Kim Hunt has served many leadership roles in Chicago LGBTQ+ and HIV/AIDS organizations since moving to the city in 1985.
The Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame inductee was the first executive director of Affinity Community Services. In addition, she has served on many civic boards and advisory councils including New Leaders Council, She100, Chicago Foundation for Women's LBTQ Giving Council and the Women's Advisory Council of the Center on Halsted.
Hunt is currently the senior director of policy and advocacy operation for AIDS Foundation Chicago (AFC) and the Executive Director of Pride Action Tank (PAT), a project of AFC that aims to improve the health, safety and progress of individuals and groups within the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups, especially the BIPOC community.
Hunt recently talked with Windy City Times about various aspects of her life, including what she has learned about herself as the world slowly emerges from a time like no other.
Windy City Times: You've been in several leadership positions since moving to Chicago. Did you set out to be a leader or was it just something that happened organically?
Kim Hunt: Oh, honey, that happened organically. [Both laugh.] I was very shy as a kid; I grew up in a family of big personalities so someone had to be quiet, and that was me. I was often the kid sitting in the corner, reading a book.
I also absorbed a lot. I loved hanging out with my mother and her friends; my mother would have card games happening on the weekends and they talked trash the whole timeand it was very entertaining. [Laughs] But I didn't feel like I needed to say much because everyone was so talkative. I would've never envisioned [what I do now] as a kid.
WCT: So what happened? How did you become a leader?
KH: Like you said, it was definitely organic. My teacher always identified leadership qualities [in me]. And there were times, like in college, when I would stick my neck out. I was the president of a Black student union for a minute; friends pushed me forward and I happened to be pledging. It was not a year I was necessarily proud of, but I got a little bit of the bug then.
And I've always loved writing, and the things I'd write about would push me toward a more visible space. It really was organic, putting one foot in front of the other, metaphorically. I did some volunteer work to bring the Gay Games to Chicagowhich was my entree into the queer community hereand that led to other things I said "yes" to.
WCT: Regarding Pride Action Tank, could you talk a little about what it does and what you'd like to accomplish?
KH: Yes. [Chicago Reader Co-Publisher] Tracy [Baim] and I co-founded PAT as kind of a response to what happens after marriage equality. Tracy had organized the March on Springfield for Marriage Equality as another activity to push marriage over the lineand to focus on other big issues for the community, as well.
After Windy City Times had done that multimedia series on youth homelessness, I worked with Tracy on a summit focused on thatand it became the model for Pride Action Tank in that you had to first center the people most impacted by the issue we're working on and bring a lot of people to the table. We worked to make sure that the report at the end of the summit wasn't one of those documents that sat on the shelf.
Over the years, we've continued work on youth homelessnesslooking at families and systems that influence homelessness (like school push-outs, LGBTQ aging, tiny homes and the criminal-justice system). We've been able, with help from many others, to change legislation, influence how resources are deployed and help people become advocates to leverage change.
We've been doing this for seven years, in October. As we [PAT] move closer to our 10th year, we want to do more work outside Chicago and even Illinois, and look at the Midwest as an opportunity for LGBTQ folks to gather and harness their power for changeand to leverage the blue bubble of Chicago to create some blue dots around us.
WCT: Windy City Times did an "AIDS at 40" series last year to mark the 40th anniversary of the official discovery of the disease. Are you surprised that there hasn't been a vaccine for HIV/AIDS yetespecially after a COVID one was developed so quickly?
KH: Quickly! [Laughs] It does make you wonder because we know the lessons from the AIDS epidemic were taken into consideration when medical officials dealt with the COVID pandemic. We know that the rapid vaccine creation and approvalas well as harnessing the political will to improve the safety net for folkswere lessons that came from the AIDS crisis.
Unfortunately, because the political will isn't there in the same way with HIV/AIDS, it does not surprise me that there isn't a vaccine yet, but we're getting closer and closer. My former colleague Jim Pickett, who's done tons of work regarding the medical response to HIV/AIDS, keeps tabs on those things and I remember saying a few years ago, "Things are progressing really well." I do think we'll have a vaccinein my lifetime, as I'm turning 60. [Laughs]
But in the meantime, there are PrEP [pre-exposure prophylaxis] and PEP [post-exposure prophylaxis] that are highly effective in preventing transmissionand that, too, is a huge biomedical advance that we need to get out there.
