHR she said her goals for the case were to get a free rental from the museum, an apology, sensitivity training for museum staff and reparations for the money she spent and the anguish she suffered.
People in the community were baffled when they heard of what was happening to Baskerville, citing that the DuSable has always been supportive of GLBT events and organizations.
"It's very strange to me to hear what happened because I know that the DuSable Museum has been very open to the community in the past," Stevens-Miller said.
In fact, one of the first gay events at DuSable was the one-year anniversary celebrationg for BLACKlines newspaper, Windy City Times' sister publication.
For now, Baskerville's complaint with the city is still pending, and the museum has 10 days from the filing date to respond.
Because gender identity is not covered by the city's Human Rights Ordinance, Baskerville filed that she was discriminated against because of her sex, sexual orientation and disability.
The latter category—disability—has left her insulted.
"I'm disabled because I'm not wealthy," she quipped.
Stevens-Miller said the disability classification applies to those transpeople diagnosed with gender dysphoria.
"It's not very satisfying to have your human rights at the hands of a medical professional," she said, adding that not everyone who's gender different is gender dysphoric.
According to Miriam Pickus of the Human Relations Commission, transgendered concerns are covered by the Human Rights Ordinance only if the victim is also gay or an assumption is made by the violators that the victim is gay. Without that perception, the ordinance may not apply, she said.
"Of course it ( this incident ) speaks to the need for this kind of protection in our city," Stevens-Miller said, adding that activists should use what happened to Baskerville in their lobbying to the City Council.
She said It's Time! Illinois documented 24 cases of trans discrimination in 1999, the most recent year for which numbers are available. The organization has tracked 80 cases of discrimination in its five years of keeping data, and the majority of those involved employment bias.
Of the 80, 42% involved employment, 5% housing, 15% civil-rights violations, 15% assaults and 4% murders. Eighteen percent involved public accommodations such as schools, libraries, stores, restaurants, shelters or medical establishments, and Stevens-Miller said she could not recall a case involving an institution such as a museum.
No matter what happens, Baskerville said she plans to continue with her event, which is currently on hold. She has come too far in her life, she said, to be turned back now.