Cat Jefcoat, the dynamic young director of Howard Brown Health Center's Lesbian Community Care Project ( LCCP ) , will leave her post at year's end to become the associate director of resource development for Episcopal Charities, the giving arm of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago.
Tongues will likely wag regarding the reasons for her departure from HBHC/LCCP, but Jefcoat maintained that the move is not the result of anything negative. "I have been professionally gay for six years and I'm looking forward to being voluntarily gay," said Jefcoat, who was named a "30 under 30" by Windy City Times in 2001 and 2002.
"I also want to allow queer women's care at Howard Brown to be as big and beautiful as it can be. While community building relies heavily on relationship building, it is not ultimately the best for an organization to be personality driven. Mixing it up is very important."
As the head of fundraising for Episcopal Charities, she'll work to increase the individual and organizational giving that supports EC's partner organizations: shelters, schools and youth services - "the entire gamut of human need," Jefcoat said.
Concerning being out at her new job, she commented: "Look at my resumeit couldn't be more gay. This is not an issue."
At 34, Jefcoat can already lay claim to nearly two decades of activism. "I identified as an 'outsider' before I identified as queer and that has always informed my understanding. In high school I listened to a lot of punk rock. I had a lot of friends who were Riot Girls. We were feminists. It was the early '90s and identity politics had really taken root."
Jefcoat volunteered for two summers with Amigos de las Americas, doing health care work in Latin America. Because of this experience, which "informed her ideas about sexuality, class, geography and colonialism," she knew she wanted to pursue Latin American studies and women's studies and landed at DePaul, coming out as a queer woman while in college. "I was best friends with the biggest dyke on campus, so I didn't actually have to 'come out,' everyone just assumed I was," she explained.
A Dallas, Texas, native with a "dyed-in-the-wool Republican father and a yellow-dog Democrat mother," Jefcoat was "raised in a family where we had lots of great two-hour dinner conversations debating issues like welfare. Ideas and thought, and being able to articulate your ideas, were really important."
In addition to claiming the feminist label, Jefcoat naturally gravitated to another F-word: fundraiser. Her business acumen has always been used in the service of the greater social good. Even during college, she never wanted to simply produce a concert or plan a party; the undertaking always evolved into an event that would benefit a charity or social cause.
After finishing up at DePaul University in 1999, Jefcoat began her career with the Chicago Foundation for Women. "I began as a part-time consultant working on their annual luncheon and just bugged them until they hired me." Working as a Communications Associate, she cranked out press releases and marketing and development materials.
Jefcoat then moved on for a brief stint with Public Allies, a private not-for-profit that does skills building and economic development with area youth. This job with "the rabble rousers of Americorps" allowed her to begin honing her considerable community organizing skills.
She joined Lesbian Community Cancer Project in November of 2003, working in development and later serving as the Interim Executive Director. When LCCP merged with HBHC in 2007, Jefcoat emerged as director of the newly conceived Lesbian Community Care Project, helming the 17-year-old grass-roots organization through significant structural and programmatic change.
"I am very proud of the work I've done," she said. "When we first merged with Howard Brown, one in five clients who came through the door was a woman, now it's one in fourand in only two years. That's a gradual shift that has a lot to do with LCCP."
Jefcoat hopes and trusts that LCCP will maintain and expand their outreach on behalf of all queer women's health, across race and class. She had particular praise for the work that's been done on the south side, in partnership with Kim Hunt and Affinity Community Services.
"Half of the women we saw last year were uninsured," she said, noting the nationwide health care crisis and that many queer women are underemployed and therefore have inadequate or no insurance coverage. "The progress around race and class issues ebbs and flows. It's two steps forward and one step back."
Although Jefcoat's professional path will take her in other directions, she's not disappearing from the queer scene. "I'm interested in taking a new role. I don't know what that's going to look like, but I will continue to serve my community."