'I am no longer on the board, and I was not part of decision,' said Christie Dailey, who served on the LCCP board the maximum time allowed, six years, and was board president for four. 'I absolutely trust the women who made this decision. ... I think there are ways to put [ a collaboration ] together that are successful ...I have seen that in YWCA,' said Dailey, who is about to become regional director of the YWCA Southwest/Delta Region of the U.S.
'LCCPit's an organization dear to my heart and to lesbians throughout Chicago, and it is very important to lesbians to have a lesbian-identified agency. I certainly hope that LCCP remains that agency for us. I have nothing but fond feelings and good wishes in my heart for LCCP.'
Jackie Anderson, who also served on LCCP's board for six years, four of them as president ( prior to Dailey ) was among the first wave of agency leaders. She said LCCP called a meeting of former board members earlier this year, but the meeting was more about telling people the change was coming, given that the agency was already firmly down the path to some form of collaboration.
'All of us had some concerns, including that HBHC is much larger and more financially solid, I assume ... it certainly is bigger,' Anderson said.
'And there is always some concern about being swallowed up.' 'The reading I have been doing recently shows that this seems to be something that happens to small service organizations in this country. As they begin to grow, eventually they have to do something or go out of business,' Anderson said. 'LCCP has come through probably the most critical year in its history, where the very existence of the agency was in jeopardy. The board and staff did an incredible job of pulling through. If this is what that board thinks it needs to do for LCCP to continue to work on women's health, that's what they need to do. In the best of all worlds, I would love for LCCP to still be an independent and autonomous agency.'
Anderson, like many of those contacted by WCT, pointed to HBHC's controversial past in terms of tensions with both women and people of color. 'I do not have criticism, but I do have concerns. I am confident this board will take care of the agency, they are strong, committed, sharp. ... [ But ] as this board begins to transition off, I am assuming the new board take care of the agency. I think that's the best I can hope for. I want to see LCCP survive, the mission of it, to continue to be made real. As long as that's the case, I have to hail them on, or get back on the boardwhich I am not willing to do.'
Coming from a staunch feminist perspective, Anderson noted that during her tenure, no man would have been considered for the LCCP board. Last year, the agency welcomed its first male board member, Paul Fairchild.
'This is not the community it wasbut I don't think younger folks had a problem at all, and the board didn't have an issue with it. Paul is one of few men I would trust. It isn't my political world, but I also know that I'm an old person now ... I see a lot of differences when I am around young people. Their challenges and the culture they create is different. It is their's. We were the young ones challenging stuff once ... I am just glad to see something still happening. My constant fear is that I wake up and nothing important is going on.
'Maybe HBHC is different. It might be, if they [ LCCP ] trust them enough. Maybe it ain't the same HBHC,' Anderson said, also noting the agency's shift from service to advocacy. 'I think all women in the community are not going to see LCCP the way they are accustomed to seeing it ... advocacy means a different population. ... LCCP will not be there the way it has been there in the past, in a very personal way, and I am sorry about that loss. They had a choice to make, to continue and worry constantly, or change their focus, work at another level and be able to sustain themselves and still exist. I think the very existence of LCCP was really in jeopardy. That scared me more than the fact that it was going to have to do something. ... I am confident if something did compromise LCCP, we would raise some hellwe can't leave them sitting there without support. If they go in a direction we don't like, we have to let them know. That's our responsibility as a community.'
Lora Branch, director of the Chicago Department of Health's Office of LGBT Health, has worked with both agencies, including as a funder.
'I have, in the work I do, even in my personal life, referred a lot of women who are uninsured and under-insured, and HBHC has been their lifeline,' Branch said. 'These are Black, Latino women, who really do use HBHC services and speak very highly of their programs. It is a frustration of mine to see the HBHC women's programstheir role has diminished in the past few years. But I am confident there are still excellent staff committed to serving women and poor women ... . I use HBHC, I send people there, as I do with LCCP. They are both really valuable resources.
'This merger, whether it is good or not, I can only guess, that with Jessica Halem and Leigh Roberts, it couldn't be a bad thing. They really are leaders, and have given this a lot of thought,' Branch said. 'There is baggage, and people in the community look at this suspiciously. Especially as LCCP started as a grassroots, lesbian-centered organization, and what that means for LCCP, could be perceived as questionable. Not everybody is understanding 'why the need for this.' I have heard some people express concerns; the same who have had concerns about women's programming at HBHC. I do not know how close they are to staff and programs now, so I am not sure they are informed. Had this been two years ago, maybe those criticisms would have more merit. That's not to say there are not problems, with the women's program. They are very prepared and very competent, they are serving women.' Branch sees agency consolidations as part of a trend, with resources more scarce, from both public and private funds.
