Windy City Media Group Frontpage News


home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2021-09-01



AIDS: Kit Duffy, liaison for change
by John J. Accrocco

This article shared 4647 times since Wed Aug 10, 2011
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Before there was Boystown there was New Town. What once was a fringe community became mainstream by the time AIDS became prominent by the mid 1980s.

Kit Duffy is one woman who helped bring Chicago's LGBT community to the foreground. Duffy served as the liaison between the community and Mayor Harold Washington's administration during the 1980s; it was her job to act as the go-between for the Illinois Gay & Lesbian Task Force, and others, with the administration.

Duffy grew up in Maryland and moved to Chicago to study journalism at Northwestern University in 1964. Though she did not finish, she earned a degree in engineering from IIT. Duffy stayed on in Chicago after school and spent several years working in the insurance and medical industry.

But she had always been particularly interested in political activism. As early as 14, Duffy noticed the injustices of segregation while living in her Appalachian Maryland hometown. Eventually Duffy would help form a group that would back the NAACP in the late 1960s. Throughout the 1970s in Chicago, Duffy became involved with several other activist groups including Women Employed, a group that helped pass the first laws in Illinois making sexual harassment illegal.

"I am not gay, but I have many gay friends and during the late '70s and '80s the Chicago gay scene was very raucous," Duffy said. "In a Midwestern-conservative city like Chicago sometimes the anti-gay sentiments were overwhelming."

Duffy was called to action by a few friends who suggested she work with Washington in a new position as the liaison between the Illinois state legislature and the Illinois Gay & Lesbian Task Force. In early 1984, Duffy took her position as liaison in a very tumultuous time as the tragic effects of AIDS had started to eclipse the positive work being done by gay activists.

"When I found out their agenda was primarily state issues I suggested to Harold that the function should be broadened and he agreed," Duffy said. "The thing just grew organically, mostly because the community decided the main effort should be toward passage of a [ city ] human-rights ordinance and that proved to be a huge undertaking. Our intent all along was to move toward a more formalized structure for the GLBT community within the city by first setting up the Committee on Gay and Lesbian Issues. Mayor Washington, like myself, did not believe in having to beg for services that were already being covered by taxes and it seemed silly to us to deny the gay and lesbian movement the only thing they were asking for before AIDS, which was just to be acknowledged."

Times were very different when Duffy served as Washington's liaison. Gay youth counselor Bruce Koff recalls a different Halsted Street than the familiar hangouts of today. "The area was not as prominently gay as it is now, the bars on Halsted certainly were not as obvious as they are today," he said. "The Pride Parade in those days was made up of exclusively gay organizations, you wouldn't have seen the kind of corporate sponsorship like Treasure Island, etc., and no politicians participated. Harold Washington was actually the first politician I remember attending the parade and I'm sure Kit had something to do with that." [ Washington attended the post-Parade rally in Lincoln Park. ]

The gay movement was going strong in Chicago until the early 1980s when all that seemed dashed with the outbreak of AIDS. Part of Duffy's job was to separate the popular myths about the disease from the facts.

"The truth is that it was such a very different time back then, when open discussion of sexuality and particularly gay sexuality was taboo, and very nearly all politicians were resistant to talking openly about what realistically was needed to combat AIDS, the first and most essential step of course being that very thing, open discussion," Duffy said. "I had real conflicts with the head of the Health Department at the time over some statements he'd made about AIDS and his handling of the issue in general, which reflected that same reticence in dealing openly with needs such as clean needle programs, condom use, bathhouses, education of sex workers, etc. I felt the same I think as any other GLBT activist, anger that the disease was spreading needlessly because people couldn't or wouldn't talk about sex and in particular gay sex."

"AIDS forced a generation to become activists, it required people to get organized and to fight for the resources for prevention and research," she said. "It brought a community to the political arena to solve a problem. The AIDS crisis showed that the gay community here in Chicago had stunning organization skills."

