Dr. Miriam Redleaf never expected to take on a leadership role when she attended her first meeting of the LGBT and Allies Special Interest Group ( SIG ) of Chicago Area Mensa a few months ago, however, that's just what happened when Jim Cundiff, coordinator of the LGBT and Allies SIG, asked her to co-lead the group with him.
She was unanimously elected the first female coordinator of the LGBT and Allies SIG, and both her and Cundiff will be working on growing the membership to include more LGBT women and people of color and creating interesting activities for the members.
"Miriam is a real asset to our organization and offered to help design our activities going forward," said Cundiff. "I look forward to working with her to expand our presence and involvement in our community. The history of Mensa shows that new members are at the forefront of volunteering including leadership positions and Miriam is no different in that regard."
Redleaf's journey to Mensa began when she was having dinner with a male friend who happened to be a member of Mensa. Following that dinner, Redleaf decided to take the test and after she was accepted as a member, she looked for ways to become involved with the organization. In her initial research, Redleaf discovered that most of Mensa's activities take place in the suburbs. It was only after seeing an ad for the LGBT and Allies SIG, which meets on the North Side of Chicago, that she decided to get involved.
"My wife [Hanna Goldschmidt] and I went to our first meeting and Jim was very excited to see a woman at the meeting because they hadn't had one until I arrived," said Redleaf. "I told Jim I would help him out and that's how I became a co-chair. She isn't a member but they allow spouses to come to the meetings without being members."
The couple currently resides in the Ravenswood neighborhood where they raised their now four adult children.
Redleaf grew up in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood and graduated from St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland, with a liberal arts degree. She received her medical degree from the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, and did her residency and fellowship training in Otolaryngology and Neurotology at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Redleaf currently works out of the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System's department of otolaryngology as a professor of otolaryngology and the director of otology and hearing services.
"Otolaryngology focuses on the ear, nose and throat [ENT]. I decided to go into that specialty because, when I did my rotations during medical school, ENT was the only thing I really liked," said Redleaf. "I only see people with ear problems because I subspecialized in treating people with ear issues. I've been working in this subspecialty since 1992."
Redleaf is a board-certified otologist/neurotologist and has published numerous peer-reviewed articles. She leads the ear surgery program, adult and pediatric cochlear implant programs, vestibular program and Audiology Division at the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System.
"People can have ear issues from when they are born until the last years of their life so I see patients of all ages," said Redleaf. "Sometimes it's almost nothing but it really bothers the patient a lot and sometimes it's something serious that the patient may not even be aware of so the degree of discomfort and seriousness is variable. I deal with pain, infections, tumors and hearing loss in my practice."
Not only does Redleaf help those with ear issues here in Chicago, she also travels to Ethiopia twice a year for about a week at a time to help the doctors at a small hospital south of the capital, Addis Ababa, with ear operations.
"They have a system where local people come in for ear operations," said Redleaf. "I watch the Ethiopian surgeons do the ear operations and teach them how to do the operations better because they don't have a lot of hands on experience. They actually do the operation while I supervise and help them if they need help. This way they get the experience and the patients get the operations they need."
As for her new leadership role at the LGBT and Allies SIG, Redleaf noted that they ( her and Cundiff ) have already faced their first controversy and it wasn't from outside forces. Instead, it was with the national Mensa marketing office. The marketing office signed off on two recruitment ads for prospective Mensan's that ran in the Pride edition of this paper without notifying Redleaf, Cundiff or the Chicago Area Mensa leadership.
The adswith the tagline "Born this way," and the Mensa logo at the bottom with the words "smart" and "diverse" below the logoalso featured a white gay man in a suit and glasses or a white lesbian couple with their arms around each other and foreheads touching. They weren't what Redleaf or Cundiff would've liked to have run in Windy City Times to recruit new members.
"The ads are very pedestrian in their concept and design and aren't very inclusive of all the potential members of Mensa," said Redleaf. "What about people of color? These ads don't address them at all. Why would you want to run ads that look like dating service ads and not ads that cater to an intellectual organization for LGBT people? There should've been a picture of a New York Times crossword puzzle or a Rubik's Cube or another intellectually stimulating object so it would be inclusive of all people seeking out an organization focused on people's minds. There is nothing smart or interesting about the ads and it isn't the direction we want the chapter to go in at all."
"We tried to have the ads changed to appeal more directly to the cerebral nature of the target audience and we were disappointed that we didn't succeed in this regard," said Cundiff. "Such an ad would have had an outreach to all LGBT people. Were it not for Miriam, though, there would have only been one ad and that ad would have only targeted gay men. Her intervention resulted in the addition of an ad featuring a lesbian couple. Miriam's leadership is already having a positive effect on our group. I'm happy that the national office ran the ads even if they weren't what we preferred. It's an effort to broaden Mensa's outreach and while it's not perfect, it's a step in the right direction."
Chicago Area Mensa has reached out to the LGBT community in other ways including their recent participation in Chicago's Pride Parade for the first time and Redleaf was among the members who marched in the parade. This isn't the first time that Redleaf has attended and/or marched in the Pride Parade, having marched with various groups over the years. Miriam explained that it's been about 12 years since she's marched in the parade and about three years since she's attended the parade as a spectator.
The next test dates for prospective Chicago Area Mensa members are Wed., July 15, at 33 W. Ontario St. in Chicago at 6 p.m.; and Saturday, July 25, at 4 p.m. at the Rolling Meadows Community Center, 3705 Pheasant Dr., Rolling Meadows,. The cost for the test is $20. To register, visit www.chicago.us.mensa.org .
See www.americanmensa.lgbt for more information .