'If you read Donor News, this is what's happening in donor world,' said high-end LCCP donor Nan Schaffer [ also a co-owner of Windy City Media Group ] . 'There are a lot of people merging, so they can share technology and personnel redundancy that costs so much. HBHC needs women and LCCP needs resources. This makes perfect sense.'
Former LCCP board member Renae Ogletree expressed strong reservations about the change, but also agreed with others in saying that this presents a catch-22. More than ever, LCCP needs loud voices of support; more than ever, they may lose those voices if people step away because of this alliance.
'The foundation of LCCP was built from the women's community,' Ogletree said. 'I don't think that matches with the mission of HBHCbecoming a big community health center. I have concerns with their politics around lesbians, and people of color. Perhaps I am old school. Some say HBHC has changed. Changes happen when boards change, but I don't see that.'
Ogletree and others pointed to problems when HBHC set up the Harambe Center on the South Side without adequate support or input from the community.
'I look at the supposed collaboration and have to look at changes in both organizations,' Ogletree said. 'LCCP has a male on board. HBHC is run my a male. I love [ LCCP board member Paul Fairchild ] dearly and he is my friend. Putting a male on board is a progressive move, but did it signify losing focus? I might be old school but my civil-rights politics are not. HBHC has never responded effectively to the issues the African American community raised.
'I have to give LCCP credit for staying relevant. But I have to question whether linking with an agency that's never really proved itself to be an integral part of the community is the right way to go. They haven't proven themselves to the African American community. I have vivid memories of how HBHC treated us during the AIDS Walk controversy' when AIDS organizations
serving people of color were fighting for a piece of the AIDS Walk pie.
'LCCP has done incredible things in our community,' Ogletree continued. 'I think HBHC gets way more out of this than LCCP. It almost brings credibility to HBHC as an institution in the lesbian community. But STOP AIDS merged and was gone. HBHC does not grow community-based organizations; its mission is to grow itself. A merger with the Center on Halstednot that I don't have issues there toowould have made sense because they are trying to build a community centerand if LCCP has become more advocacy than service, what better place to advocate from?'
Ogletree said a danger facing long-term agencies is to remain relevant. At the meeting held with former board members earlier this year, she said the focus was getting support, not asking for people's input.
'We all care about LCCP, so we won't kill it publically,' Ogletree said. 'But given my knowledge of mergers, etc., I have to wonderI believe we are going to lose our identity. It will give an agenda to HBHC, that has been missing for a long time. The one thing it does is put LCCP closer to is its research agenda, so it makes sense. But from reaching grassroots people, my history might be tainted, but I do not see how it's going to help.'
'It's sad, I do feel this is the end of LCCP as we know it,' she said. 'HBHC is really going to have to put up now, and the community will have to hold its feet to the fire. That will be important to the lesbian community and to African Americans. I am not optimistic, but I will not work to kill it, but I certainly can't support it. A lot more has to happen for me to say this is something I wholeheartedly support. It is another red flag of the challenges in our community. The old guard is gone, who is the new guard, and what is their visionis this reflective of it?'
One long-time African American lesbian LCCP supporter asked to speak off the record. 'This is the last thing I wanted to hear. It is a win-win for HBHC, they get to now say they've got this project. We all know they have a huge void in terms of serving women, and knowing how to serve people of color. I understand it from a bottom-line perspective. I just hope they don't lose the richness and history that LCCP has accumulated in the past 13 years. ... I want to believe organizations can change, including HBHC; but when I see some of the actions that seem to be institutionalized, it makes me very nervous, about these two even dating. On paper it looks good ... the staff, the facility, etc. ... but I have a philosophical and cultural concern being that close with an organization with a longstanding history of institutional racism and the exclusion of women.'
Janice Layne, who wrote a letter attacking HBHC a few years ago for what she viewed as racist treatment of the agency, said she can not overlook the agency's past. Her sister Jennifer worked at HBHC in 1989, and the agency had trouble with diversity issues. Janice Layne's trouble stemmed from her treatment as a volunteer for the agency's annual Taste for Every Palate women's benefit.
Layne said she believes HBHC does a good job serving white men, but they have stumbled many times when trying to serve women and people of color.
'I am not trying to put them down, they do what they do well, serving white males, and they do serve others,' Layne said. 'But they do not have an environment of equality and cultural respect and reciprocity. I tip my hat to them, we need them to exist. But we must not overlook the problems they have had since the beginning. As for the LCCP collaboration, this will work only if LCCP leaders like Jessica stay. HBHC will use LCCP to deal with budget issues. Then the need for women and people of color will disappear.
'I do not have a whole lot of personal trust in HBHC's abilities; perhaps this is an opportunity in how to grow and change, how to serve all humans in the spirit of service and cultural equality. I honor and respect what HBHC does medically; I am amazed and proud how they still exist after all these years. At the same time, it needs help on other fronts. I do not feel they learned their lesson from the Taste for Every Palate. They only learned to watch who they express their true feelings around, just to hide things better. I know everybody at HBHC is not all the same, but consistently they have defended behavior that is appalling. No matter who has been in charge, they hand off the spirit, the same spirit to the next person.'
