A group of Chicago-area friends gathered Oct. 15 at the Baton Show Lounge to celebrate the extraordinary life of LGBTQ+ activist and community organizer and former bar owner Marge Summit.
Summit, the former owner of the legendary His n' Hers bar and co-creator of the Gay $ Project ink stamp initiative alongside gay businessman Frank Kellas, was remembered for her many contributions to Chicago's LGBTQ+ community over the years.
Celebration of Life organizer David Boyer, Summit's longtime friend and Touche bar manager, spoke about their shared adventures over the years, verbal sparring matches when they disagreed with each other and how honored he was to be with her "on her last day on Earth, when she was reunited with her late wife Janan [Lindley who died last year]."
Boyer also said that Summit's daughter Tayna Nelson was unable to attend so she sent her thanks to everyone who came to the celebration to "show their love and support." He additionally spoke about Summit being a part of the crew for his Chicago Original Country Dance Parties, and how important it was that her bar was geared toward everyone in the community, not just queer women. That pride was reflected in the album she produced called Gay and Straight Together featuring His 'n Hers performers.
Additionally, Boyer said that the Gay $ Project Summit and Kellas spearheaded was critical for to the community because it showed the economic power the LGBTQ+ community had. He added that they even "got letters from the federal government who were threatening them with legal action for defaming the money" but that did not stop them from their mission.
Activist Gary Chichester, who officiated Summit and Lindley's wedding at the Andersonville bar The Call on May 18, 2014, said his history with Summit goes back to when she was managing the bar Togetherness. He said that when they asked him to officiate at their wedding he was proud to accept the honor. Chichester added that Summit had a lot to say, and he "loved hearing her stories of times gone by."
"Marge proves that we have to remember the great icons of our communit,y because when we forget history we lose our past … There are people out there who want to wipe us out of history," Chichester said. "This is happening now in states around the country and we have to fight back and let people know that we are still proud, still here and still queer."
He added that he will be working with 44th Ward Ald. Bennett Lawson to do an honorary street sign at the former site of His n' Hers under the Addison L tracks stop, and have that done before next summer's Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
Author and historian Owen Keehnen read a recollection from Summit about the creation of the Gay $ Project after someone in management at Evergreen Grocery Store wrote an article accusing every gay man of infecting people with AIDS via touching and sneezing. Keehnen's anecdote continued with his describing both subsequent actions against Evergreen and the Secret Service's visiting the activists after they got wind of the Gay $ Project. Keehnen also discussed how Summit was able to fend them off.
Tracy Baim spoke about covering that Evergreen story as a young journalist in the mid-'80s, and how Summit united the LGBTQ+ community together through events such as blood drives. Baim added that Summit was a good role model for her as someone who stood her ground on myriads of issues that she cared about. She also called Summit a "pillar of our community … who will not be forgotten because of Gerber-Hart Library and other projects. It was an honor to have met her, and I grew a lot thicker skin for having known her. We were very lucky to have her in Chicago."
Baton Show Lounge Owner Jim Flint said he met Summit in 1970, right after he opened the Baton, and noted the many times she helped him in those early years. Flint added that he was "very honored that Marge was here on New Year's Eve with us for the last time" this past New Year's. Flint spoke through his tears about how "there are not a lot of us around anymore and Marge is one more gone for the ages."
Other speakers included Kevin Bryson, Terry Gaskins, Scott Van Der Wheele, Richard Clough and Dean Ogren.
Following the remembrances, Boyer played a song from the Gay and Straight Together Volume One album called "Song for His n' Hers," written by Jeff Jones, while attendees sang along to the lyrics.
The celebration also featured a slideshow of Summit and her family and friends at various gatherings and events; a memorial book for people to write messages to Nelson and her family; three posterboards filled with photos and other memorabilia from Summit's life; and food courtesy of Flint.
See www.windycitytimes.com/lgbt/PASSAGES-Longtime-LGBTQ-activist-and-community-organizer-former-bar-owner-Marge-Summit/75031.html .