WCT: What do you think is the general social attitude toward HIV/AIDS? Do you feel people are more nonchalant?
KH: I think it's complex because I know people who still think it's a death sentence and when I tell them it's not, they're surprised. In the HIV/AIDS space I find myself in, it's a bubble. Most people don't think about this at all.
Our Advocacy Day [recently happened] for AFC, and one of my colleagues talked about how he's done outreach and that it's not uncommon for someone to ask, "Ohis AIDS still around?" So there's a lot of awareness-building work that still has to be done.
That's why I say it's complicated. Those of us who know about it, know; but there are many people who don't knowand it's really unfortunate because who we see most impacted are Black and Latinx folks. We really need to educate folks and do what we can to reduce the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS.
WCT: On a different level, what do make of the flood of anti-LGBTQ legislation?
KH: There's a lot. Folks talked about this happening after marriage equality [was legalized], that there would be this backlash. It's sadly predictable that every time a group is finally seen as human and worthy of rights, there's this pushback. We saw it at the tail end of the Obama Administration with the bathroom bills, as in North Carolina and others; we saw them pop up again at the end of the Trump Administration. Now, we see it again with this new presidentand we're still surrounded by states that are not pro-equality, for anyone.
What we're seeing with this increase in legislation is, hopefully, the last dying breaths of the sentiment of "When you get rights, it takes rights away from me."
This legislation is supposedly being passed to protect peoplewhich I don't understand at all. I'm just imagining that young people (or anyone) in those states seeing that what happens with one group can happen to another. And THAT'S what I wish people could see: Today, it's trans youthbut who's next on the list?
We should be very concerned about the survival of Roe v. Wade. It's heartbreaking and, at the same time, I see folks fighting against this nonsense. That part brings me joy, but we shouldn't constantly have our backs against the wall. It's so tough.
WCT: If you could have our current president change a policy that's LGBTQ+ and/or HIV/AIDS-related, what would that be?
KH: Well, I would love to see the Equality Act passed. It's not that one law can change everything, but it's a step in the right direction. It does give more leverage in the continued fight for LGBTQ rights.
But aside from that (or maybe in addition to that), there are so many things that affect LGBTQ folks and don't have "LGBTQ" in the label, such as access to quality, affordable healthcare and housing. Knowing you can't be fired from your job based on someone's feeling about youand knowing you're going to make a livable wage when you work. So many things impact us that don't have "LGBTQ" in the [name] but would help LGBTQ folks so much.
I like to say that we work through the lens of LGBTQ, but a lot of what we do helps other marginalized groups.
WCT: What have you learned about yourself during these last two years, with the pandemic and the discussions about race that have taken place?
KH: Whoogreat question! I'm still learning some things.
One of the areas that continues to be a challenge for me [involves] the notions of productivity, what that means during a pandemic and how that changes coming out of a pandemic. I have been used to constantly being on the run and, during the early months of the shutdown, everyone was asking, "What is going on?" When you have your personal and professional engagements just stop after running at [a high speed], it is jarring, at first. I felt like I never want to go back to that addictive rushalthough I feel myself creeping back there.
Also, my tolerance for certain things has certainly diminished but I've also learned a lot about what I've dealt with in my lifetime. As I said, [I'm] 60and I put that out there because I came into my work life at a time when affirmative action was a thing and then it was being critiqued in a way that made it sound like folks were just giving stuff. Conversations about race were not really had, and you didn't want to draw too much attention to you being Black because others saw that as a deficit. All those experiences, and even previous generations defining success through youall those things that a Black person of a particular age has had to deal withhave resurfaced in a way that's made me look at them differently.
Time has given me the words to talk about the things I've experienced.
It's been eye-opening for me, in many ways. Now that the hard attention [about race] isn't there, it's interesting to see which institutions and organizations are claiming versus what they're actually doingand, for some, it's right back to the status quo.