In honor of Pride month, the Chicago Sky held a virtual panel "Being Unapologetically You" June 23 focused on success stories from three local LGBTQ leaders.
E3 Radio Founder and CEO Anna DeShawn moderated the eent. Panelists included Chicago Reader Publisher and Windy City Times co-founder Tracy Baim, Chicago Sky Center Stefanie Dolson and LGBT Chamber of Commerce ( LGBTCC ) Director Jerome' Holston.
When DeShawn asked why everyone said yes to this panel the consensus was that it was a no-brainer to talk about being their authentic selves within the LGBTQ community, especially during Pride month.
Baim added that anytime she can help elevate sports as a catalyst for positive change she will participate. She said because of Title IX becoming law she was able to play various sports since she was a child, adding that was transformative for her.
DeShawn asked Dolson if things have changed for the better regarding out LGBTQ players in the WNBA. Dolson responded that, for her, the league and players have always been accepting in the seven years she has been playing professional basketball.
In terms of the cost of living authentically as a Black gay man, Holston said that prior to working at the LGBTCC, he did fundraising work on behalf of churchesa time when he was only out to a few people there. He added that the work culture did not lend itself to connectivity between people, which is why he did not come out to everyone there. Holston added that the disconnected work environment that impeded his ability to show up fully and express himself directly impacted his chances at a promotion despite the fact that he had raised a lot of money.
DeShawn asked Baim about being out since the beginning of her career in the mid-1980s and if that has impacted her in a negative way. Baim said yes, but not in terms of finding a job right out of college.
"I prevented it on the front end," said Baim.
Baim said her mother, who was a journalist at the Chicago Defender, told her about the publication Gay Life when she returned to Chicago after graduating from Drake University, and she started working there almost immediately. She added that her stepfather, who worked at the Chicago Tribune, told her at the time she could not be an out lesbian and work for that paper.
This reality was the catalyst for Baim to create her own career as an independent journalist and business owner for the past 36 years. She credited her parents for being so supportive at a time when most LGBTQ people were being ostracized from their families.
Dolson spoke about how easy it was for her to come out to her family and friends. She said her mother was supportive right away and her father gave her a high-five and immediately wanted to see a picture of her girlfriend. Dolson said that the fans have also embraced her and the other out LGBTQ players across the WNBA because of the inclusive environment the league has created. She added that other sports leagues can learn from what the WNBA has done for its out LGBTQ players.
DeShawn asked about this year's Pride Month in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the #BlackLivesMatter protests, adding that it has been hard for her to feel celebratory.
Holston said that other than some of the marketing he has seen, it does not feel like Pride Month because of the lack of in-person events and the loss of jobs and, especially, loved ones due to the coronavirus.
Baim added that this is a reckoning for everyone, including the LGBTQ community, of the racism she said pervades every corner of U.S. society. She pointed to the recent Spyner's Pub protestspurred because of the lesbian owner's racist Facebook postsas an example of the racism within Chicago's LGBTQ community. Baim said she is grateful for the activists out on the street and that Pride has taken a backseat because "we need a new normal."
Dolson echoed what Holston and Baim said regarding her feelings about Pride Month.
As for what gives them hope right now, Dolson said it is the little wins, including the young girls who reach out to her on social media to say she has inspired them. She added that her whole family, including herself, recovering from COVID-19 has also bolstered her spirits.
Baim said that despite the fact that The Reader and this publication lost 90 percent of its advertising due to the COVID-19 shutdowns, no one was laid off or furloughed and every employee got Juneteenth off as a paid holiday.
Bringing more good news, Holston said that none of the LGBTCC member businesses have had to shut down permanently despite the current challenges, adding that this development bodes well for the future.
A Q&A session followed.