In the wake of tragedy several organizations began to help the GLBT community from within. One group was called Horizons, the precursor to the Center on Halsted. Bruce Koff is a former head of Horizons, and he remembers working with Duffy. "Kit was our access to resources and her job was to provide a lot of education to legislators about the multiple challenges we were facing at one time: AIDS, issues of gay youth, and victims of hate violence which was all really just a part of mainstreaming the GLBT community, she really helped us forge a path. Kit helped us feel empowered and that was crucial and provided a very powerful sense of comfort," Koff said.

In 1985 Duffy became the first executive director of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago ( AFC ) .

Duffy also continued her work with Washington until his death in 1987, managing to move her role into a permanent position. In addition to helping AFC, she also worked with others to help pass Chicago's gay-rights ordinance. Duffy continues to be a strong voice in the gay community more that 20 years after that bill passed, under Washington's successor, Eugene Sawyer.

Duffy said she feels it a privilege to have seen the civil-rights movement from the start, and how awesome it was to see a Chicago community go from begging for exposure to marching in the streets. But it is with sadness she remembers those friends lost to AIDS.

"Destruction of life is horrendous and we're missing a whole generation of activists who would now be in their 50s, and there's a huge impact on today's progress because of the absence of these people," Duffy said. "The next generation is lacking the transfer of knowledge and those crucial confrontation and organization skills which allowed those activists to be heard and get things done."

Now in her 60s, Duffy is finding herself a little discouraged by the current state of the LGBT leaders. "One of the interesting things about the particular time span during which I was heavily involved was the very rapid cycling through phases of a civil-rights movement that the GLBT communities made: from suppression to activism to legislated rights to political and social equality and power," she said.

"Unfortunately, having slipped through those phases, the movement seems to have entered the same moribund state that grips many minority and liberal interest and rights groups now," Duffy said. "They gained a seat at the table but forgot that sitting there isn't so you can more easily reach the Kool-Aid, it's about dictating the whole damn menu.

"Initially I thought it was a generational shift in the definition of power. From the '60s through much of the '80s power was about taking charge and organizing was about identifying what was needed in order to do that, and strategizing ( sometimes on a very long-term basis ) over who had control, what their vulnerabilities were, what it would take to either co-opt or defeat them in order to get that power. Now it seems as if people define power in terms of how often one's name is mentioned ( and that's really a throw-back to pre-movement days ) and what one is graced to receive from those who have power.

"Today organizations are trading for that grace with money and endorsements. The shame of it is that proof that the old model still works, that the keys to power are organizing and a strategy to take power rather than wait around for someone to toss a few crumbs of it.

"So yeah there is hope, if we climb out of our Armani suits, maybe skip a few White House tea parties and hit the streets instead, realize that organizing is more than chaining ourselves to a fence and yelling stuff, and return to the concept that our job is to strategically find means to empower people rather than just ourselves. Frankly though I don't see that hope in the current or older generation of activists, the lure of that White House china has irreversibly seduced them, I think."

Duffy concluded: "If there is hope it's going to have to come from the young. I see in the GLBT youth a lot of hope. They are unencumbered by the confines of the identity politics older generations found necessary to get power and therefore whole ranges of strategies are available to them, if they learn the system and work at it. They remind me of the Teddy Kennedy quote, 'Some men see things as they are and say why, I dream of things that never were and say why not.'"

This article shared 4647 times since Wed Aug 10, 2011
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email


Gay News

WORLD Indian commission, queer royals, MTV, Putin, attack in Jamaica 2021-10-24
- India's National Medical Commission has ordered publishers and medical schools to edit their textbooks and curricula to exclude discriminatory and unscientific portrayals of LGBTI people, according to Human Rights Watch. ...

Gay News

HHS awards $2.21B in FY2021 for HIV care, support services, medication 2021-10-05
--From a press release - The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), announced approximately $2.21 billion in Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program funding for cities, counties, states, and local community-based organizations in fiscal year ...

