In a City Hall board room that had been nearly empty in past months, members and past members of Chicago's Advisory Council in LGBT Issues ( ACLGBTI ) crowded into an emotionally charged final meeting of the council Dec. 14.
ACLGBTI expires on Jan. 1, and will be replaced by a council on Women and LGBT Issues. Also departing is LGBT city liaison Bill Greaves, whose position was cut in the 2012 city budget.
ACLGBTI and other advisory councils protested the changes to their councils in past months, but with the budget now approved, members of ACLGBTI wrapped up old business with resignation, sadness and anger.
"We've done good things," said Chair Beth Kelly. "That work has largely been dismissed by the current administration. I think that is a mistake."
Council members reminisced about their achievements in past yearsthe passage of gender identity protections in Chicago, the continuation of the Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame, helping with the 2003 meningitis outbreak among LGBT Chicagoans and the honoring of a 7th grader who wrote an essay on LGBT rights.
"I believe despite what happened, our community is a lot more powerful, a lot more vibrant, and there are a lot of good things ahead for us," said longtime member Robert Castillo.
Mona Noriega, director of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations ( which oversees ACLGBTI ) and a prominent LGBT activist herself, attended the first half of the meeting and thanked members for their service.
"I think we have accomplished a lot, and I look forward to doing more, and I just wanted to say thank you," Noriega said.
The city awarded members with large framed certificates.
Three new councils will replace the old structure. In addition to the Council on Women and LGBT Issues, there will be a Veteran Affairs council and one on "Equity" which will combine councils pertaining to African affairs, Arab affairs, Asian affairs, Latino affairs, immigration and refugees.
ACLGBTI members questioned Noriega on the future advisory council. According to Noriega, all who want to be on the new council will have to apply by requesting an application from the Commission on Human Relations. New advisory council members will serve just three-year terms, with a third of each council rotating off or re-applying every year. ( In the past there was no term limit. )
Noriega told Windy City Times that current council members can reapply but that the city intends to appoint new candidates. She added that there will be a greater push for diversity on the advisory councils.
ACLGBTI, which failed to achieve quorum in November, voted through motions that had been left waiting due to lack of attendance. Largely, those initiatives centered on sending letters stating the positions of the council, including a resolution supporting recent U.S. advocacy on international LGBT Issues.
For many, the final meeting represents the end of an era in which LGBT people were highly visible in city government. For others, the end of ACLGBTI is the natural progression of time as ACLGBTI contains some members who have served for decades.
For Greaves, the meeting was culmination of 11 years of service.
"I'm ready to move on," Greaves told the council through tears. "I'm relieved, but it's not a moving on I will ever forget."
Greaves became emotional as he recalled how he came out to his family when took on the director's position.
ACLGBTI has faced significant challenges in the past few years. Lack of attendance often prevented the group from reaching quorum and therefore from being able vote. A basic letter of support an LGBT activist requested from the council in September took until December to complete and vote on.
"One big reason for ACGLBTI's troubles in achieving a quorum at meetings was that, for years, City Hall has delayed processing applications for membership on ACLGBTI," member Bill Kelley told Windy City Times. "ACLGBTI wouldn't get any new members, but some old members would lose interest and seldom attend. On the books, the total membership remained the same, so the quorum requirement remained the same, but those of us remaining active had more trouble in meeting the requirement because we had fewer active members to draw on."
The council has also been hampered by a lack of funds. Earlier this year, the city pulled all of its remaining financial support for the Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame ( GLHF ) , sending council members scurrying to raise money for its November induction ceremony.
The fate of GLHF is on many minds now that ACLGBTI is ending. ACLGBTI members are in negotiations with Noriega on how to keep it alive. As an entity, GLHF is technically owned by the city. In practicality, however, those who run it and fund it won't have city ties come January.
"I believe in the Hall of Fame," Noriega assured council members. "I want it to work."
To keep GLHF running, Greaves and Kelly copied more than 450 city files on inductees. The files contain everything that GLHF needs to continue, Greaves said.
It is not yet clear if other files containing historical record of ACLGBTI will also be copied. The city must legally hold onto all of the original files as a matter of public record, and ACLGBTI records are so extensive that copying all of them would be a massive undertaking, according to Greaves.
The Dec. 14 meeting ended with tears and speeches from council members, thanking each other for their service and vowing to stay in touch.
Member Kevin Smith spoke of the ways in which his time on ACLGBTI allowed him to advocate as an out gay Black man while Catherine Sikora recalled life for transgender people before gender identity protections were in place.
Others simply expressed their gratitude for their time on the council.
"I realize tonight that contrary to what I might have thought earlier, I am going to miss our monthly meetings," Kelly said.