Layne was briefly on an HBHC community advisory board for Harambe, HBHC's South Side project. 'The complaints I got from other people, African American people, said HBHC never asked people of color, on the South Side, how best to do things. They just decided to do it. Sometimes it's OK to ask the community what their needs are; they decided to do it ... decided they knew how to do. ... It's my concern that LCCP is being eaten up by the whale, and it will disappear. ... If it wasn't a matter of survival, LCCP wouldn't be doing this. So what's pushing this from both sides, is money. Of course we have to trust LCCP, as opposed to going away, this is a survival thing. For people afraid of what will happen, it is time for them to stand up and send their $5 ina lot is at stake here.'
Evette Cardona served on LCCP's board for four years, until 2003. She is a senior program officer with the Polk Bros. Foundation and a board member of the Center on Halsted and Amigas Latinas.
'After that tough year, in 2003, it was clear something had to happen,' Cardona said. 'There were a lot of discussionsmerge, not merge, stay open, etc. The board decided to pursue a merger. After I left the board last year, I was not privy to conversations. It didn't seem to me HBHC was in the initial consideration. They had looked at UIC, Chicago Women's Health Center, Heartland Alliance ... HBHC was probably that pink elephant in the room.
'This is a very delicate situation. When you put the history and political stuff aside, HBHC makes total sense, they share health missions. LCCP is a health organization, not a general all-purpose group. ... When I heard, I thought, either it's April Fool's Day or we've come a loooong way, baby. There are some good people at HBHC. You need to be on site day to day interacting with those people, nurturing those relationships; being housed there makes a lot of sense for that reason.
'Mergers are happening throughout the field. Open Hand, AIDS Pastoral Care ... HBHC would be smart to let LCCP do what it does bestif the folks have felt HBHC has not done enough for the community, this is an opportunity for HBHC to step up to the plate. LCCP will still be a place to go to. Hopefully because of its connection and opportunity to really have access to medical services, knowledge, etc., they'll be a better point person to go to. As opposed to a small office in the Uptown Bank Building, out there by
Cardona said that Amigas Latinas could one day mergealthough there are no talks now. 'When you think of the economywe don't have office or staffif and when we do, we could go down the same patheverybody loves you but it doesn't pay the bills. ... Lesbian health is at the margins of LGBT services. I have often said, if it wasn't for youth services, it would probably be harder for HBHC, the Center and About Face Theatre to get funding; youth are on the side of angels, lesbian health isn't. It's a risk, but I think it's a calculated risk. The community needs to support LCCP now more than ever.'
As for the collaboration morphing into an actual merger, Cardona said she hopes LCCP maintains its separateness. 'If HBHC is in a position to give free rent and administrative overhead, and hands off, that would be the best thing,' she said. 'It will be up to the community as to whether a merger has to occur. There are still bills to pay. The money raised for LCCP can really now focus almost 100% on programs, you would think. That will only happen if the community continues to support them.'
Former LCCP board member Chris Smith is board president of Affinity, which serves African American women from a base in Hyde Park. She was among those former board members invited to hear about the collaboration plans earlier this year.
'There are a litany of reasons why HBHC was the best partner for them, for women's health in general, and providing the shortest time to get there. We asked LCCP leaders how the process was done and why HBHC. They were going to get back with us about whythey did not. There were no HBHC people at that meeting,' Smith said.
'I want LCCP to remain autonomous. We need a voice. The perception is a merger, that they will be subsumed,' Smith said. 'I personally have doubts. LCCP will get a bang for their buck, with the resources, staff, infrastructure. But I have a feeling HBHC will not know what to do with it. I can see the executive director having to split their time dealing with this, and not on advocacy, and expansion of healthcare.
'As a Black woman, for low-income women, I do not see them changing that perception. I sent a Black woman to them for an HIV test, and they sent her to the Chicago Department of Health. They have quite a lot of work to do to change, the ED, the staff, the board, and their constituentstheir white male issues are primary. How long will it take to change? I have very little hope in the collaboration.
'The institution is as solid and truthful to the mission as the people who steward them ... but as new people come on, the group is a faint reflection of the original mission. So a new board may not have a lot of institutional memory. Change is good, and I am hesitant to say it will fail. But I haven't seen concrete evidence of how things will change. It is scary, the power differential ... they are so different. I care about LCCP, Jessica, and care that the voice will not be muted. ... I can't imagine going to a meeting at HBHC and feeling safe, and not enraged. We have our own agenda, and it should not be twisted by the agendas of others. These institutions we created for a reason ... LCCP, Affinity, Lambda Legal ... I hope the core mission is not dissolved. That remains to be seen ... people are skeptical.'