Activist Ted Korbos said "he could never have dreamed" that, 22 years after the formation of Berwyn United Gay and Lesbian Organization ( BUNGALO ), that the city of Berwyn would have this many openly LGBT public officials about to take office.
"I was very proud and very happy," said Korbos, who said that the election of lesbian Marge Paul as a city council member in 2009 represented a turning point of sorts.
"Marge is a great politician," Korbos further explained. "She's very outgoing and very smart about bringing people in."
Paul won the municipal primary election in February for Berwyn's city clerk post; she was unopposed in the general election April 4. She was replaced on the city council by Jeanine Reardon, who is a close political ally. Reardon, along with another ally elected to the council, Jose Ramirez, is also openly gay. Another LGBT person entering the council is Scott Lennon, who ran on a slate affiliated with Berwyn's mayor, who was opposed by the Berwyn United political slate, which Paul, Reardon and Ramirez belonged to.
Brian Brock, who is also gay, also won a post as a Berwyn Park District commissioner, while Julia McAleer-Forte was among those who won a spot on the Berwyn South District 100 School Board.
"Marge is the person who has drawn in and involved a lot of the next generation of gays in Berwyn into politics and into Berwyn as a community," Korbos said.
That much success for LGBT candidates was unimaginable in late 1994, when the Berwyn city council bowed down to pressure from conservative ministers and removed sexual orientation as a protected class from the city's proposed human-rights ordinance, Korbos recalled. At a meeting, a local minister said that such an inclusion was unnecessary, since no gays or lesbians lived in Berwyn.
"That statement flabbergasted those of us from the LGBT community, that someone who lived in Berwyn would believe that no gay person lived in a city of 50,000 people," Korbos said. "That was the impetus for starting BUNGALO."
The group adopted the slogan, "We, too, are Berwyn."
"Our goal was to have gays and lesbians become involved in Berwyn as a community," Korbos said. "It was not necessarily political."
BUNGALO was a means by which LGBT folks in town met, networked and socialized. The group held lectures, marched together in the Chicago Pride Parade and staffed a table at Halsted Street Market Days, among myriad activities. But Korbos noted that the group did get "pushback" on some occasions.
"There was a gay-baiting flyer in the 6th Ward aldermanic race in 1997, implying that one of the candidates for that office was gay," he said. "There were also gay-baiting mailings and flyers in the 2000 and 2001 elections."
He noted that the last several elections were comparatively free of anti-LGBT rhetoric, adding, "In the elections of the last decade, a person's sexual orientation is a non-issue and all candidates running for office in Berwyn, gay and straight, are supportive on gay civil-rights issues. … While BUNGALO laid the foundation and was the start of it all, it was people like Marge Paul, Scott Lennon and Jose Ramirez who took things to the next level over the last decade."
Korbos said, that though Berwyn is largely still welcoming for its LGBT residents and visitors, there are still some problems.
"About six months ago, a man was being harassed by his neighbor," he noted. "We also got an email that a woman's lesbian daughter, a teenager, was being bullied. It's is welcoming, but it is like any other city. It's much better than it was 20 years ago."
Korbos is proud of what the city's LGBT community accomplished during the primary and general elections. He also praised South Berwyn School District 100's "forward-thinking policy" on transgender students.
"I am proud not only of the gays and lesbians who are involved in politics, but other gays and lesbians in Berwyn who are involved in other aspects of Berwyn, like the parks, the schools, the library, the business community and [who are] involved in other civic organizations," he said.