Gay News

30th Annual AIDS Run & Walk raises more than $400K 2021-10-06
- CHICAGO — More than 1,800 advocates, community partners, runners, walkers, volunteers, staff members and more gathered at Soldier Field on Oct. 2 for the 30th annual AIDS Run & Walk Chicago. The event raised approximately $420,000 ...

Gay News

Illinois HIV Care Connect launches HIV Innovation campaign 2021-10-05
- On Oct. 5, Illinois HIV Care Connect launched its HIV Innovation web and social-media campaign, showcasing several Illinois HIV initiatives that are helping to prevent or treat HIV more effectively. Articles about five initiatives so far ...

Gay News

NATIONAL Black AIDS Institute, non-binary person attacked, Rachel Maddow 2021-10-03
- The board of directors of the Black AIDS Institute (BAI) announced the appointments of Toni Newman as its interim chief executive officer and Dr. Kemal M. Atkins as managing director, a press release noted. In addition, ...

Gay News

AIDS Run & Walk celebrates 30 years with annual event 2021-10-03
- Following a year where AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC) held its annual AIDS Run & Walk fundraiser virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event returned to Soldier Field on Oct. 2 with the theme "Forward ...

Gay News

Proceeds from 30th Annual AIDS Run & Walk Chicago to help 26 HIV/AIDS organizations 2021-09-22
--From a press release - CHICAGO — On Saturday, Oct. 2, at 9:30 a.m., more than 1,700 advocates and supporters will gather safely at Soldier Field to participate in the 30th annual AIDS Run & Walk Chicago (ARWC) to support individuals ...

Gay News

NATIONAL Carl Bean dies, LGBT History Month, military events, Dykes on Bikes 2021-09-19
- Archbishop Carl Bean—an openly gay former Motown singer, longtime AIDS activist and leader in the LGBTQ church movement—died at age 77, The New York Daily News reported. In a statement entitled "The Giant Sleeps," the Unity ...

Gay News

HHS awards $48M to health centers to expand HIV prevention, treatment 2021-09-16
- On Sept. 16, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), awarded more than $48 million to 271 HRSA-supported health centers across 26 states, Puerto Rico and ...

Gay News

New safety precautions announced for 30th annual AIDS Run & Walk Chicago Oct. 2 2021-09-08
--From a press release - CHICAGO — AIDS Foundation Chicago (AFC) has announced proof of full vaccination or negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of event will be required for all in-person participants for the 30th annual AIDS Run & ...

Gay News

HIV AT 40: Global activist Phill Wilson talks Chicago, the '80s and vaccines 2021-09-01
- Phill Wilson is one of the best-known HIV/AIDS activists/educators around the globe. The Chicago native was the co-founder of the National Black Lesbian and Gay Leadership Forum and the National Task Force on AIDS Prevention. He ...

Gay News

Feds expand insurers' requirements for PrEP coverage 2021-08-26
- Insurers and service-providers have until September to comply with a new federal guidance requiring insurance companies to cover the entire cost of PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) interventions. Many insurers have been ...

Gay News

NATIONAL Ann Arbor ban, Buttigieg, NYC settlement, Gloria Allred 2021-08-22
- Using gay conversion therapy on minors to try to change their sexual orientation or gender identity is now officially banned in Ann Arbor, Michigan, according to "So-called conversion therapy is, of course, an abomination," Mayor ...

Gay News

Chicago Academy's 25th annual AIDS benefit show Sept. 24-25 2021-08-12
- Each year, Chicago Academy for the Arts students produce and perform in a variety show to support HIV/AIDS research and organizations. The 25th Annual AIDS Benefit will take place Sept. 24-25 at The Academy, 1010 W. ...

Gay News

U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS moves to virtual 2021-08-10
--From a press release - Aug. 10, 2021 - NMAC today announced that the 2021 US Conference on HIV/AIDS will move from an in-person conference to a virtual meeting due to the continued spread of the Delta variant of the Covid ...


Copyright © 2021 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.






About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.